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Founded in 1966 by General L. Kemper Williams and his wife Leila, the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC) has a mission of preserving the French Quarter and New Orleans history. Restored are seven architectural treasures in its Royal Street Complex and the Williams Research Center and on Chartres Street.
The Royal Street Complex Includes:
This main front building, which today houses the Williams Gallery, Louisiana History Galleries and the museum shop, occupies land that has been in continuous use from the early days of the colony in the 1720s.
Dating back to 18th century, the entire block belonged to the French Crown and was the site of workmen's barracks and the king's forges. Later, when the land was subdivided, a private dwelling was constructed on the Royal Street lot but destroyed by the great fire of 1788. In 1792, Jean Francois Merieult, a prosperous merchant and trader, purchased the property on Royal Street and began construction on the building that would survive the fire of 1794. Merieult's Spanish colonial house was remodeled in the 1830s by the Cuban firm of Lizardi Brothers, commission merchants and international bankers. The Merieult House today still preserves the style of the 1830s renovation.
A Grand Greek revival room used for meetings, seminars, receptions, and exhibitions began its life as colonial warehouse. The two-story building borders The Collection's main courtyard and is named for the banking activities conducted by the Lizardi firm on this site in the 19th century.
It was originally built as a warehouse by Jean Francois Merieult in 1794/95. A 20th-century renovation revealed that material from a previous warehouse had been incorporated into Merieult's building. Today small hideaways in the room's columns reveal small French bricks and ventilator grills dating from the early colonial warehouse, ask to see it!
Across the courtyard from the Counting House, the three-story Maisonette features wooden galleries and railings. This service wing, situated on Merieult's original purchase, was constructed over an earlier structure that was built at the same time as the Merieult House in the 1790s. Archives, dated February 22, 1819, show a warehouse on this site. Today the Maisonette houses staff offices, but can be admired from the Courtyard.
One of the main attractions of the Historic New Orleans Collection, is named for Kemper and Leila Williams. The 1940s and 50s decor remains from the time they lived there. Tours of the residence are offered daily.
Built in 1889, almost 100 years after the Merieult House, the residence is an Italianate, two-story brick house with galleries. The history of the property dates to Jean Francois Merieult, but it was Jean Baptiste Trapolin who built his house at the rear of the lot and purchased contiguous land fronting on Toulouse Street. The residence, surrounded by three courtyards, is often described as a hidden house.
The townhouse is a newer addition to The Collection, acquired in 1980. The Townhouse is home to The Collection's photography department and staff offices. Dating from the 19th century, this two-story brick building replaced an earlier Creole townhouse. The balconies and the columns are typical of a 19th century Creole Townhouse.
Louis Adam built the early two-story masonry house at 722 Toulouse Street in 1788. In the 1970s, the house was restored to its original Spanish colonial style to include a wood gallery and high-pitched, tiled roof. In the 1930s, it was opened to boarders and for a short time a young playwright, Tennessee Williams, who lived high up in a garret room, which you can tour today.
This double cottage at 726-728 Toulouse Street is now a workspace of the exhibition preparation department. It was purchased by The Collection 1990. During the summer of 1991, an archaeological dig revealed evidence of all the structures that existed prior to the house now on the site:
The philanthropist Thomy Lafon bought the cottage in 1876 and willed it to the Society of the Holy Family.
New exhibition center at The Historic New Orleans Collection
Across the street from THNOC's original location at 533 Royal Street is a new, 36,000-square-foot exhibition center, which is comprised of the meticulously restored 1816 Seignouret-Brulatour Building and courtyard and a brand new building, all of which is part of the latest expansion to the museum’s campus. The site houses the city's only continuing exhibition on the history of the French Quarter; changing exhibitions on the history and culture of New Orleans and the surrounding region; dynamic digital interactive displays; a hands-on educational space; a fully restored Aeolian pipe organ; a 2,000-square-foot museum shop; and a cafe;. The first major changing exhibition at the site is THNOC's first large-scale exhibition of contemporary art: "Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina," on view through October 6.