2523 Prytania St. has a storied history, having been used as a private home for original Carnival royalty and celebrities, a chapel, a Catholic girls school, and home to two separate internationally famed celebrities, Anne Rice and Nicolas Cage, before becoming the family home of Heidi and James Dugan.
Designed in 1856 by famed architect Henry Howard for the wealthy coffee importer Henry T. Daily Lonsdale, the Greek-Italianate Revival mansion occupies three lots on the prominent corner of Prytania and Third Streets. The tallest building in the Garden District at the time, it was nicknamed the “skyscraper.” Once completed, Mr. Lonsdale sold the home to Nelson McStea and noted decorator, the former Abigail Slark, parents of the first Queen of Momus. A 1925 article in The Item Tribune advertises an auction of the home’s artwork, rugs, and fine European antiques, noting that the McSteas spent well over $100,000 to decorate the home the family occupied for three generations. Upon the death of Mrs. McStea in 1924, the Redemptorists acquired the property for use as a residence for elderly priests. During this time, Catholic families in the Garden District began attending mass at the Our Mother of Perpetual Help chapel, which was located in the home. The ironwork gazebo and statue of the Virgin Mary that were added by the Redemptorists during their tenure as owners of the property still stand today on the left side of the property. From 1929 to 1953, the Redemptorist Girls’ School, also known as “Third and Prytania,” operated on the property, serving Catholic Irish Channel and Garden District families.
2523 Prytania St. was purchased by Anne Rice in the mid 1990s. Subsequent owners Reuben “Buzz” Harper and Les Wisinger extensively renovated the home — and hosted the PRC’s 2002 Holiday Home Tour Patron Party before selling to Nicolas Cage in 2004. Still, current owners Heidi and James Dugan found that the home needed yet another round of renovations when they purchased the home in 2011. Although they initially planned for minor updates, the Dugans ultimately undertook a one-year project with extensive structural improvements due to widespread damage inflicted upon the home by a falling chimney. The front door of the stately mansion opens into a great room, which was once the site of the chapel. The grand staircase in the middle of the room now occupies the location of the chapel’s altar.
Many of the furnishings found throughout the home also belonged to individuals of note. The Dugan’s pool table originally belonged to Dean Martin, and the bar was imported from Europe by Nicolas Cage. Heidi went to great effort to ensure that some of the incredible furnishings and features that had been stripped from the house were returned. She searched antique stores throughout the city and was able to acquire the intricate stained glass above the stairs and the bar, which had been moved to the property from European properties belonging to Mr. Cage when he owned the house. She also found the custom-made dining table that had belonged to Buzz Harper.
The house today is grand and elegant, but Heidi and James make sure the space is comfortable and fun for their two sons. They revel in decorating for holidays and noted that the boys’ favorite days are when they come home from school and the new season of decorations are up. They transition from Halloween to Christmas to Mardi Gras so the house provides a playful backdrop for family living at every opportunity. -Mollye Demosthenidy and Jessie Schott Haynes, Photos by Liz Jurey