A little over a month after the owner of a French Quarter carriage house nearly demolished the 200-year-old building, a new prospective owner has announced plans to save the structure and restore its historical architecture.
Larry Anderson, the owner of the building at 724 St. Philip St., was slapped with more than $6,000 in fines during an emergency hearing held by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration in mid-October.
In what one preservationist called a “staggering” blow to French Quarter history, officials with the Department of Safety and Permits found that Anderson had violated a dozen city regulations when he illegally tore down parts of the historic building, leaving behind a hazardous construction site and a structure in imminent danger of collapse.
But on Wednesday, the Vieux Carre Commission approved “conceptual plans” by prospective buyer and well-known developer Vincent Marcello to rebuild the partially demolished structure, a two-story service building that historians say was once an old carriage house built around 1820.
The VCC’s Architectural Committee said a new, two-story cottage that Marcello said he plans to build behind the building’s façade would be “decidedly reminiscent of a Creole townhouse.” The new building would be similar to the small masonry cottage that was originally erected at the location and later connected to the carriage house.
“There are historical elements of the building in the front that are still existing, and we plan to try to work with that to make a seamless transition,” Marcello said about his concept, which includes batten shutters, traditionally used on outbuildings, and restoration of the original millwork.
The building has significant French Quarter history, according to Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates.
Indeed, city records show that from 1917 until the 1950s, the stable was converted into a well-known Italian sandwich shop owned by Biaggio Montalbano, a Sicilian immigrant. The deli owner became known for his “Roma sandwich,” a muffaletta-like concoction of olive salad, meats and cheeses.
Over time, the French Quarter changed, and so did the building’s function and appearance. A driveway and courtyard replaced part of the building, which was converted into apartments.
In recent years, the property consisted of five units in three structures: the cottage, the carriage house and a building at the extreme rear of the property that remains intact today.
If Marcello’s concept pans out, he said, the property would continue to have five units, which he would design for “upscale” living and long-term tenants.
Detailed architectural plans have yet to be approved, and no start date been set for construction. Marcello said he won’t even become owner of the building until Jan. 4, when Anderson plans to hand over the keys.
Marcello will then submit detailed plans to the city.
During a Vieux Carre Commission meeting last week, Executive Director Lary Hesdorffer praised Marcello’s efforts, saying it was “likely” that the restoration plans would move forward.
Marcello, who wouldn’t say how much he has agreed to pay for the building or the expected cost of renovation, said he had worked hard to please the commission, submitting three separate plans. Of them, only the latest received unanimous approval from both the Architectural Committee and the commission’s staff.
But Marcello’s architect, Hank Smith, said he was “confident” previously disgruntled neighbors would be pleased with the building’s improvements, adding that it was a “privilege” to apply his expertise to an area so “historically valuable.”
“It takes delicate care to make sure that we preserve what was done before us,” Smith said, “and that we honor and respect the antiquity of the French Quarter.”