Field Trip Friday! Williams Residence
You know all those museums you’ve been telling yourself (and others) that you need to go visit? Summer is really the perfect time to do it! There are less crowds, the museums are typically temperature controlled, and there are deals everywhere.
Have you heard about the new French Quarter Museum Association? You haven’t?
Here’s the skinny, the French Quarter Museum Association includes 13 museums in the French Quarter.
- Beauregard Keyes House
- New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
- New Orleans Jazz Museum
- Hermann-Grima House
- Gallier House
- Louis Cathedral
- Ursuline Convent
- 1850 House
- Historic New Orleans Collection properties – including the Historic Collection, Williams Residence, Williams Research Center and their newest building which will be opening in the fall.
When you go to any of these great museums the clerk will give you a fan with info about the FQMA. Don’t lose this fan because as you go to each museum, the fan gets you a discount in each one. A visit to any of the participating museums will also get you a hole punch in your fan. If you collect 5 hole punches, you get a free dessert at Tableau Restaurant. What is better than free dessert!!
This week I chose the Williams Residence at The Historic New Orleans Collection. I always try to bring my French Quarter Tour guests into their courtyard to discuss how these private family spaces work. Courtyards are wonderful secret areas shielded from the noise and grime of the streets. A person standing out on the street has no idea what wondrous things are hiding behind the homes. Each one is different – some have fountains, or beautiful foliage. The HNOC has both in their fabulous well-kept courtyard.
Now let’s back up a little bit, The Historic New Orleans Collection is literally that – a collection of exhibits and artifacts in a collection of buildings that are (mostly) Free to visit. There is a Historic Collection, Williams residence, Williams Research Center, and other buildings that support this incredible city resource.
The main building that houses the Historic New Orleans Collection is pretty old. It was built for the Merieult Family in 1792 in our Spanish Era. It changed hands a couple of times, but then finally was owned by Lelia and Kemper Williams. Their love of architecture and New Orleans artifacts led to the amazing foundation that created the HNOC.
I took a tour of the Williams Residence, which faces Toulouse Street, but is connected to the Merieult House through the courtyard mentioned above. The Williams Residence was built later than the Merieult house, by almost a hundred years. The tour is $5 per person, but if you have your fan you can get a buy one get one deal. (Fun!)
The tour was led by Malinda Blevins, a great guide who had grown up dreaming of teaching. So many of us wanted to educate, and here we are. She gave a great introduction to the history of the property including the list of owners and patiently answered all our questions. You can tell she loves giving folks tours of this home.
The hour long tour took us through the home, and it was fascinating to see how wealthy people lived in the French Quarter in the 40s -60s. Everything was still there, from furniture and dishes, to bed linens and a small hat collection. There were even unsmoked cigarettes in (cleaned) ashtrays. In the kitchen, I almost felt like the family had just stepped out to the store and never came home.
I think the most interesting thing to me was how they worked with color in this house. The main colors throughout were mostly muted floral colors. The living room walls were painted in a dusty rose color with a strange ivory trim which included acanthus leaves and bull skulls. The furniture in this room was cream, a pinkish floral print and green. Much of the decorative pieces included cypress wood, as Kemper had owned a major cypress company in Patterson, Louisiana. There were also some paired ceramic pieces that were perhaps intended to be turned into lamps. In fact, a couple of the lamps in the room had been old metal samovars that had their spouts removed. Neat idea, to buy paired objects and turn them into lamps….
Where was I? Oh right, color! In the dining room, the colors were purple, green, and gold. Not the garish bold stripes seen on Mardi Gras shirts, but instead a really lovely application through muted, dusty hues. The rug contained all three colors, but the chairs and curtains were different patterns of mauve and gold. Upstairs, the walls of the sitting room (parlor?) were painted sage green and the furniture was a mix of antique and more modern pieces, in pink floral patterns. I would call this room the strawberry patch room. It was really lovely. I could imagine Mrs. Williams’s lady friends chatting away in tea length dresses in this room.
We looked in on Mrs. Williams’s bedroom, which was mostly decorated in pale gold, from curtains to linens. The room included a twin bed and a light yellow chaise lounge. The crown that she wore as Queen of the Mystic Krewe decorated her bureau. As her room was located on the second story, she had a wonderful view of the courtyard and Creole Cottages across the street.
There were some really amazing pieces of artwork in this house, from the large portraits of Lelia and Kemper in the dining room to local maps in the stair well. My favorite pieces of artwork by far were the watercolors painted by their friend Boyd Cruise. They were lovely paintings of different building is in the city. I really love them.
I am so glad that I finally got my act together to see this incredible building and learn more about life in New Orleans 80 years ago. Perhaps my next museum field trip should be the 1850 house, so I can see what life was like in New Orleans 168 years ago! Either way, I will be bringing my fan so I can get a new hole punched in it next week. At this rate, I’ll be eating free dessert at Tableau in a month! Stay Tuned!!
P.S. While I was downtown, I also managed to check out the Temperature Lunch at Palace Café. This is a seasonal summer deal where the price of their special today reflects the temperature yesterday. So if yesterday’s high temp was 95 degrees, you’re paying $9.50 for a lunch in a fancy restaurant that includes an appetizer of soup or salad and whatever the special of the day is. When I went, the special was a panko crusted chicken breast with pureed cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. It was one of the best chicken dished I’ve ever had. Every day they post their Temperature Lunch Special on the website. Find out more here.