Archaeological dig underway at Madame John’s Legacy Museum on Dumaine Street

Madame John’s Legacy Museum on Dumaine Street | Reading Tom | CC Flickr

Archaeologists are conducting an excavation at the Madam John’s Legacy museum located at 632 Dumaine St. The museum is temporarily closed while repairs are done to restore the building, one of the oldest in the French Quarter, giving researchers a chance to see what’s under the construction site.

University of New Orleans researchers are leading the dig, which was reported by The Gambit earlier this month. The property itself is state-owned, but located in the Vieux Carre, which itself is designated a National Historical Landmark.

The paper cited Nathanael Heller, a senior research archeologist at the R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates firm, who said federal building projects following the events of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill resulted a “golden age of archaeology for New Orleans.”

The reason, according to Heller, is because of a provision in the 1966 National Historical Preservation Act that requires an archaeological examination for all federally-funded projects to ensure historical sites aren’t damaged.

The oldest neighborhood in New Orleans is the French Quarter, where lots have been continuously re-developed for the last 300 years. Built in 1788 after a major fire that destroyed most of the city, the Madame John’s Legacy building is considered to be one of the best examples of French colonial architecture in North America — even though it was constructed during a period when the Spanish governed Louisiana.

Several other sites have been the subject of archaeological digs in recent years, including at 810 Royal Street after a 200-year-old building collapsed there in 2014 and Saint Anthony’s Garden behind St. Louis Cathedral.

All sorts of things were found found in those digs, including goat skulls, old foundations, religious jewelry and, according to The Gambit, raccoon penis bones:

At any given point in a stroll around the French Quarter, you could be walking on this five-foot “cake” of human history: bricks on top of French colonial pottery on top of raccoon penis bones used in Voodoo rituals on top of dominoes made of bones on top of Indigenous Peoples’ pottery. It turns out archaeologists learn a lot about us through our trash.

The Gambit

Planning commission approves extra hours for proposed wine shop on Decatur Street

The New Orleans City Planning Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved additional hours of operation for wine shop slated to open on Decatur Street.

In a 6-0 vote, the commission approved the wine shop that will be located at 1118 Decatur St. to operate an additional hour later, or until 10 p.m., on weekdays from Sunday through Wednesday, while allowing it to stay open until midnight on the weekend from Thursday through Saturday.

The hours extension came with an application filed by property owner K&F Realty LLC to permit the wine shop on the ground floor, which was also approved. CPC staff recommended approval for the applications.

“In this particular area, the closing at 9 p.m. during the week and then closing at 10 p.m. during the weekends does not meet whatsoever the commercial ground floor character,” said Nicole Webre of Webre Consulting on behalf of K&F Realty, adding that nearby businesses have given their blessing for the hours extension. “It allows the flexibility for onsite and offsite consumption.”

The wine would operate with a store front at the Decatur Street location and on the other side of the block at 23-25 French Market Place.

Two speakers opposed the hours extension, including Nikki Szalwinski of the French Quarter Citizens and Erin Holmes of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, who said the extension would allow the wine shop to operate as more of a bar than a retail store due to the onsite consumption.

“We do not agree that the extension of hours are necessary for a successful business,” Holmes said, adding that conditional uses remain in perpetuity, allowing a future business to use the modification to open a bar. “While Decatur certainly does need increased economic vitality, the presence of another bar-like establishment isn’t necessary.”

Szalwinski agreed with Holmes, adding that it could set a precedent similar to the way other stores operate in the French Quarter, such as Compaq, which she described as a “really bad business.”

Webre said that it was a fair request since other restaurants in the district don’t have a set closing time, adding the additional hours fall in line with restaurants outside of the French Quarter, although Szalwinski said she’d like to see a set closing time applied to restaurants in the area.

“We are not asking for an unlimited extension on the hours of operation, but in this particular area, if you are down there in the evening, to close at 9 p.m. would basically cause the business to fail.”

CPC staff noted that there’s a written restriction that limits wine consumption to only 15% of the business, whereas the primary aspect of the operation is retail in order to address concerns that it may be used as a bar in the future.

“If we were going for a bar conditional use, why would we go for a wine shop conditional use?” said Webre, who pointed out that bars are already a conditional use in the Vieux Carre Services District.

Beauregard-Keyes House seeks tour guide volunteers

Photo courtesy of Infrogmation | CC Flickr
The Beauregard-Keyes House is seeking volunteers to guide tours on its historic property located on Chartres Street in the French Quarter.

Located at 1113 Chartres St., the house was designed by architect François Correjolles and built by James Lambert in 1826 for auctioneer Joseph LeCarpentier.

The house’s lot was originally owned by the Ursuline nuns, who sold the property. Three slave-owning families lived in the house following its construction. John A. Merle, the Consul of Switzerland, bought the house in 1833. The BK house even once served as a homeless shelter and a welcoming center for troops returning from World War II.

P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate general, was once a tenant of the. Years later, the house was purchased by author Frances Parkinson Keyes, who was married to U.S. Senator Henry W. Keyes.

The house combines Creole cottage with Greek Revival architectural features, such as a Palladian façade. Efforts to preserve the house began as early as the 1920s with the help of U.S. military general Allison Owen.

Those who are interested are asked to email Leah Levkowicz, the BK House’s tours and collections coordinator, at

Upper Pontalba Building retail location up for lease on St. Peter Street

The French Market Corporation recently issued a request for businesses to lease a “prime” retail location on the ground floor of the Upper Pontalba Building, located on Saint Peter Street, which became available on Nov. 1.

The request seeks at least a one year lease for a 1,080-square foot retail space located at 524 Saint Peter Street, steps away from Jackson Square.

Applicants must submit a completed business plan and proposal in hard copy and electronic forms no later than 4 p.m. on Dec. 2 either by emailing Robert Gurtner at, or the following address:

Attn: RFP Pontalba 524
French Market Corporation
128 St. Peters Street
New Orleans, LA 70116

Requirements include, among others, at least one year’s worth of rent equal to $45,360, banking and supplier references and a proposal that conforms with the FMC’s “merchandising goals of preserving the character of the district and perpetuating its architectural, cultural, economic and historical qualities.”

The Upper Pontalba Buildings are registered U.S. landmarks. The buildings are managed by the FMC, which seeks to “showcase architectural, cultural, economic and historical” French Quarter properties through a tourist-oriented retail market. The FMC manages the French Market and several nearby parks, including Latrobe and Joan de Arc parks.

The state of Louisiana owns the Lower Pontalba buildings on the other side of Jackson Square. The Pontalba buildings are considered the “first” apartment buildings.

Once an applicant is chosen, they will have 45 days from the acceptance date to finalize a lease. If a lease isn’t finalized by then, other applicants will be considered, according to the FMC.

More information on the RFP can be found at

New Orleans City Council asked to investigate reports of Mayor LaToya Cantrell living rent-free in Pontalba Building

Tom Bastin | CC Flickr
The Metropolitan Crime Commission has requested that the New Orleans City Council initiate an investigation into Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s use of an apartment in the Pontalba Building, where she has allegedly lived rent-free since January.

In a Sept. 29 letter to the City Council, the MCC said it has received credible information that Cantrell has been inhabiting and/or personally using apartment 530B of the Upper Pontalba Building, located near the intersection of Saint Peter and Chartres streets.

The two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is owned by the city but managed by the French Market Corporation, and is listed with a fair market rent of $2,991 per month, according to the MCC.

“Sources contend that Mayor Cantrell put up a privacy screen on the balcony, which obstructs her balcony from the view of other residents,” the MCC said. “In addition, our sources report seeing delivery packages addressed to LaToya Cantrell in the Upper Pontalba Building mailroom.”

The MCC said sources have reportedly observed Cantrell entering or exiting the apartment’s door along the 500 block of Saint Peter Street, and watching her being picked up and dropped off by a black Chevrolet Suburban, which records show is a leased city vehicle.

Observers said the Suburban was seen parked on Chartres or Saint Peter streets, near the Upper Pontalba Apartments or the Cabildo, and is typically parked in no parking zones, according to the MCC.

In an interview with WWL, Cantrell spokesman Gregory Joseph defended the practice and said it’s allowed under an agreement the city has with the French market Corporation.

The apartment is part of the Pontalba Buildings that occupy both sides of Jackson Square and often cited as among the oldest continuously-rented apartments in the U.S. The four-story buildings extend one entire block along Saint Peter and Saint Ann streets, and were built between 1849 and 1851 by Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba, who was a wealthy New Orleans-born Creole aristocrat.

The MCC requested that the City Council independently determine if Cantrell has been inhabiting the apartment and whether any rules were broken.

“If your investigation confirms her person use of this unit, we request the City Council ascertain whether Mayor Cantrell is complying with city policy and/or state law by inhabiting this city-owned property without paying rent or being taxed for the fair market value use of this unit,” the MCC said.

Read the letter below: