History comes to life during Spring Fiesta in the Quarter _lowres

Advocate staff photo by DANIEL ERATH -- Presented at last year's Spring Fiesta: Elizabeth Miller, Devereaux Cates, Katherine Bickham

It might feel like a trip back in time.

Visitors to the Vieux Carre could encounter a bevy of young women in hoop skirts, clattering through the streets in horse-drawn carriages, as historic homes are opened for a rare glimpse starting this weekend.

That’s when the nonprofit Spring Fiesta Association hosts its annual celebration of local history, with two Sundays of French Quarter home tours, walking tours, a parade and the presentation of its court.

The tours — March 6 and 13 — offer the public the unique chance to visit local historical homes and learn about them from both educated docents and by speaking with the homeowners themselves.

“The first weekend will consist of four houses, including our organization’s headquarters at 826 St. Ann St.,” said Barbara Richmond, chairwoman of Spring Fiesta’s Home Tour No. 1. “The 19th century townhouse and carriage house was donated to the organization in 1977 with one of the stipulations being that we offer it for tours. It’s a wonderful home that was built in 1744 as just two rooms and a carriage house. The second story was added in 1854. The home includes some wonderful features — for instance, all of the chandeliers on the first floor are from New Orleans and made of Baccarat crystal.”

The first weekend home tour also will include a visit to the residence located over Antoine’s Restaurant on Royal Street.

“It’s actually owned by the first cousin of the famous actress Delta Burke,” Richmond said. For an additional charge, attendees are welcome to preview their 1 p.m. home tour with a three-course brunch at Antoine’s Restaurant that starts at 11:30 a.m.

While the home tours are considered the main event of the Spring Fiesta, they are far from the only events, or even the only tours. On Saturday and Sunday during both weekends, the Spring Fiesta also offers 9 a.m. French Quarter walking tours.

“The walking tours are limited to only 30 people and are presented by guides from the Cabildo Museum,” Richmond said. “It’s an architectural tour that looks at different structures throughout the Quarter and talks about who the architect was and the architectural significance.”

The second weekend of the Spring Fiesta — March 12 and 13 — begins with the third of the four French Quarter walking tours at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and continues with the “Presentation at Jackson Square” at 3 p.m., where members of the Spring Fiesta Association’s annual royal court are presented. A bouquet of hoop-skirted girls who range from grammar school-aged jewel bearers to high school- and college-aged maids, demoiselles and a queen, the court is made up of daughters and granddaughters of association members.

At 4:30 p.m. the royal court steps into horse-drawn carriages for the “Night in Old New Orleans Parade” around the Quarter, during which they hand out flowers to the public.

The culmination of this year’s Spring Fiesta will be the second home tour from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 13.

“The second home tour will begin at 626 Gov. Nicholls, a two-story restored home with a gorgeous patio,” said C.J. Blanda, chairman of the tour, which covers the lower French Quarter.

Blanda said the five-home tour includes many highlights, such as a Queen Anne-style home on Esplanade Avenue owned by a local landscape architect, a recently-restored Creole townhouse next to what was once the Maison Hospitaliere, and his own home at 1015 Esplanade Ave.

“It was built in 1881 by Estelle Muson, Edgar Degas’ first cousin and sister-in-law,” Blanda said. “I purchased the home in 1966, and at that time it was a six-family tenement with wall-to-wall concrete.” Blanda gradually restored the Italianate style home to its former glory and has furnished it with first Empire antiques.

A member of the Spring Fiesta Association’s board of governors for 43 years who also served for two terms as the organization’s first male president, Blanda said the Spring Fiesta’s home tours serve an important role.

“They show the Vieux Carre as what it is — a living entity, not a Disneyland. People do live here and many are devoted to preserving its old beauty.”