Convent of the Holy Family, formerly the Orleans

The first brick of the Orleans Theater was laid in 1806. This new theater was conceived and the original construction begun by Louis Tabary, who came to New Orleans from Provence, via St. Dominque, in 1804 or 1805, and envisioned a grand n ew hall that would outshine the two theaters already competing for the loyalty of New Orleans audiences. But construction was interrupted, and Tabary's theater did not open until 1815, only to be destroyed by fire (possibly arson) the following year. Fi nally, in 1819, under the management of John Davis, a Parisian who also arrived via St. Domingue, the rebuilt theater opened once more. It was the Orleans Theater that introduced grand opera to New Orleans, and until the construction of the French Opera House eclipsed its splendor, it was the place for Creole New Orleans to see and be seen. The second Orleans Theater burned in 1866, but the ballroom attached to it survived and is shown here. Later the scene of quadroon balls, the ballroom ended its day s as the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Family. Today, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel stands on the site and incorporates a portion of the original ballroom in its design. [Louisiana Photograph Collection]

Descriptions of the Orleans Theater are meager. It formed part of a complex of buildings which included Davis' Hotel and the Orleans Ballroom. Together they made a "considerable pile of brick buildings. . . . with a very handsome front and interior," ac cording to a contemporary directory of the city. But the theater itself was neither large nor pretentious, never seating many over thirteen hundred persons. The lower front was Roman Doric with a second story of Corinthian Composite. One interesting fe ature inside was a section of latticed boxes for persons in mourning who didn't wish to be seen enjoying the opera. Later on it was admitted that the loges were not well placed; that there were locations where one could neither see nor hear well; and tha t sound from the corridors intruded at times. But for the time and the place, it was a splendid achievement. Quite fittingly, the opening performance was dedicated to John Davis who deserved it, the announcement implied, for nothing had been spared, eno rmous sacrifices had been made, and "long voyages have been undertaken." It was all true.
[Henry A. Kmen. Music in New Orleans: The Formative Years, 1791-1841. Louisiana State University Press, 1966, p. 90]