The seven-alarm fire that burned on St. Charles Avenue has laid waste to one of the most notable homes on one of New Orleans' most notable streets.

The Montgomery-Grace House, also known as the Morris-Downman House, at 2525 St. Charles Ave. is a mansion closely associated with the Rex Organization and has been home to several notable New Orleans families, including many past Kings of Carnival.

Firefighters on Wednesday morning swarmed to the scene in an attempt to save the historic structure, but Christopher Montgomery, whose family owns the home, said there was little hope for the priceless Carnival memorabilia inside.


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"It is heartbreaking, heart wrenching, to see history burn like this," said Montgomery, while standing outside the home.

According to the Preservation Resource Center, the home was built sometime before 1865 by architect Henry Howard for Charles Miltenberger.

After Miltenberger died of typhoid pneumonia in 1888, the house was then sold at auction to Cora Hennen for a total of $27,000, according to the PRC. At the time it was listed in the local paper, the Times-Democrat, as a "very fine residence."

Hennen and her husband, John Morris, were a prominent couple who hailed from Westchester County in New York and visited New Orleans only during the winter.

The Morris family ended up being deeply rooted in New Orleans culture, however: among Morris' business ventures was the Louisiana Lottery, according to the PRC, and the couple's three sons all reigned as Rex.

While they owned the home, they hired Thomas Sully, a prominent American architect based in New Orleans, to remodel and enlarge it, according to several historians.

Sully designed several other notable residences on Upper St. Charles Avenue, as well as public buildings in several cities.

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The exterior of the home at 2525 St. Charles Avenue (handout photo). 

His work included the Picard House and the Francis Johnson House, as well as the original Whitney Building, The Columns Hotel and the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, linked to the adjacent Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Patrick F. Taylor Library.

In a December 2011 edition of "Preservation in Print," written to coincide with the historic home's feature on the PRC’s Holiday Home Tour, author Julia Cappa noted that the building retained fingerprints from both designers.

"Some details, such as the Ionic columns and classically inspired ornament, seem to be vestiges of Henry Howard; while other features, such as the asymmetrical plan, decorative shingle siding, and gambrel roofs are typical of Sully’s design style," Cappa wrote.

On Wednesday, The Historic New Orleans Collection said that its co-founder, Leila Williams, was born at the house in 1901 while her family was renting it.

By 1906, the Queen Anne-style mansion was owned by Charles H. Downman, who would reign as Rex the following year. At the time, he was the fourth resident to take up the scepter as King of Carnival.

Six generations of his family continued to live in the historic house for the next 100 years.

The home underwent several renovations and remodels over a century, including a major face lift in 1996 done by Anne Montgomery and her husband George to "lighten up" the house.

They removed velvet drapes, dark red damask walls and mahogany bookcases in the living room, and replaced it with molding, light colors, a portraits of the family's relatives, Cappa said.

The ornate mansion was known for its formal dining room, lacquered orange walls in a "billiard room" and numerous paintings and other artworks, including a work by renown New Orleans artist George Dunbar, the PRC said in its magazine article from 2011.

It also famously housed the family crest pictured in stained glass windows and other notable features such as high ceilings, wide hallways and a double parlor leading to the living room from the left and the dining room from the right, according to a 2011 article by Stephanie Bruno for The Times-Picayune.



The house survived an earlier fire in 2007 that damaged some parts of the house.

As of 2011, it remained in the hands of the Downman-Kock family, occupied by family members Anne Montgomery, and Bill and Anne Montgomery Grace, the PRC said. Bill Grace reigned as Rex in 2002.

The home started a Mardi Gras tradition that dates back to 1907, when the original Downman owner was king: that year, members of the Rex Parade crossed St. Charles from the river side to the lake side of the street in order to stop and toast at the house, and the parade has done so every year since.

As the flames engulfed the mansion, King Logan, a Rex official, declined Wednesday to detail it’s connection to Rex, out of respect for what he described as a tragedy for the family.

“I can simply confirm that for every year since 1907, Rex King of Carnival has stopped and made a toast at that address,” Logan said.

He said the Rex organization would release information Thursday on any changes of plans for the Mardi Gras parade.

The home was also the site for the annual luncheon for the previous queens of Comus, traditonally held the Friday before Mardi Gras. Anne Montgomery and her daughter, Alston Montgomery Kerr have both reigned.

The house has also been the location for a number of fundraising parties, including one for WYES-TV, "An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey," in 2014, and a recent Louisiana Lighthouse benefit.

Errol Laborde, a Mardi Gras historian, described a long legacy of ownership.

"What I hate to think about is the collectibles in that house probably being destroyed," Laborde said.