Prior to purchasing his own home at 1014 Dumaine Street, Tennessee Williams, widely regarded as America’s greatest playwright, often stayed at Maison de Ville, in Room 9. It was in this room that he completed what many consider his masterpiece, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” (During breaks in writing, he often sat in the courtyard, enjoying a Sazerac.) He was filmed in the Maison De Ville courtyard for an interview in 1974 with TV host Dick Cavett, the occasion for a moment of nostalgia.
Alexander Wylie and Mary A McDougall
Today’s Maison de Ville began its modern-day history courtesy of Madeline Erlich, a Pennsylvania woman who visited New Orleans in 1944 (near the end of World War II). During her visit she made the acquaintance of Mrs. A. W. (Mary) McDougall, who operated a successful travel agency. While visiting in the McDougall home at 727 Toulouse St, Mrs. Erlich encountered a French Quarter patio for the first time, and its inviting charm brought about her disappointment that the French Quarter did not boast a hotel embodying the neighborhood’s captivating ambience.
Mrs. Erlich convinced her friends to help her remedy this lack, but in searching available properties she found nothing appropriate. Intrigued by the history of the house and the fascinating tale of Monsieur Peychaud’s Sazerac cocktail, and buffeted by enthusiasm, Mrs. Erlich managed to persuade the McDougalls to move to an equally charming, but slightly smaller house, allowing Toulouse Street house to be converted into the splendid little hotel they had envisioned. Mrs. Erlich, in her newfound position as manager of the upcoming hotel, set out to acquire the finest in furniture and decorations. One of her most notable acquisitions was a door from the old St. Louis Hotel, which had been almost completely destroyed by a hurricane in 1915. This very door, with its panel of etched glass between two sections of elaborately carved wood, still graces the main entrance of Hotel Maison de Ville.
Antoine Amede Peychaud and Blondeau
Among the early residents of the home was the apothecary Antoine Amede Peychaud, who was to play a prominent role in New Orleans’ cultural history. Long before today’s Hand Grenade or the last generation’s Hurricane, there was New Orleans’ first signature cocktail … the Sazerac. Peychaud developed this libation with a concoction of bitters and brandies, measured in a “coquetier,” or eggcup. The beverage has become legendary
In many Creole homes at that time, the first floor was used for commercial purposes, such as a store or office, but this appears not to have been the case
In a text titled “Social Life in Old New Orleans, Being Recollections of my Girlhood”, Ms Elize Ripley mentions Ms Henriette Blondeau part and parcel with her recollection of the “most fashionable Opera House in the land then”, the Old New Orleans Opera House: “dusky Henriette Blondeau comes, with her tignon stuck full of pins and the deep pockets of her apron bulging with sticks of bandoline, pots of pomade, hairpins and a bandeau comb, to dress the hair of mademoiselle” (68). For free blacks attention to hair and clothing could lend them a refinement that would break the color barrier of the era. Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau did similar work and built her name on the social life that ensued. According to the Ripley, Henriette was a “fashionable hair dresser” who achieved an envied style consisting of a “wide plait surrounding a nest of stiff puffs”, called the basket of fruit (111).
Jean Baptiste Benjamin Vignié
New Orleans’ French heritage and tradition made the crescent city an ideal refuge for the soldiers who fled to the new world after Napoleon’s exile from France in the early 1800’s.
It is said that those soldiers left a lasting impression through the preservation of Napoleonic Code and the naming of streets. Colonel Jean Baptiste Benjamin Vignié was head of Napoleon’s cavalry corps but turned to piracy upon arrival in the new world. An 1812 act of sale on display at the New Orleans Historic Collection lists Colonel Jean Baptiste Benjamin Vignié as the purchaser of the privateer (think pirate) ship “Pandoure”, which may have acted as his residence prior to his settling at what would be the Maison de Ville. Another document discusses the division of spoils gathered on the same ship. Vignie may have enjoyed living at 727 Toulouse Street especially since it’s only 3 blocks from Pirate’s Alley!
with Peychaud, who operated his pharmacy around the corner on Royal Street.
Joseph Guillot and Claude Gurlie
The French Quarter was just developing its’ signature look during the early 19th century, largely in part due to the efforts of a few key architect-builders. Guillot and Gurlie owned property all along Toulouse Street, Royal Street and down along lower Decatur and spent considerable effort adding to each of their properties. What had originally been a one story, family home grew into the three story, balcony adorned, French Quarter mainstay. The two French-born architects are known for the signature design in the wood cornice that edges the roof of Hotel Maison de Ville.
Jean Baptiste Lille Sarpy
The modern day Maison de Ville (which in French means townhouse), is a three-story structure of which the first story was built by French immigrant Jean Baptiste Lille Sarpy in 1793, in what was at the time the center of the city. Across the courtyard, with its imposing three-tiered cast iron fountain, are the four former slave quarters, believed to have been constructed about 50 years earlier than the main building, and among the oldest existing buildings in New Orleans. Some references on these structures (which had originally been slave quarters) refer to them as “garconnieres,” or bachelor quarters. Often in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Creoles built small, separate buildings for their grown sons to reside in until they married, and it is quite likely that these buildings were used as such by different owners.
A year 1800 inventory of the property at 727 Rue Toulouse describes “a house of brick and wood which is inhabited by the defunct with his family, terraced roof, at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse Streets, built on a lot 70’ in front and 80’ of depth, to which has been added two lots that goes with the house in Toulouse Street.”
Lille Sarpy and his wife, Marie-Josèphe “Puoponne” Diaz, a Creole of French, Spanish and African ancestry, began construction on Toulouse Street with a one story home for their growing family. Lille Sarpy died in 1798, leaving the home to the son that carried his same name. Jean Baptiste Jr. sold the property shortly thereafter but his family has an interesting connection to modern New Orleans. Around 1935 misfortune struck the Lille Sarpys when Jean Baptiste Jr. passed away and his wife suffered a nervous breakdown. Following those sad events the Sarpy’s daughter, Henriette (better known as Henriette DeLille after the French translation of her family name), inherited the family home, promptly sold it and used the funds gained from the sale of the house to finance the founding of the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order of nuns made up of free women of color in New Orleans and the first of its kind.