Visit this and 6 other stunning homes in New Orleans’ historic Garden District and Lower Garden District at the Holiday Home Tour on Dec. 8 and 9.
917 Race Street • Susan & Ronnie Mizell
In 2015, when Susan and Ronnie Mizell first toured the run-down fourplex at 917 Race St., its potential immediately apparent. “It was in simply deplorable condition,” Susan said, “however, both of us knew as soon as we walked in the house that it was what we had been searching for.”
But the veteran restorers — who admit they are “preservationists at heart”— knew they were looking at a diamond in the rough. “Since there were so many holes in the floors and ceilings, my husband, Ronnie, noticed the joists were made of cypress and probably not used since the late 1800s. The medallions, although damaged, were original and intact. The staircase was covered with tons of old paint, but sturdy, and the original floors were salvageable,” Susan said. “I could go on, but this is one of Ronnie’s great talents — he sees rescue in these historic buildings where most people don’t.” The couple made an offer on the house within hours of seeing it.
Within weeks, they embarked upon an 18-month journey to bring the Classical Revival townhouse back to its former glory as a luxurious but livable family home in one of New Orleans’ most historic neighborhoods.
The Race Street lot bordered by Annunciation and Constance streets was first sold at auction in 1859 to Ashael Walker Cooper and his first wife, Ann Sullivan Cooper, who subsequently built the structure. Cooper, a native of Philadelphia, was a prominent businessman, member of what was then known as the “American Colony” in New Orleans and the owner of the Cooper Cotton Press at the foot of Race Street, among other investments.
In the late 1930s, the house, which remained in the Cooper family for decades, was one of the first entries into the United States Historical American Buildings Survey. But, like many properties in the neighborhood, by the end of the 20th century, the property had been subdivided into multiple units and had fallen into disrepair.
Envisioning a home that could comfortably accommodate their 10 young grandchildren, Susan and Ronnie engaged Leslie Raymond from Albert Architecture to strike a balance between architectural integrity and modern convenience. “We didn’t want a museum,” Susan said, “but we did need air conditioning.”
While maintaining the medallions and moldings around the high ceilings, cypress pocket doors and stairways, long leaf pine floors and New Orleans handmade brick, the owners and architect opened up the lower floors to create a flow from the parlors to the kitchen, and configured four bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms and multiple sitting areas for a family that loves reading and conversation.
The interior, designed by Susan, is furnished with a highly personal mix of Mid-Century Modern family pieces surrounded by 19th-century French fixtures. Landscape architects Alvarez+Basik took on the challenge of creating a garden and pool for the family, and this year created an outdoor kitchen and entertaining area.
When asked if Race Street will ever be truly finished, Susan said: “At this point, the house is everything we could have ever wanted. I don’t ever feel like, ‘I wish I would have done this or that.’ It’s just perfect for us. ”
But, she adds, “we never say never.”
Photos by Sara Essex Bradley
Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 8 & 9 in the Garden District and Lower Garden District
Advance sale tickets: $30 for PRC members, $45 for non-members. $50 on day of tour.