More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Donald Tudry (Iron Worker)

The Navy sent me to school in Millington, Tennessee, right outside of Memphis and there was a welding course involved in the school. I got fascinated with welding and did very well in school. I was always fascinated with fires anyhow! Upon my discharge from the Navy some two years later, I landed a job at an iron company in New Orleans called Progressive Iron Works.

During the big post-World War II building boom, New Orleans was building so fast that one of the first things that you would ask the contractor is, "Is it on the map?" And the contractor would say, "No, it's three blocks past the map and take a left." There was a lot of just dirt roads that we were going down. They were building houses before they even paved the streets.

We did the Edgar B. Stern house, which is now Longue Vue Gardens. We put a fence around his swimming pool, which was one of the more prestigious jobs I imagine that we did. After ten years, the owner decided to close Progressive Iron Works. Well, I thought my world was going to come crashing down on me then. But luckily I landed a job at Casa Uno as a maintenance mechanic due to my knowledge of welding. During my employment at Casa, I ran into a few of the old customers that did business with Progressive and a couple of them said, "Don, why don't you buy yourself a little equipment? We know the type of work you do; we'd like you to do our work for us." As the song says, that was the start of something big! . . . Well I was 38 years old and I had about three thousand dollars in the bank and I decided to quit my job, which was a great step! Through buying material I got to know the owners of Lorio Iron Works, which at that time was one of the oldest, most prestigious iron companies in New Orleans. I made an arrangement with them to use their shop facilities in exchange for a percentage of my profits. . . . I started doing a lot of work through them and meeting architects and structural engineers-in other words, kind of getting my name known around. They finally decided to auction off the shop and retire, and at that time I bought out another iron company, C & C Iron Works, under what was called a "bulk sales act," where I bought the equipment and the trucks and the business and blue sky and good will and everything! I started off really on my own for the first time. That was about 1979 or 1980.

On telling his mother he was going into business for himself:

Well if I would have told her I shot the Parish priest and raped a nun, I couldn't have got a worse reaction! She thought I was going to starve, the kids were going to end up in orphanages, and I was going to be on welfare. Thank goodness she was so dreadfully wrong!

I did about five or six balconies on Magazine Street in about a four block area. As I say, all this time I'm meeting more architects, more structural engineers, and we began to establish quite a reputation as being a good, reputable iron company that specialized in high-end work. That kind of brings us up to the present, because that's about all we are doing. We very seldom have to be competitive. We are the iron company of choice of the Vieux Carré Commission, also the French Market Corporation. And if an architect specifies you on his blueprints, well, the contractor very seldom ever deviates from that. He uses the iron man the architect recommends. We did some beautiful work, some bronze and wrought iron work in the Monteleone Hotel.

Donald Tudry was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.