One day, there will be a Chartres Street entrance, but for now, guests must enter through The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center, make a turn in the Boyd Cruise Room and walk out into the courtyard if they want to visit exhibits in the Perrilliat House galleries.
That’s the house next-door to the Williams Research Center, a structure likely unnoticed in the last decade. It was empty and shuttered, its exterior a nondescript white.
“It was once the Tally-Ho,” said Molly Reid, the associate editor of the Collection’s publications, which includes its magazine, The Quarterly.
The latest edition of The Quarterly features The Perrilliat House on its cover, as the structure at 400 Chartres was known before the Tally-Ho restaurant moved into the bottom and the top floor was carved into apartments.
The building is now the Collection’s fourth Vieux Carre property, providing breathing room for staffers and more gallery exhibition gallery space.
Offices and conference rooms already are occupied on the building’s second story, and the Collection’s photography department has moved into part rooms on the bottom.
Then there are the three galleries, two of which house the Laura Simon Nelson Collection of Louisiana paintings.
“The collection will be on exhibit for an extended time,” said Judith H. Bonner, the Collection’s senior curator.
Meaning that there is plenty of time to see it. But to do so, again, visitors enter through the Williams Research Center next door at 410 Chartres.
“It’s sometimes hard to get visitors in here for an exhibition because Williams Research Center’s entrance can be a little intimidating,” said Anne Robichaux, a marketing associate for the Collection. “We’re working on that.”
The galleries will open to the public mid-October. Admission is free, the only requirement being that visitors sign in at the Williams Research Center’s front desk.
The Perrilliat House is now noticeable to passersby, simply because its appearance has changed. The structure been returned to the original state of when François Marie Perrilliat built it in 1825. The once-white building is now brick red, a color architect Robby Cangelosi based on the imported northern brick used in the original facade.
The Perrilliat House actually is four connecting houses with a courtyard in the center.
“With the exception a car running into the corner of the house when it was the Tally-Ho, the structure was good,” Reid said. “And even that had been repaired.”
Still, the interior had to be gutted.
“The upstairs had been chopped into apartments, and even those were later chopped into more apartments,” Reid said. “And then there were some irresponsible tenants who lived in some of them.”
And before the work could begin, the Collection had to conduct a year-long historic structure report.
“This is like a CSI report of a historical building,” Reid said. “There are so many things that go into the restoration of a historical structure, and it all takes time.”
Actually, it took 13 years. The Historic New Orleans Collection bought the building in 1999, but didn’t start working with it until seven years later.
The conditions report was completed in 2007, then restoration work began.
“The house had gone through only one major renovation project, and that was in the 1930s,” Reid said.
In the meantime, other owners had made their own changes, covering the front transoms over outer doors, transforming floor space next door to the Tally-Ho into retail space. The house suffered from decades of wear and tear.
But there were treasures to be discovered.
An original winding staircase leading from the courtyard to the second story was and continues to be intact, as is a sunburst transom in the entresol, a low-ceiling level between the first and second floors.
And most of the decorative transoms over the doors proved to be in good condition after they were uncovered.
“Those that weren’t were reconstructed,” Reid said. “And Robby Cangelosi worked from a sketch or the original design he found in the notes of the architect and preservationist Richard Koch to reconstruct the interior moulding and plaster medallions.”
The reproduction medallions were set in an acanthus leaf pattern and made by master plasterer Jeff Poree.
As for the staircase, Cangelosi extended it to the third floor.
He also used the wide plank pine floors in the entresol as the model for most of the flooring throughout the house.
Meanwhile, The Collection requested the incorporations of modern, green technology, so geothermal wells have been installed 250 feet beneath the house for heating and cooling. But the green technology isn’t really noticeable.
And really, visitors will see only the bottom floor of the Perrialliat House because only the exhibition galleries will be open to the public.