New Orleanians pass the iconic Isaac Delgado Hall on a daily basis. Many recognize the familiar three-story tan brick edifice’s place in the New Orleans landscape and the College’s 90-plus year history, but few know its ties to World War II and the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944.
Delgado already had wartime ties as it opened in 1921, just as the nation was recovering from World War I. Many of the veterans of “The Great War” took advantage of the school’s new offerings to find training for their post-war lives. Delgado Hall, which was in the final design phases as the war closed, was topped off by an American eagle, which still overlooks City Park Avenue and the main entrance of Building 1 today.
In 1941, Delgado got a new neighbor on City Park Avenue. Andrew Jackson Higgins, the familiar ship builder, opened his new factory and production center at 501 City Park Avenue. Partnering with Delgado, Higgins enlisted the help of “the Delgado men” as he referred to them, and employed these Delgado students to help build his new empire. The plant produced a variety of familiar models of marine vessels including landing crafts and torpedo-armed patrol boats, among others. The famous “Higgins Boats” played a large role in the successful Allied invasion and D-Day landing in Europe on June 6, 1944.
Through their partnership with Higgins Industries, the Delgado Men worked around the clock on a special schedule that allowed them to attend classes, then go to work after school to use their talents and trade skills to build the boats. Other school programs, such as the aviation and welding departments, worked round the clock schedules to keep up with the new demands that the war years brought with them.
As Delgado’s and the Higgins plant’s missions became more apparent, security at both locations heightened. Fences and checkpoints were added to ensure that the mission was kept secret and productive. The current site of Kirsch-Rooney Stadium, Delgado’s baseball field, was used as a storage yard for the supplies that would eventually become the boats and vessels. The nearby train tracks stayed in constant use as the products were shipped out of town.
The D-Day Invasion and its aftermath turned the tides of World War II and put Higgins Industries on the international map. Dwight Eisenhower called Higgins “the man who won the war” and Adolph Hitler called him “the new Noah.” His crafts were eventually used in dozens of other World War II battles as well as later U.S. conflicts against Korea and Vietnam.
The plant’s location is now the home of the Arthur O’Keefe Administration Building, which houses Delgado Community College’s administration and business offices. In 2011, a plaque recognizing the historic significance of the site as well as Andrew Higgins and the Delgado Men’s accomplishments and contributions to World War II was dedicated.
The plaque quotes Andrew Higgins, who said, “We can’t use ordinary hammer-and-saw carpenters, but we can use Delgado Men.”
Appropriately, the plaque stands just a few feet from the College’s American flag pole, permanently linking Delgado to its patriotic past.