French Opera House

History of the French Opera House

Site of the First U.S. Opera House

This site held the French Opera House. It was built in 1859 and was the cultural center of New Orleans society and the first opera house in the United States. In addition to the grand productions, the opera house hosted Mardi Gras balls, debuts, concerts, benefits, and receptions. Built in the Greek Revival style, the opera house was designed by famous architect James Gallier. The grand auditorium was decorated in red and white and seated 1,800 people in four tiers. Operas have been performed in New Orleans since 1790 and hundreds of operas were performed in the old French Opera House. For sixty years, the Opera House was the hub of Creole society. It burned in 1919 and, in the Times-Picayune article published the next day, the writer echoed the words of a stunned city: “The heart of the old French Quarter has stopped beating.”

Interesting Remnant

Notice that Bourbon Street is wider here than at any other block along the street. The street was designed this way so that carriages could pull over to drop off or pick up their patrons.

Madame John's Legacy

History of Madame John’s Legacy

Madame John’s Legacy is one of the finest 18th century building complexes in Louisiana. It is one of the few French Quarter structures that escaped the great fire of 1794, which leveled much of city’s oldest section.

Early Louisiana Creole Architecture

Madame John’s is an excellent example of Louisiana Creole residential design at the end of the 18th century. It is more typical of the simple, unadorned style of the French West Indies than the ornate style that evolved during the Spanish colonial period, characterized by lacy wrought iron balconies. The architectural complex at Madame John’s actually consists of three buildings: The main house, the kitchen with cook’s quarters and the two-story garconniere (gentlemen’s guest quarters). The main house is the only building in the complex that is open to the public.

George Washington Cable

The name of this house was taken from a story (“Tite Poulette”) by the prominent author George Washington Cable. Cable was notable for his realistic portrayals of Creole life in his native New Orleans. He gained sympathy for the plight of quadroon and octoroon women, who sometimes became the mistresses of white men because interracial marriage was illegal at that time (1873).

The house was built in 1788, after a fire destroyed much of the neighborhood. The house was rebuilt in the older French colonial style, rather than the current Spanish style. Madam John’s Legacy is a slightly altered example of early French colonial architecture. It is considered to be typical of many of the Vieux Carré houses built in the early 18th century by middle-class families.

One of the Last of its Kind

Today few houses such as Madame John’s Legacy in the French Quarter exist; yet at one time many such dwellings filled the older parts of town. The style could be found in the French West Indies, the Illinois Country, and Canada.

This is the kind of home that prospering colonists built after progressing from their first rude cabin dwellings. The homes provided refuge and sanctuary for the New Orleanians: up off the ground it was safe from frequent flooding and the broad galleries protected it from sun and rain. Thick walls and shuttered windows created a snug and private atmosphere, but the inside was spacious.

A Film Site for Interview with the Vampire

You may remember the home from the movie Interview with the Vampire. This is the house from which the caskets are being carried as Brad Pitt’s voice-over describes Lestat and the little vampire Claudia going out on the town: “An infant prodigy with a lust for killing that matched his own. Together, they finished off whole families.”

cabildo_4

History of the Cabildo

The Original Seat of Government

Located next to St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo faces Jackson Square. The building takes its name from the Spanish Colonial governing body who met there — the “Illustrious Cabildo,” or city council. The original Cabildo was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1788 and was rebuilt between 1795 and 1799. The Cabildo became the home of the Louisiana State Museum in 1911 and was designated as a National Landmark in 1960. The building was designed by Gilberto Guillemard, who also designed St. Louis Cathedral and the Presbytere. The third-story mansard roof with cupola was not added until 1847, and it replaced the original flat Spanish roof and balustrade. On the second floor is the Sala Capitular, or “Meeting Room,” in which much of the official business of the building took place. When the Marquis de Lafayette visited the Crescent City in 1825, the city allowed him the use of the Sala Capitular as his residence.

Site of the Louisiana Purchase

The Cabildo has been used as a city hall, a courthouse, and a prison. In 1803, the Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer, the event that acquired the Louisiana Territory for the United States, doubling its land area. In the 1870s, the building came under gunfire on three separate occasions, each time because of Reconstruction Era politics and racial tension. The Cabildo was transferred to the Louisiana State Museum system in 1908. Since then, it has served to educate the public about Louisiana history.

Authentically restored after Second Fire

In 1988 the Cabildo was severely damaged by fire for the second time, when the third story and the cupola were destroyed. Over the next five years, the landmark was authentically restored using 600-year-old French timber framing technology.

Napoleon’s Death Mask

The Cabildo contains displays of many interesting historical artifacts, such as the Emperor Napoleon’s death mask. On the third floor, “The Secret History of Rock ‘n Roll” exhibit showcases Louisianans who influenced rock music both locally and nationally.

View of the Gauche House from Esplanade

History of the Gauche House

Grand home on Esplanade and Royal

This “Italianate Villa” was built in 1865 by John Gauche, an importer and dealer in crockery and chinaware in the New Orleans French Quarter. The cast iron balconies with the little dancing cherubs are one of a kind. They were marade and imported from Saarbruchen, Germany. Other ironwork featuring floral motifs casts beautiful shadows on the granite when the sun is shining.

It’s interesting to note as we look down Royal Street, that in 1823 it was the first street in the Vieux Carre to be paved using stone blocks brought over as the ballast aboard European sailing ships.

This house is privately owned and is not open to the public.

Miltenberger Mansion

History of the Miltenberger Mansion

Home for 3 sons

The widow of Dr. Christian Miltenberger, Marie Miltenberger, built this row of three brick townhouses in 1838 for her three sons: Gustave, Aristides, and Alphonse. Members of the family continued to live there for at least three generations. The intricate delicacy of the lacy cast-iron galleries covering the sidewalks, the slender iron columns supporting the second-story gallery, the narrow frieze of rococo iron leaves set below the floor of the gallery, and the four floor-to-ceiling windows are just a few of the design techniques that make the Miltenberger House unique to the French Quarter.

Birthplace of Royalty

Perhaps the most famous family member was Alice Heine, granddaughter of Marie Miltenberger, who was born here in 1858. The American Civil War sent her family to France. Because of her wealth and beauty, Alice made quite an impression upon Paris society. Alice married her first husband, Marie Odet Armand Aimable Chapelle de Jumilhac, Marquis of Jumilhac, 7th Duke of Richelieu and of Fronsac, on February 27, 1875, in Paris. They had a son and a daughter.

The Prince and Princess of Monaco separated judicially on May 30, 1902 (Monaco) and June 3, 1902 (France), but remained married. Upon the Prince’s death 20 years later, Alice became the Dowager Princess of Monaco. She did not remarry.

Architectural icon

The intricate work of the cast-iron galleries, the frieze of rococo iron leaves set below the floor of the galleries and the floor-to-ceiling windows are a few of the architectural details that make the Miltenberger building beautiful and interesting.

History of the Presbytere

Site of the home for Capuchin Monks

Originally called the “Casa Curial” or “Ecclesiastical House, The Presbytere was built on the site of the residence (otherwise known as “presbytere”) of the Capuchin monks. The 1791 design matching that of the Cabildo was created “with the idea of making the Plaza de Armas uniform, which in fact would beautify it so that they will form two equal wings to the Temple”.  Records state that the building was constructed in 1813, but Spanish records show that the foundations were laid around 1793.

Courthouse before becoming a State Museum

In 1834, the building became a courthouse after being used for commercial enterprises until then. In 1847 when the mansard roof was added to the Cabildo, similar plans for the Presbytere were submitted to the church for approval and financing. In 1853 the city paid the church $55,000 for the property and officially became the deed holder.  It became part of the Louisiana State Museum in 1911, which now uses the building to display its Mardi Gras and Hurricane exhibits.

History of the Dauphine Pierre Cottage

One of the oldest surviving examples of the Bourdeaux style of architecture

Pierre Malreaux, a Frenchman bought this property in 1780 from the Spanish government. Soon afterward, he built the lovely cottage you see before you. The bricks were made on site, and oyster shells from Lake Pontchartrain were used in the mortar. The “brick between posts” architecture is one of the oldest examples of the Bordeaux style. The cottage was damaged in the fire of 1788, but survived.

History of the Beauregard-Keyes House

Joseph LeCarpentier and Paul Morphy

This house was built by auctioneer Joseph LeCarpentier. He built this house as a home for his family in 1826; the nuns of the Old Ursuline Convent located across the street owned the property until 1825 and at this time sold several pieces of land. LeCarpentier purchased four lots to build his home. His grandson, famous chess player Paul Morphy, was born here, and his fans often visit the house.

General P.T.G. Beauregard and Frances Parkinson Keyes

This house is also known as the Beauregard-Keyes house after two of its distinguished residents, Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and Frances Parkinson Keyes. After his defeat in the Civil War, Confederate General Beauregard spent several desolate years here between 1866 and 1867. Author Frances Parkinson Wheeler, later Frances Parkinson Keyes, lived here until the 1970s writing books and restoring the house. Her first book was Crescent Carnival, but her most successful novel was the murder mystery, Dinner at Antoine’s. She also wrote a fictionalized account of Paul Morphy’s life in her 1960 book, The Chess Players.

This home is open to the public. On the upriver side of this home you can see a beautiful garden through open gates.

History of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

Built during the settlement of New Orleans

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop was built between 1722 and 1732 by Nicolas Touze. It has been called the oldest continually used bar in the United States. The thousands of patrons who have come through these doors in the last nearly 300 years include both the famous and the infamous. Many pictures adorn the walls of the celebrities who have visited, including Nicholas Cage and Tennessee Williams, who was a regular here.

Between 1772 and 1791, this property is thought to have been used by the Lafitte brothers, Jean and Pierre, as a base for their smuggling operations out of Barataria. Jean Lafitte was a pirate, an entrepreneur, a sailor, a spy, and one of the heroes of the Battle of New Orleans. Although the details about his early life are unclear and many details about his life are contradictory, he was the “go-to” man of the time for whatever anyone wanted.

Home to heroes of the War of 1812

In 1815, Lafitte agreed to help General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British. In return for a pardon, Lafitte supplied arms, ammunition, and men to General Jackson at Chalmette, the site of the Battle of New Orleans. The British stepped into a screaming hell of pirates, woodsmen, Native Americans, and free people of color under the cover of a thick fog. They were no match for this rough and ready mélange of New World settlers.

The tavern’s building is one of the older surviving structures in New Orleans. The building escaped the two great New Orleans fires at the turn of the 19th Century, thanks to its slate roofing. The structure and fence are in the old French Provincial Louis XV style used in French Louisiana.

To retain its old New Orleans charm the current bar, even today, does not use electric lights and is all gas-lit.

st. louis cathedral

History of the St. Louis Cathedral

St. Louis Cathedral has been hallowed ground since the founding of the city of New Orleans. As her most notable landmark, with its triple steeples towering above the Cabildo and the Presbytere, this is truly the heart of the old city.

Early Days of St Louis Cathedral

The first church was dedicated shortly before Christmas 1727 on the site designated six years earlier by French engineer Adrien De Pauger in accordance with plans drawn by the Engineer-in-Chief of Louisiana, LeBlond de la Tour. By 1763 it had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was abandoned. Repairs were made and the church was active again until the calamitous year of 1788. That year the river overflowed, an epidemic took many victims, and the Good Friday fire on March 21 destroyed 80% of the populated city, including the Church of St. Louis.

On Valentine’s Day 1789, the cornerstone for the new church was laid. The new church, designed by Don Gilberto Guillemard, a Frenchman in the service of Spain, was completed five years later, in 1794, and dedicated on Christmas Eve of that year. It was much larger than the first church, and its low, flat roof was flanked by the two hexagonal bell towers. The bells, which were cast in Havana, Cuba, and christened St. Joseph and St. Anthony, were placed in the towers a decade later.

Growth of the French Quarter

The second Church of St. Louis was a gift to the city from one of its wealthiest citizens, Don Andres Almonester y Roxas whose philanthropy already included a chapel for the Ursuline nuns, the reconstruction of Charity Hospital after a hurricane, and the establishment of a leper retreat on the outskirts of town. For this, he was awarded a seat of honor in the cathedral, where he was decorated as a Knight of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Charles III of Spain. On that day three servants were required to carry the flowing red train of his magnificent mantle from the church to his home across the square. Upon his death at age 73, Almonester was interred in a crypt under the floor of the church. The inscriptions upon a marble slab tell of his generosity.

Key Influences

In 1819 the church and city agreed that it was in the general civic interest for them to share the expense of constructing the central clock tower. The design of Benjamin H. B. Latrobe, former architect of the U.S. Capitol, was chosen and New Orleans clockmaker Jean Delachaux was tasked with finding a suitable clock. Delachaux brought the clock and bell back from Paris. The bell, which still faithfully rings out the hours, is named Victory. Inscribed in both French and English are the words that commemorate the Battle of New Orleans: “Brave Louisianians, this bell, whose name is Victory, was cast in celebration of the glorious eighth day of January 1815.”

Pontalba

In 1844 Baroness Pontalba began the beautification of the square. In addition to extensive improvements to the square itself, she added the brick façade, mansard roof, and dormer windows to the buildings she owned adjoining the square. The City Council and trustees added the same to the Cabildo and the Presbytere in 1847. These improvements so increased the size of the buildings that the Cathedral looked out of place in comparison. Aesthetics aside, the walls of the church had begun to crack and the growing congregation was running out of space. The church looked to French architect J.N.B de Pouilly for guidance.

De Pouilly first proposed lengthening the church and adding galleries but didn’t believe that would suit the growing congregation. He then proposed to destroy the cathedral and rebuild in what is now the Treme’ neighborhood. Ten years later he proposed to the trustees a plan for reconstructing the old church with a greatly heightened façade, a lengthened nave, the addition of gallery seating, and a third central steeple ornamented with wrought iron. On December 7, 1851, the reconstructed cathedral was dedicated and looked very much as you see it today.

The cathedral was designated as a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in September 1987. The cathedral is open to visitors, and you may walk around freely when no services are being held. The paintings, gilding, and stained glass windows are extraordinary works of art in the Baroque style. The feeling that the murals are decorative rather than devotional lends an air of peace and tranquility conducive to quiet reflection.