The New Orleans Water Meter Story – Cristy Cali

The New Orleans Water Meter Story

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August 2005: It was my second week as a sophomore at Ursuline Academy High School.


My high school sweetheart was a senior at Brother Martin High School. His family lived in Lakeview, and his younger siblings were still in grade school at St. Dominic. He told me they were evacuating to Franklin, Louisiana, about three hours away where they had relatives. Year after year, my family and I had the same discussion, "Should we stay or leave?" 

We never really had anywhere to go. My family consisted of my parents, who migrated to the United States in the early 80's from Guatemala, myself and our beloved golden retriever, Tigger. We have no family here. The closest relative was a distant cousin who lived in the outskirts of Sugarland, Texas. 

At the time, we were living in Chateau Estates in Kenner, not far from the Esplanade Mall. 

Nothing had ever happened.

The worst natural disaster I ever experienced, at that age, was a flood from Hurricane George in 1998 that only affected houses that were on slabs. Our home was raised, so we were fine. 

"We're going to stay," I recall my mom saying. She felt the same as I did, not worried, not concerned, and pretty confident everything was going to be okay, as usual. Ursuline kept updating us about school closure, and I had no complaints.

As the storm neared, more and more people from our neighborhood and friends of ours that originally decided to stay began changing their minds. My parents' grew more concerned. 

At the last minute, and I mean, last minute, we decided to leave. I packed enough clothes for a week and said goodbye to my home truly believing the oak tree outside of my room would crush half of our house. 

Not everyone was as lucky and blessed with the circumstances we found ourselves in. My pilot father flew us out of the New Orleans Lakefront airport in his Cessna 182 the Sunday before the storm hit, and we were the 3rd to last plane allowed to leave before the airport shut down completely.

Little did I know I would not return home until 3 months later. 

This is the beginning of my own personal Water Meter story...

My parents owned a jewelry & gift shop in the French Quarter. Up until that point, I had absolutely no interest in getting involved with their business. In fact, I was pretty adamant I wanted nothing to do with their business, for my own reasons.

When my parents finally were able to open their jewelry shop doors again, the local art scene blossomed and local artists were taking advantage of the "rebuild, rebirth, renew" theme of bringing New Orleans back, and stronger than ever. 

During the flood, several of the water meter covers came out of their holdings and ended up amongst the rubble. But locals, knowing well what these were, brought them home and kept them as a keep-sake to recall the greatest natural devastation New Orleans ever experienced. These became like a "prize" of some sort, as evidence that the flood took place and is now used as a hot pot holder in someone's kitchen. 

Clever artists replicated the water meter design and made real home decor plaques, among other things. My parents purchased several plaques and gift items with the Water Meter design, and not long after, my mom had her own line of sterling silver Water Meter jewelry. 

At first, she wasn't too happy when the city told her she had to pay royalties, and submit an application for approval on all her Water Meter merchandise, or she couldn't sell it at all. But due to the design's popularity and high demand, as a New Orleans symbol during such a high-pride time, she knew it was well worth the inconvenience. 

In 2012, when I quit the family business and branched out on my own, I knew I wanted the iconic Water Meter design to be a part of my collection. 

But it had to be different from the rest. I had to stand out. This is why mine looks completely different from any other Water Meter jewelry on the market and people recognize which one is a Cristy Cali design. 

Below is a very interesting and related article with more hard facts about the New Orleans Water Meter by Mike Scott.  

 

Well, here's one thing the Sewerage & Water Board does right

THEN: In 1921, Edwin Ford of the Ford Meter Box Co. of Wabash, Indiana, paid a sales call to the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board. During that visit, board engineer George G. Earl bent Ford's ear about how the in-ground water meter boxes then in use were a poor fit for a city below sea level, a geographical quirk that, thanks to settling soil, often left the tops of water meters jutting several inches above ground. Ford listened, then sat down at an empty drafting table at the S&WB office and sketched out an idea for a better meter box, one that could be quickly adjusted to a new grade or sidewalk level. Local officials liked what they saw. They liked Ford's prototype even more and placed an initial order for 100 of them. The finished product, notably topped by a 9-and-a-half-pound iron cover about 10 inches in diameter and festooned with a distinctive Art Deco design incorporating stars and a crescent, have jazzed up New Orleans sidewalks ever since.

NOW: The Sewerage & Water Board has taken its lumps over the years, but the lids for its "Crescent Boxes" -- as Ford Meter Box calls them, having named them after the city for which they were invented -- have become beloved local objets d'art for Orleansphiles, decorating everything from T-shirts and jewelry to wall art and kitchenware.

TRI-via

  • By 1924, nearly half of Ford Meter Box's sales were to the city of New Orleans. "In the '20s, if we had lost New Orleans, I'm not sure we would have made it," John Ford of Ford Meter Box is quoted as saying in "The History of a Small Indiana Company: 100 Years of Ford Meter Box."
  • Given the popularity of the covers' design, the Sewerage & Water Board filed for trademark protection for it and pushed for passage of a state law prohibiting reproduction of the design without board approval.
  • Because of those steps to protect the design, which was once considered in the public domain, artists who use it in their wares must pay the board royalties. Money raised is earmarked for environmental education, water conservation and a program that helps older residents and the disabled pay their water bills.
  • Over the years, the covers have become common targets for thieves. In 2008, for example, police booked a man with possession of stolen property when, after he got into a one-car accident on St. Charles Avenue, police said they found six water meter covers in his car.
  • It's not just locals who covet the covers. According to a 2003 article in The Times-Picayune, security screeners at Louis Armstrong International Airport reported finding a half-dozen covers in luggage of departing tourists in just a few months' time.
  • "There was a time when we were replacing the covers in the CBD with plain ones to cut down on theft," an S&WB spokesman said in 2003. In some instances, modified meter covers have been installed that allow for them to be locked into place.
  • The theft of covers isn't just a monetary problem. People who accidentally step in an uncovered water meter hole can suffer serious injuries, and the S&WB has been sued because of such injuries. (To report a missing cover, call 504.52.WATER, or visit the S&WB website.)
  • Water meter covers can be purchased from multiple eBay sellers, most of whom claim that theirs are reproductions or purchased from the foundary, for $30 to $50.

1 comment

  • judie p heckel: January 17, 2019

    Love the story and love your jewelry.

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