There is reason to be optimistic about the future of Madame John’s Legacy, the state museum and National Historic Landmark, which has been undergoing a controversial renovation since 2022. For years, the preservation community has voiced concerns about the state’s renovation of the late 18th-century house at 632 Dumaine St., as the plans completely deviated from best practices for historic preservation.
Last month, the Louisiana Office of Facility Planning and Control, which is overseeing the renovation, organized a productive site visit with staff from the New Orleans Vieux Carré Commission. According to VCC staff, state officials agreed to nearly all the VCC’s specific concerns and recommendations. On the few modifications, the VCC had no real objections.
Built in 1788, Madame John’s Legacy is one of the oldest extant buildings in the city and one of the best remaining examples of French Colonial-style architecture. It’s a nationally significant site. In November, the VCC issued a Stop Work Order for construction at the site after a new opinion from the City of New Orleans legal department found that the VCC had jurisdiction over work performed on state-owned buildings in the French Quarter. The state disagrees with this finding but agreed to pause work for 10 days.
After the December 2023 site visit and cooperative response from the state, the VCC lifted the Stop Work Order with the understanding that construction will continue in accordance with the recommendations outlined. Already some progress has been made, particularly on the slate roof and its supports.
State officials agreed that until a Historic Structures Report is drafted they will not replace porch columns or posts on the street level with anything permanent — or anything that might appear permanent. Instead, the VCC prefers that the state secures the structure with temporary square posts that will subsequently be replaced with historically appropriate columns informed by the report. Temporary posts are already installed on the ground level.
The PRC applauds the hard work and diligence of the VCC staff and the preservation community for its continued efforts to preserve this architectural gem and appreciates the state’s Office of Facility Planning and Control’s new commitment to following best practices in historic preservation. This collaboration reinforces that ultimately, the VCC and the state share the common responsibility of ensuring the maintenance and protection of New Orleans’ historic buildings.
MaryNell Nolan-Wheatley is PRC’s Advocacy Coordinator & Public Policy Research Director.