Editors Notes: New Orleans is a city that is considered to be one of the top tourist destinations in the United States, receiving almost 20 million tourists a year. One of those reasons is the unique architectural styles found throughout the city, such as French influence and shotgun homes. Another is the unique style of city planning that began in Jackson square and follows the form of the Mississippi River. The history of the unique architectural styles is something New Orleans natives and those who visit should be informed on — everything from street tiles to not-so-tall buildings. This piece about the vibrant Royal Street was originally published August 1, 2016.
Memory Note: In honor and memory of Sharon Litwin, The Queen here at NolaVie, we will be publishing a piece from her every day for the next month. Sharon was an advocate and spokeswoman for arts, culture, people, and policies here in New Orleans. Her voice and sharp wit will be greatly missed.
To hear Sharon Litwin’s radio interview with Priscilla Lawrence, click here.
It’s not exactly hidden, the extraordinary house at 533 Royal Street. No, it’s more that it’s one of those places that locals tend to just walk past when they’re in the French Quarter.
Beautifully maintained, perhaps a tad imposing, locals and tourists alike may think it’s someone’s home. And, indeed, at one time that’s exactly what it was. Now it houses the Historic New Orleans Collection, one of the premier archives in the country specializing in objects and documents about New Orleans and the Gulf South region — one that welcomes all who want to come in and poke around.
The late General Kemper Williams, a native of Patterson, La., and a veteran of both World Wars, and his New Orleans-born wife Leila bought the property more than 75 years ago. It was a time when the French Quarter was decidedly unfashionable, a time well before most people recognized the architectural value of this very special part of our town.
But history lovers and preservationists both, the Williamses decided that was where they wanted to live; more precisely, in the 1792 building across the patio at the rear of the Royal Street entrance.
Priscilla Lawrence, longtime director of HNOC, oversees an 80-person staff dedicated to protecting everything about this city’s history and culture, past and present. She walks in the footsteps of Gen. and Mrs. Williams, honoring their desire to maintain the original character of the neighborhood.
“Kemper and Leila Williams were so dedicated to the French Quarter that they purchased property in order to save it,” Lawrence says. “We have kept that mission by being the best citizens of the Quarter that we can be and by honoring the Williams’s request that their home be open as an example of ‘days gone by.’”
So stop by. Take your guests. Take your family. It’s a welcoming spot and you’ll learn some interesting and, often, little-know facts about this very European corner in one of the very southernmost parts of North America.
For more information about the exhibition schedules, archival material and events at the Historic New Orleans Collection, go to www.hnoc.org.
Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.