The French Quarter spreads up from the Mississippi River across some 70 blocks. This is where the original French Colonial settlement of Nouvelle Orleans was laid out in simple squares in1718 by French Canadian naval officer Jean Baptiste Bienville. Bienville served as governor for financier John Law’s Company of the Indies, which in naming the city for the Regent Duc d’Orleans sought to curry Court favor before failing spectacularly in the “Great Mississippi Bubble.” The French Period legacy endures in the town plan and central square, church of St. Louis, Ursuline Convent and women’s education, ancient regime street names such as Bourbon and Royal, the charity hospital, and a mixed legacy of Creole culture, Mardi Gras, and the important effects of African enslavement combined with a tolerant approach to free persons of color.
In 1762 the indifferent Louis XV transferred Louisiana to his Bourbon cousin Charles III of Spain. Emboldened by a period of Spanish vacillation in taking power, Francophile colonists staged a revolution in 1768, summarily squelched by Alejandro O’Reilly with a firing squad at the Esplanade fort. Spanish rule lasted for four decades, imparting a legacy of semi-fortified streetscapes, common-wall plastered brick houses, and walled courtyards used as gardens and utility spaces with separate servants’ quarters and kitchens. Olive oil cooking and graceful wrought iron balconies, hinges and locks in curvilinear shapes, and strong vestiges of civil law remain from the Spanish presence.
Typical of the eccentricities of the Vieux Carre or “old square” is the fact that its much admired iron-embroidered architecture is not French, but Spanish. Disastrous fires one after another in 1788 and 1794 destroyed all but a handful of the original French buildings.Street names have floated back and forth between French and Spanish and the gold-and-blue signs on the corner buildings indicate the street names that were recognized under earlier regimes. Sited on the highest ground in the area, the French Quarter sustained little damage from the flooding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Our walking tour will begin in Jackson Square, a few yards from the Mississippi River and in what some have called the architectural center of America...
enclosed by Chartres Street, St. Peter Street, St. Ann Street and Decatur Street
When New Orleans was founded, it was nothing more than a French trading camp. After a few years, the camp was organized into a formal colony, and was subdivided into “city blocks”, with streets that ran perpendicular and parallel to the Mississippi River. In the center of this layout, right on the river was a one-block common area, the Place D’Arms, used as a public square, military parade grounds and open-air market. On the northwest side (Chartres Street), was located the church (now Saint Louis Cathedral) and the governor’s mansion (the Cabildo). Because of its central location, proximity to the river port, the location of the church and seat of government, this square was the center of New Orleans life, and the hub of local shipping and commerce. This square continued to function in this capacity through the rule of the French, the Spanish, the French again, and American rule after the Louisiana Purchase. Following the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, the Baroness Pontalba (builder of the Pontalba apartments which bear her name, and remain in use today), lobbied for and financed the redesign of the public square. The new design incorporated an iron fence, formal gardens, walkways and benches for sitting. In the center of the square is one of the three bronze statues of Andrew Jackson, hero of New Orleans. The square now bears the name “Jackson Square.”
center of Jackson Square
The equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson was commissioned by Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba in 1856 and was one of three sculpted by Clark Mills.
Jackson Square, along St. Ann Street and St. Peter Street
Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba inherited rows of buildings along both sides of the Place d’Armes from her father, Don Almonester, a junior judge who was given the responsibility for rebuilding the St. Louis Cathedral in 1789. In the mid-1800s she decided to raze the structures and, in their place, build high-end apartments and commercial space. She directed the construction of the Pontalba Buildings that were begun in 1849. The ironwork is some of the finest to be seen in New Orleans and her entwined initials “A.P.” are clearly visible. The buildings were designed in a traditional Creole-European style, with commercial space on the street level, housing above, and a courtyard in the rear.
St. Louis Cathedral
Chartres Street on Jackson Square
The St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest continuously active cathedral in United States. This is the third building on the site and dates to 1794. The first went down in a hurricane in 1722 and the second burned in 1788. The central tower was added later on a design by Henry S. Boneval Latrobe, the first professional architect in America.
751 Chartres Street on Jackson Square
The Presbytere, originally called the Casa Curial (Ecclesiastical House), derives its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the residence, or presbytere, of the Capuchin monks. It was designed in 1791 to match the Cabildo, or Town Hall, on the other side of St. Louis Cathedral. As with the Cabildo and the Cathedral, construction was financed by philanthropist Don Andres Almonester y Roxas. The second floor, however, was not completed until 1813, when the Wardens of the Cathedral assumed responsibility for the final phase. The building initially was used for commercial purposes until 1834 when it became a courthouse. In 1847 the structure’s mansard roof was added. The Presbytere was then used by the city as a courthouse until 1911 when it became part of the Louisiana State Museum.
Chartres Street on Jackson Square
The town council first met in its new hall, which it called the Casa Capitular (Capitol House), in 1799 and continued to meet there until Louisiana became an American territory. They met in the room called the Sala Capitular (Capitol Room), which was the site for the Louisiana Purchase transfers in 1803 and remained the principal meeting room for the new American city council until the 1850s. The Baroness MicaÎla Almonester de Pontalba, the daughter of Almonester y Roxas and herself an infamous figure in Louisiana history, proposed renovations to the Cabildo in the 1840s to match new construction on neighboring land she had inherited from her father. At this time, an entire third story was added to the building, and massive cast-iron gates were erected at the main entrance.
LEAVE JACKSON SQUARE AND WALK DOWN PIRATES ALLEY BETWEEN ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL AND THE CABILDO.
William Faulkner Books
624 Pirates Alley
In 1925 William Faulkner lived here and worked on his first novels, Mosquitoes and Soldiers’ Pay. While here, he contributed to the Times-Picayune and to a literary magazine called the Double Dealer. Today the literary tradition of the building continues with one of the best-stocked bookstores in the country.
WALK THROUGH THE ALLEY BESIDE PIRATES ALLEY TO ST. PETER STREET.
619 St. Peter Street
The Jackson House was built in 1842 and is typical of modest New Orleans residences of the age.
TURN LEFT ON ST. PETER STREET.
601 St. Peter Street
A Spanish Arsenal had been built on this site in 1769. The current building, designed by James Dakin, was erected in 1839 and is a virtually unchanged Greek Revival design. Look up at the top of the building – there are cut-outs of cannons and American flags. During Reconstruction, in 1874, a white supremacist militia, the White League, took up arms against the city’s police force. The League had cornered the police in the customhouse, the Cabildo, and the arsenal. From the arsenal, police fired cannonballs down Chartres Street towards the League. The White League managed to defeat the Metropolitan Police and seized control of the state government, ousting Reconstruction Governor Kellogg. Three days later Federal troops regained control of the city and restored the Kellogg administration.
TURN AROUND AND WALK AWAY FROM JACKSON SQUARE DOWN ST. PETER STREET.
Tennessee Williams House
632 St. Peter Street
This is where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the iconic standards of American theater. He said he could hear “that rattle trap streetcar named Desire running along Royal and the one named Cemeteries running along Canal and it seemed the perfect metaphor for the human condition.”
CROSS ROYAL STREET.
714 St. Peter Street
Antoine Alciatore ran this 1829 boardinghouse for several years during the 1860s. His cooking became so popular with the residents that he left to open the famous Antoine’s restaurant, still operated today by his descendants.
718 St. Peter Street
The building was completed in 1790 for a wealthy planter and was known as the Maison de Flechier. It has been said that the first grand opera in America was performed within these walls. Now it is the home of Pat O’Brien’s where the New Orleans celebratory Hurricane drink with light and dar rum and a cornucopia of fruit juices was invented.
726 St. Peter Street
The home of jazz rests in the courtyard of Preservation Hall. Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason, lived upstairs.
730 St. Peter Street
The story, possibly apocryphal, is believed to be the site of the city’s first theater that burned in the citywide fire of 1816.This house was built a decade later and sold to Giraud M. Plique in 1827. Two years later Jean Baptiste LaBranche bought it. The wrought-iron balcony dates from that time.
TURN LEFT ON BOURBON STREET.
Lindy Boggs House
623 Bourbon Street
Lindy Boggs is the present owner of this house, where literary luminaries Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote lived in the past. Boggs took over her husband’s Congressional seat after his death and became a much-loved political figure in her own right.
TURN RIGHT ON ST. LOUIS STREET.
820 St. Louis Street
Built in 1831, this handsome Federal mansion with its courtyard garden boasts the only horse stable and functional 1830s outdoor kitchen in the French Quarter. Painstakingly restored to its original splendor through archaeological studies and careful review of the building contract and inventories, the museum complex accurately depicts the gracious lifestyle of a prosperous Creole family in the years from 1830 to 1860.
RETURN TO BOURBON STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN RIGHT ON CONTI STREET.
819 Conti Street
Broussard’s first opened its doors in 1920, when an eminent local chef, Joseph Broussard, married Rosalie Borrello, and the couple moved into the Borrello family mansion (built in 1834) on Conti Street where the restaurant now sits.
RETURN TO BOURBON STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
The Famous Door
339 Bourbon Street
Opened in 1934, this is the oldest live music club in the city.
Royal Sonesta Hotel
300 Bourbon Street
The Royal Sonesta Hotel was built in 1969 to look like 1830s New Orleans.
TURN LEFT ON BIENVILLE AVENUE.
339-343 Royal Street, northeast corner of Bienville Street
The building was built between 1795 and 1800 for Vincent Rillieux, the great-grandfather of the French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas. In subsequent years it housed the offices of the Second Bank of the United States and is now an antiques shop that was established in 1881. Note the wrought-iron balconies -- an example of excellent Spanish colonial workmanship.
Bank of Louisiana
334 Royal Street
This old bank was erected in 1826 by Philip Hamblet and Tobias Bickle, using the design of Benjamin Fox. Its Greek Revival edifice was erected in the early 1860s, shortly before the bank was liquidated in 1867. The building has suffered a number of fires (in 1840, 1861, and 1931) and has served as the Louisiana State Capitol, an auction exchange, a criminal court, a juvenile court, and a social hall for the American Legion. It now houses the police station for the Vieux Carré.
TURN LEFT ON ROYAL STREET.
Louisiana State Bank
403 Royal Street
Benjamin H. B. Latrobe died of yellow fever shortly after completing designs for the Louisiana State Bank, which opened in this building in 1821. At the time of his death, Latrobe was one of the nation’s most eminent architects, having designed the Bank of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (1796) and contributed to the design of the U.S. Capitol. You can see the monogram “LSB” on the Creole-style iron balcony railing.
417 Royal Street
Brennan’s opened in this building in 1855. The structure was erected after the fire of 1794 destroyed more than 200 of the original buildings along this street. It was a bank for much of its life before serving food. The world-famous chess champion Paul Charles Morphy moved here as a child in 1841. The parents of Edgar Degas also lived here.
New Orleans Court Building
400 Royal Street
A block of Spanish-era structures was razed to make room for this baroque edifice, made of Georgia marble, in 1909. Originally home to parish and state courts, the building was laboriously renovated over many years and is now the home of the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
TURN LEFT ON ST. LOUIS STREET.
713 St. Louis Street
Since 1840, world-renowned Antoine’s Restaurant has served French-Creole cuisine that made has helped make New Orleans one of the greatest dining centers of the world. It is the country’s oldest family-run restaurant.
RETURN TO ROYAL STREET AND TURN LEFT.
The Brulatour Court
520 Royal Street
François Seignouret, a furniture maker and wine importer from Bordeaux, had a signature “S” carved into each piece of his furniture. The “S” is carved into the screen ofthe elaborate, fan-shaped guard screen (garde de frise) on the right end of the third-floor balcony. From 1870 to 1887, wine importer Pierre Brulatour occupied the building.
The Merieult House
533 Royal Street
Built for the merchant Jean François Merieult in 1792, this was the only house left standing after the fire of 1794. Legend has it that Napoleon repeatedly offered Madame Merieult great riches in exchange for her hair (he wanted it for a wig to present to a Turkish sultan). She refused. Nowadays, it’s home to the Historic New Orleans Collection-Museum/Research Center.
The Court of Two Sisters
613 Royal Street
This structurewas built in 1832 for a local bank president on the site of the 18th-century home of a French governor. The two sisters were Emma and Bertha Camors (whose father owned the building); from 1886 to 1906, they ran a curio store here.
627 Royal Street
This 1777 building, the former home of the Old Town Praline Shop, is where opera singer Adelina Patti first came for a visit and then lived after becoming something of a local heroine in 1860. The 17-year-old girl’s popularity as a last-minute stand-in lead soprano in Lucia di Lammermoor saved the local opera company from financial ruin.
Le Monnier Mansion
640 Royal Street
New Orelans saw its first “skyscraper” when this building rose three stories above the French Quarter in 1811. A fourth story was added in 1876. George W. Cable, the celebrated author of Old Creole Days, chose this building as the residence of his fictional hero, Sieur George.
The LaBranche House
700 Royal Street
With its stories of lacy cast-iron grillwork of delicate oak leaf and acorn design this may be the most photgraphed house in New Orleans. There are actually 11 LaBranche buildings (three-story brick row houses built between 1835 and 1840 for the widow of wealthy sugar planter Jean Baptiste LaBranche). Eight face St. Peter Street, one faces Royal, and two face Pirates Alley.
TURN LEFT ON ORLEANS STREET.
Bourbon Orleans Hotel
717 Orleans Street
The Bourbon Orleans Hotel was the site of the famous quadroon balls, where wealthy white men would come to form “alliances” with free women of color, who were one-eighth to one-fourth black. The building later became a convent, home to the Sisters of the Holy Family, the second-oldest order of black nuns in the country. Their founder (whose mother was a quadroon mistress herself), Henriette Delille, has been presented to the Vatican for consideration for sainthood.
TURN RIGHT ON DAUPHINE STREET.
Le Pretre Mansion
716 Dauphine Street
This Greek Revival house was built in 1836. Three years later Jean Baptiste Le Pretre bought it and added the romantic cast-iron galleries. Later, a supposed brother of a Turkish sultan arrived in New Orleans and rented the Le Pretre house. His entourage included many servants and more than a few beautiful young girls -- all thought to have been stolen from the sultan. One night shrieks came from inside the house; the next morning, neighbors entered and found the tenant’s body lying in a pool of blood surrounded by the bodies of the young beauties. The mystery remains unsolved and ever since Le Pretre Mansion has been considered to be one of the city’s most haunted houses.
TURN RIGHT ON DUMAINE STREET.
Spanish-style flat roof house
707 Dumaine Street
After the 1794 fire, all houses in the French Quarter were required by law to have flat tile roofs. Most have since been covered with conventional roofs, but this Spanish colonial cottage is still in compliance with the flat-roof rule.
Madame John’s Legacy
632 Dumaine Street
This structure was once thought to be the oldest building on the Mississippi River but more careful research revealed that only a few parts of the original building survived a fire in 1788 and were used in its reconstruction. The house was originally erected in 1726, 8 years after the founding of New Orleans. Its first owner was a ship captain who died in the 1729 Natchez Massacre; upon his death, the house passed to the captain of a Lafitte-era smuggling ship. It has had no fewer than 21 owners since. The present structure is a fine example of a French “raised cottage.” The aboveground basement is of brick-between-posts construction (locally made bricks were too soft to be the primary building material), covered with boards laid horizontally. The hipped, dormered roof extends out over the veranda. Its name comes from George W. Cable’s fictional character that was bequeathed the house in the short story “Tite Poulette.” Now a part of the Louisiana State Museum complex, it’s open for tours.
RETURN ROYAL STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
915 Royal Street
There story of the cornstalk fence is that an early owner brought his homesick Iowa bride to live in New Orleans. To soften some of her loneliness for the waving fields of corn back home, he had the fence cast at the Philadelphia foundry of Wood & Perot. The early 1800s home was built for Judge Martin, author of the first history of Louisiana and the second Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Harriet Beecher Stowe allegedly stopped here and was inspired to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin from the sights at nearby slave markets. That novel incited the Civil War. Countless movie stars and a former U.S. President have stayed at the Cornstalk.
TURN LEFT ON ST. PHILIP STREET.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
941 Bourbon Street, northwest corner of St. Philip Street
This may - or may not - be the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley. Legend has it that Jean Lafitte and his pirates posed as blacksmiths here while using it as headquarters for selling goods they’d plundered on the high seas. It has survived in its original condition, reflecting the architectural influence of French colonials who escaped St. Domingue in the late 1700s.
TURN RIGHT ON BOURBON STREET.
Frances Benjamin Johnston House
1132 Bourbon Street
Mme. Julie Duralde, the widow of John Clay, Henry Clay’s brother, had this American-style Greek Revival side-hall townhouse built sometime after her 1835 purchase of the property and owned it until her death in 1861. The diamond-pattern second-level balcony railing is notable. Photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston lived here from 1940 until her death in 1952.
TURN RIGHT ON GOVERNOR NICHOLLS STREET.
721 Governor Nicholls Street
This home was built in 1814 and announced the arrival of the Greek Revival style of architecture in New Orleans. It was designed in part by architect Henry S. Boneval Latrobe, son of Benjamin H. B. Latrobe, when he was 19 years old.
618-630 Governor Nicholls Street
John Clay, two years older than famous brother Henry, was born in Hanover County, Virginia in 1775 and settle in Kentucky. He came to the Louisiana Territory hoping to kickstart his flagging business career and married Julie Duralde, the daughter of a prominent Creole businessman named Martin Milony Duralde. He built this house for his wife here in the 1820s, shortly before he perished in a riverboat accident. In 1871 a two-story building was added at the rear of its garden. In the rear building Frances Xavier Cabrini (now a Catholic saint) ran a school.
RETURN TO ROYAL STREET AND TURN LEFT.
The Lalaurie Home
1140 Royal Street
Many consider this to be the most haunted house in America’s most haunted city. When Madame Delphine Macarty de Lopez Blanque wed Dr. Louis Lalaurie, it was her third marriage -- she’d already been widowed twice. The Lalauries moved into this residence in 1832, and they soon were impressing the city with extravagant parties. One night in 1834, however, fire broke out and neighbors crashed through a locked door to find seven starving slaves chained in painful positions, unable to move. The sight, combined with Delphine’s stories of past slaves having “committed suicide,” enraged her neighbors. Madame Lalaurie and her family escaped a mob’s wrath and fled to Paris. Several years later she died in Europe, and her body was returned to New Orleans -- and even then she had to be buried in secrecy.
1132 Royal Street
This house, at 1132 Royal St., was built in 1857 by James Gallier, Jr., as his residence. Gallier and his father were two of the city’s leading architects. Anne Rice was thinking of this house when she described where Lestat and Louis lived in Interview with the Vampire.
TURN LEFT ON URSULINES AVENUE, TOWARDS THE RIVER.
Old Ursuline Convent
southeast corner of Ursulines Avenue and Chartres Street
The Old Ursuline Convent dates to 1752 and is the oldest surviving example of French Colonial architecture in New Orleans.
TURN LEFT ON CHARTRES STREET
1113 Chartres Street
This “raised cottage” was built as a residence in 1826 by Joseph Le Carpentier. Notable are the Doric porch columns and handsome flanking staircases.
TURN RIGHT ON ESPLANADE AVENUE.
The Old U.S. Mint
400 block of Esplanade Avenue
The United States Mint was built in 1835 from designs by Greek Revival master William Strickland. This was once the site of Fort St. Charles, one of the defenses built to protect New Orleans in 1792. It was here that Andrew Jackson reviewed the “troops” -- pirates, volunteers, and a nucleus of trained soldiers -- he later led in the Battle of New Orleans.
TURN RIGHT ON DECATUR STREET (the river is on your left).
Old French Market
Decatur Street and French Market Place
This European-style market has been here for well over 200 years.
Joan of Arc Statue
Decatur Street and North Peters Street
This is an exact copy of the famous 1880 Emmanuel Fremiet equestrian statue of Joan of Arc located at Place des Pyramides, Paris.
Cafe du Monde
Decatur Street opposite St. Ann Street
The Cafe du Monde has been serving up beignets (powdered French donuts) in New Orleans since 1882.
600 Decatur Street
The Jax Brewery opened in 1890 and brewed and bottled Jax Beer until the 1970s. Today the converted brewery is home to shops and a museum devoted to the beer.
Decatur Street and St. Peter Street
The Crescent City Connection, best viewed from Woldenberg Park above Jackson Square, opened in 1958.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO YOUR STARTING POINT IN JACKSON SQUARE.