Historic Structures Report ordered for Madame John’s Legacy

On Monday, March 13, the Louisiana State Museum Board of Directors commissioned a Historic Structures Report for Madame John’s Legacy, a museum-owned property at 632 Dumaine St., following the recommendation of the board’s Architecture Committee. The late-18th-century house became the subject of controversy last year when the team undertaking long-planned repairs proposed significant exterior alterations, prompting the Vieux Carré Commission to pass a resolution expressing concern. The Preservation Resource Center joined the Friends of the Cabildo, Louisiana Landmarks Society and Vieux Carré residents to plead for caution, and the museum board agreed to retain a neutral preservation consultant to advise them.

The board subsequently retained Laurence Wilson of New York-based MCBW Architects. His findings, presented on Monday, validated the views of local preservationists that a Historic Structures Report should proceed any significant alterations. A proper restoration requires documented evidence of a structure’s appearance during a specific date range, to which it is then restored and interpreted. The board made no final decision on the matter, but its Architecture Committee suggested that a circa-1788 restoration would be ideal if feasible. First, a brick wall beneath the gallery that is failing will be removed to allow for archeological investigation, which may help determine if it was original or a later addition.

The board also authorized two additional expenditures recommended by the committee: adding a building conservator to the project team for the duration of the work and hiring a structural engineer with expertise in historic timber framing to advise on concerns identified in Wilson’s report. PRC and partners welcomed the decisions and statements by board members acknowledging that the house itself is a valuable historic asset that serves the museum’s mission.

Nathan Lott is PRC’s Policy Research Director and Advocacy Coordinator.