Long vacant, a historic church and its surrounding buildings on the corner of Burgundy and Mandeville streets in the Marigny has been renovated into a stunning 71-guest room boutique hotel.
Over 150 years ago, Irish-born architect Henry Howard designed the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and the accompanying rectory to serve English-speaking residents of the Faubourg Marigny. In 1900, a school was added to the grounds by Diboll & Owen and a private residence (originally built in 1890) adjacent to the church served as a convent for the Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross who ran the school. For over a century the church and school served the neighborhood’s residents, educating their youth and offering a spiritual base for the community. But as the years passed, secularization and suburban flight led to a decrease in enrollment forcing the school to shut down in 1992. These and other demographic changes also led to a drop in church attendance causing it to close in 2001.
For many years, the Archdiocese of New Orleans held on to the property as it fell into disrepair, until it was finally let go in 2012. Though there were several developers eyeing this glorious real estate, it was Nathalie Jordi who beat them to the altar (so to speak), a prominent New Orleans resident who partnered with ASH NYC, an innovative and new interior design and development firm. “I live in the Marigny a few blocks away from the church and I had been trying to do a small hotel in the neighborhood for about a year,” says Jordi. “I kind of shrugged it [the church] off as being too ambitious for me to handle. Then, by happenstance, I started speaking with the ASH guys who had just opened their first hotel in Providence where I went to college. It kind of made sense for us to team up on it together and take it on.”
Local architectural firm Studio WTA was appointed to collaborate with ASH NYC and manage the restoration and conversion of these four iconic, historic buildings into the Hotel Peter & Paul. “We were lucky to work with a great team of architects from Studio WTA,” says Jordi. “They managed a great balance of respecting the beauty and honoring the original spaces and details, while still being creative and unsentimental about the things that needed to be done to translate it into modern uses.”
As a beloved, local institution for well over a century, it’s not surprising that interesting discoveries and nostalgia abound. While pulling up old asbestos tiles inside the church, workers unearthed a 1905 penny that had dropped between the floorboards during collection. Another story unfolded after tearing out the pews from the church. “We offered them [the pews] to the people in the community and this guy was like ‘I want the one that’s third from the left!’ says Jordi. As it turns out, this was “his” pew growing up and he had scratched his initials along with the initials of a girl he admired into the wood. “The girl was now his wife and he took it home to her. It was romantic and kind of cute” says Jordi.
The school, convent and rectory now house Hotel Peter & Paul’s majestic rooms. Using color palettes commonly found among iconic religious paintings and tapestries dating back to the 14th – 18th centuries, ASH NYC re-designed each space with an old-world sense of mind. “We always look to something different than what has been done and going in with a modern knife would have been boring,” says Will Cooper, Partner and Chief Creative Officer of ASH NYC. Their old-word vision seems to blend effortlessly with the building’s original features like the wainscoting, marble fireplaces, cypress mouldings and stained glass windows.
Most of the furnishings are antiques the ASH NYC team collected on extensive buying trips from the south of France, Paris, Belgium and Italy. “A lot of the furniture we were looking at were from big French castles and and chateaus with an old world feel, so it didn’t feel like something new that we had just injected into the space.” says Cooper. “We wanted to make it feel like it had been there a long time, though the design is still very clean and simple.”
Quite a few local artists and artisans also had a hand in making the hotel utterly unique. The wrought iron canopy beds in the guest rooms were created by eKraemer Fine Metal & Woodwork in the Upper 9th Ward; Armoires and side tables were custom built by Monkey Wid-A-Fez woodworkers in the Marigny; Uptown furniture designer Matthew Holdren created the reception desk from reclaimed materials; and Ann Marie Auricchio painted decorative trompe l’oeil throughout the hotel, including designs on the guest room armoires and a huge mural on the third floor of the school. “We did some research and found a list of plays that were performed there the first year the school was in session in 1900,” says Jordi. “The mural was inspired by some of those plays and it’s just a really tranquil space, light-filled. It’s a wonderful place to work or to read or just be among the people of the Marigny.” This area, dubbed the School House Stage, is a library-like lounge with a vintage collection of titles curated by Blue Cypress Books, a locally owned and operated shop on Oak Street in the Carrollton neighborhood.
Because no New Orleans hotel would be complete without a space for divinely-prepared cuisine and heavenly libations, The Elysian Bar recently opened inside The Rectory. The folks behind Bywater wine bar Bacchanal are managing the new bar and they’ve tapped the talented Chef Alex Harrell, formerly of popular French Quarter restaurants Angeline and Sylvain, to run the kitchen. The menu features “European-inspired small plates” including dishes like a rolled French omelet made with duck eggs and topped with Cajun caviar.
Finally, of all the buildings on the grounds, the one least changed in the new incarnation is the church. Though it is no longer officially a place of worship, Nathalie Jordi and ASH NYC left the sacred space pretty much intact with open doors inviting folks in the neighborhood and other visitors to drop in, as well as leaving it available for both private and public events. “I feel a great sense of privilege and honor to be a part of these buildings,” says Jordi. “We feel so grateful we got to work with these buildings and we were able to keep them alive.”
*Featured photo by Christian Harder
**Article originally published in the December 2018 issue of New Orleans Living Magazine