New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Monday, July 15, 2024

717 Orleans Street -- Bourbon Orleans Hotel

Theatre D Orleans - Orleans Ballroom/Convent of the Holy Family/Bourbon Orleans Hotel

The site of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel at 717 Orleans Avenue in the French Quarter has a long and interesting history which includes its use as a convent and school, a theater and opera house, and as a host for Creole society gatherings.  In 1816 the Orleans Ballroom and connecting Theatre D’ Orleans were built only to be destroyed by fire several months later.  In 1817, Henry Latrobe (who also designed the first U.S. Custom House in New Orleans) was commisioned to plan new structures for the same purposes.  Grand opera was first introduced in the city at The Orleans Theater.  The Orleans Ballroom was so elegant that a grand ball was held there for Marquis de Lafayette but it is best known as the first hall to host Quadroon Balls (it was often called the Quadroon Ballroom).  Its glory days ended in 1838 when the St. Louis Hotel opened a grander ballroom.  In 1828 the buildings housed the State Legislature after the Government House burned.  From 1852 until 1881 the First District Court was in session there.  The theater burned in 1866 but the ballroom remained untouched by the fire.  The Society of the Holy Family (also known as the Sisters of the Holy Family) acquired the site in 1881 and converted it into a convent and school for Black girls.  This photograph was taken in 1963 shortly before work began on the Bourbon Orleans hotel which incorporated the façade and other parts of the original building into its design.   (Courtesy Library of Congress.)



The Society of the Holy family (the second oldest Catholic religious order for women of color) was founded in 1842 at St. Augustine’s Church by Henriette Delille, a free woman of color who was born in New Orleans in 1813.  The Sisters first opened St. Mary’s School on Chartres Street in 1867 before moving to the Orleans Ballroom in 1881 when it was renamed St. Mary’s Academy.  It was New Orleans’ first Catholic secondary school for Black girls.  The school moved to Chef Menteur Highway (where the Motherhouse had already been built) in 1965 after having vacated the Orleans Avenue location and spending the prior year temporarily housed in the St. Louis Cathedral School. This circa 1899 photograph of the Sisters was reportedly displayed as part of the American Negro exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1900.  (Courtesy Library of Congress.)