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.”


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.