The Story of Hotel Maison de Ville

The Maison de Ville (which in French means townhouse), is a three-story structure rebuilt by Jean Baptiste Lilie Sarpy in 1783, in what was at the time the center of the city.

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 brands, measured in a “coquetier,” or eggcup. The beverage has become legendary, and to this day is still made with Peychaud’s Bitters.

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 with Peychaud, who operated his pharmacy around the corner on Royal Street.

The Maison de Ville’s main building, located at 727 Toulouse Street, now contains the main foyer, the hotel’s office and refreshment center, the parlor, and nine guest rooms. 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. They are now guest rooms and suites. The former carriage house, just off the courtyard, is now a two-story suite, referred to as “The Cottage.”

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, 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 the house at 727 Toulouse Street 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.

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 patio for a 1974 interview with TV host Dick Cavett, the occasion for a moment of nostalgia.

Many celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Redford and Dan Akroyd, have enjoyed stays here, as well as leaders of business and government officials. Countless guests have enjoyed their weddings, honeymoons, vacations, spring breaks, festivals and conventions with us. After two years closed for renovations, we are finally ready to welcome everyone back. We hope your stay will be a pleasant one, and that you will return to us for each visit to New Orleans.

A Brief of History of New Orleans

New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, on a site that for centuries had been an Indian portage between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. He instructed that the city be laid out in a neat grid. In order to assure royal patronage, the city was named in honor of Philip II, Duc d’Orleans, the uncle of and regent for King Louis XV of France during his infancy. Most streets were named after members of the reigning Bourbon family, and the heart of the city was the Place d’Armes, or parade ground, now known as Jackson Square. The city was to become the capital of the Louisiana Territory, and extended France’s dominion along the Gulf of Mexico past the long-established colonies of Mobile and Biloxi.

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As many colonists were lured to New Orleans, the city rapidly became the major settlement in French America, as it teemed with industry and bristled with political importance. At the end of the Seven Years War, in 1763, France ceded all her territory west of the Mississippi River, including New Orleans (which is actually on the east bank of the river), to Spain. The city remained under Spanish rule until 1800, when Spain was forced to return the Louisiana Territory to France by Napoleon Bonaparte. For this reason, and to the surprise of many visitors, most of the architecture in the French Quarter is actually Spanish.

Two devastating fires, in 1786 and 1794, destroyed almost the entire city. This is why most of the oldest buildings in what is now known as the French Quarter date from very late in the 18th century. An exception is the old Ursuline Convent, located at 1114 Chartres Street, a portion of which was constructed about 1750, and which is believed to be the oldest surviving structure in the MIssissippi valley.

Children and descendants of the early French and Spanish settlers, known as Creoles, kept their close ties with their European homelands. They resolutely continued using their original languages in business, newspapers and conversation. Families of means sent their sons back to Europe for their educations. Befitting their keen interest in the arts, fine cuisine, and society’s rituals, the Creoles considered themselves the pinacle of culture and elegance of the burgeoning American frontier.

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when New Orleans suddenly became a part of the United States, even if in name only, the Creoles continued to live their daily lives much as they always had. This change in nationality, however, predictably opened New Orleans’ doors to settlers from other parts of the New World, and even from all over the globe. Coming as a surprise to no one, there were frequent clashes between the Creoles and these (at least to the Creoles) unwelcome newcomers. Most Creoles simply retired behind the high walls of their private houses and courtyards.

Owing to their divergent lifestyles, most of the new settlers opted to live across Canal Street, in what is now called the Central Business District. The more wealthy of them created the section of New Orleans now known as the Garden District, and developed their properties in the “American style,” meaning surrounded by spacious yards and gardens, which placed these newcomers even further from the Vieux Carre (French Quarter), which was mostly inhabited by Creoles.