Work halted on Madame John’s Legacy while consultant inspects building

While thousands are flocking to New Orleans for Carnival festivities, Laurence Wilson and his team from MCWB Architects are visiting the French Quarter this week with a different goal: a close inspection of one of the city’s oldest homes.

Wilson, whose firm has offices in Albany, NY, and Williamsburg, Va., was selected by the Louisiana State Museum Board to advise it on the use of best practices in historic preservation at Madame John’s Legacy, 632 Dumaine St. The building was one of the few structures to have escaped a massive French Quarter fire in 1794, and it has been a state museum site for many years. (It’s likely the home was significantly burned in a fire in 1788 and rebuilt before the 1794 blaze.)

Repairs to the state-owned home commenced in 2022, but in December, the museum board agreed to temporarily halt exterior work at the site to determine if alterations proposed by the architect and contractor are consistent with preservation best practices. Those alterations were put forward as change-orders to the original scope of work, which called for re-roofing and masonry repairs.

Local preservationists were upset to learn that the project change-orders included replacing the turned wood columns and brick wall along Dumaine Street with new chamfered columns and brick piers. The Vieux Carré Commission, which oversees America’s second oldest historic district, passed a resolution of concern. The Preservation Resource Center joined with several sister organizations to submit a letter calling on the museum board to consult with the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office and utilize the best practices as described in the Secretary of Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Recognizing the need for a neutral specialist to advise them, the board agreed to retain a consultant with experience in historic houses and cultural institutions.

Wilson was a lead architect on the restoration of the New York State Capitol and several buildings at Williams College in Massachusetts, according to the MCWB website. At the board’s meeting in January, Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, whose office oversees the Louisiana State Museum, told the group his priority is expending state funds authorized for the building in a timely and efficient way and that he would leave design questions to professionals.

As for the building’s peculiar name, it comes from a fictional inhabitant in a story by George Washington Cable.

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