Fifteen years and 38 million dollars later, The Historic New Orleans Collection unveiled a glorious new addition to their galleries on April 6th at 520 Royal St. in the heart of the French Quarter.
The Seignouret-Brulatour mansion was built in 1816 by Francois Seignouret who emigrated from France in 1808 and established a successful furniture business. He fought in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans and wanted to live in the Quarter. He envisioned a business on the first floor with a versatile courtyard and a terraced roof for his family to enjoy. The balcony is decorated with the extensive ironwork emboldened with an “S” for Seignouret. Later he developed a wine importing business from his native Bordeaux and sold the building in 1865.
Pierre Brulatour, another wine merchant, purchased the property in 1870 and owned it until 1887. Afterwards William Ratcliffe Irby, a tobacco magnate, completed some extensive renovations and the site housed the New Orleans Arts & Crafts Club from 1922 to 1933. Station WDSU, the city’s first TV station after World War II, operated out of the building from 1950 to 1997 and it has remained relatively vacant since the purchase by the Collection in 2006. An Aeolian pipe organ that Irby installed on the third floor has been restored and will be functional for many events.
With a 12,000 square foot exhibition center, the three-story building has undergone a complete transformation, adding a new building—The Tricentennial Wing—in the back for a total of 19,000 square feet of space. This effectively doubles the space of the publicly available galleries for the Collection in the Quarter on three campuses including the existing facility across the street at 533 Royal St. and the Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres.
There are sections for the books of famous authors of the Quarter such as William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams; a music section with various artifacts; information on the original site of the French Opera House; a hands-on educational display suitable for all family members; photos and memorabilia from the 1984 Worlds’ Fair and many other displays to capture all interests.
Interactive art pieces and photos of historic figures from colonial times to the Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees holding the Lombardi Trophy after the 2010 Super Bowl! You can push a button on any of the pieces to learn more about that particular individual.
A display titled Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina, presented by the Helis Foundation, will encourage visitors to learn more about the current efforts to preserve the history of this special neighborhood. Yes, the French Quarter is above all else, a neighborhood; a good portion of the area is residential and respect for the full-time or part-time residents is crucial to the maintenance of this atmosphere.
The Collection has sponsored the Concerts in the Courtyard series at the prior location across the street at 533 Royal St. and we are looking forward to this beautiful venue for local musicians and performances in the new location.
There will be an expanded museum shop; a new food service facility, Café Cour, managed by Dana and Christina Honn of Carmo (a local restaurant in the Warehouse district) and three separate state of the art galleries with interactive displays as mentioned above.
One of the interactive displays will have a “smart table” that gives information on any one of hundreds of buildings in the Quarter with the click of a button. You can also see how the courtyard looked in 1820 or 1880 or 1960 from the second and third floor virtual reality binoculars for viewing.
There will be displays on the history of the French Quarter in architecture and the archaeology of the property. The doors and windows opened together with the protected courtyard creating breezes that lessened the sometimes oppressive heat. One of the discoveries in the recent renovation concluded that the soft local bricks used in the original construction allowed the moisture to be absorbed and conducted upwards. The mortar and plasters used at that time were “breathable” and assisted in the diffusion of the moisture.
More modern paints in the later restorations held the moisture in and with the advance of air-conditioning, created problems with the existing soft bricks. The contractors had to repair many damaged bricks while shoring up other areas within the complex. The new building in the back also had to comply with strict architectural codes.
The Block Party originally scheduled for April 7th has been postponed to May 18th due to expected rain in the area.
This restored 203 year old mansion is a must-see on your list and will be a jewel in the crown that is the French Quarter. It is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm on Tuesdays-Saturday and from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm on Sundays. Admission is free and the experience is priceless!