"House Sold to Out-of-Towner"; Tennessee Williams Moves In

Tennessee Williams was no stranger to New Orleans. Some of his most famous works, including A Streetcar Named Desire, are set in the city. Although Williams spent decades living on and off in rental spaces, 1014 Dumaine Street is the first home he owned in New Orleans. Purchased in 1962, the building was not always what one would imagine as the home of a world-renowned writer.

Articles in the Times-Picayune ranging from 1927 through 1959 painted the address as less than desirable. One 1952 Times-Picayune article even detailed the filing of a petition in Civic District Court by the city to get the Dumaine building either repaired or demolished, calling it “dangerously deteriorated.” Many of the newspaper’s other mentions of the site prior to the 1960s portrayed it as the home for various African-American criminals. These residents’ reported crimes varied in severity. While some infractions were as minor as a truck driver not having a chauffeur’s license and a woman possessing “lottery paraphernalia,” others were as severe as gun theft, auto theft, and assault. A 1958 Times-Picayune article even mentioned the shooting of an 18-year-old man in front of the building.

However, the immediate neighborhood’s condition appeared to change as the 1950s became the 1960s. In July 1960, a Times-Picayune apartment listing at 1014 Dumaine Street boasted “luxury apartments” in a “magnificent building just recently restored.” A 1961 Times-Picayune article also featured 1014 Dumaine Street among properties in the French Quarter that underwent notable restorations and renovations. The article’s mention of rising property values, related to restoration projects throughout the French Quarter, implied a decline in affordability for renters in the Vieux Carre.

In 1962, just four years after the shooting on Dumaine Street, Tennessee Williams purchased the property at 1014 Dumaine, which likely retained little of its former dilapidation. However, Williams did not move into the building’s front, second floor apartment until 1972, when Don Lee Keith claims that some “bothersome” tenants moved out. Once moved in, Williams used the space as his base of operations in New Orleans for the remainder of his life.

Friends, locals, and tourists can recall instances when they stumbled into Williams at numerous French Quarter bars and restaurants. Recalling Williams’ New Orleans visits during this time, one of Williams’ former Dumaine Street tenants, Dr. Lawrence Hill, recalled a moment of excitement he shared with the writer: “One morning he came down and knocked on my door, all excited … Esquire magazine had agreed to buy a short story from him. Here he was, the most famous playwright in the country, and he was acting like he’d made his first sale. It was the most down-to-earth I’d seen him.” "He left $10 million when he died," Cynthia Ratcliffe, co-owner of Heritage Tours, said. "But [shortly before] his death, he could still be seen washing and folding his own socks in there,” she added, referring to a laundromat at the corner of Burgundy and Dumaine.

W. Kenneth Holditch’s recollection of a January 1979 encounter with Williams described the author’s frustrations with the changing nature of the French Quarter: “He commented on what he saw as the unpleasant changes to the Quarter that had been occurring over the past decade or more, including the increasing sleaziness of Bourbon Street, the loss of permanent residences to businesses, and the influx of tourists that made walking through the streets of some areas increasingly difficult. However, changing conditions in the neighborhood did not deter Williams from staying in his French Quarter home. In fact, a newspaper article published a few years after he died claimed Williams was seen on the Dumaine Street’s second floor balcony just a few weeks prior to his death in New York City in 1983."

Images

Map

1014 Dumaine Street