The Presbytère: Home of the Louisiana Supreme Court, 1822-1853
Stop 3 of 11 in the 200 Years of Louisiana Supreme Court History tour
The Presbytère, originally named the Casa Curial (Ecclesiastical House), was designed to be the presbytery, or residence, of the priests serving St. Louis Cathedral next door. Located at 751 Chartres Street, at the corner of Chartres and St. Ann Streets, the Presbytère sits to the right of St. Louis Cathedral, viewed from Jackson Square. Père Antoine Alley separates the Presbytère from St. Louis Cathedral. The Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, and the Presbytère form a symmetrical unit facing Jackson Square.
On March 21, 1788, Good Friday, the previous Presbytère structure, as well as St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, burned down in a huge fire that destroyed most of the buildings in the city.
Spanish philanthropist Don Andres Almonester y Roxas financed the rebuilding of the Presbytère, as well as St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, with his own funds. In 1791 Gilberto Guillemard designed the Presbytère to match his other building, the Cabildo, or Town Hall, on the other side of St. Louis Cathedral. By April 20, 1798, when Almonester died suddenly, only the first floor had been completed. The Presbytère remained unfinished when the United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803.
In 1805, the wardens of St. Louis Cathedral took possession of the Presbytère. They allegedly added the second story in 1813, completing the Presbytère pursuant to Almonester’s original plans. In 1847 the structure's mansard roof, built of cypress wood and covered with slate, was added.
The wardens first rented the Presbytère for use by private citizens. Later the Presbytère became a courthouse, housing the Louisiana Supreme Court and other judicial offices from 1822 until 1853. On May 17, 1853, the City of New Orleans purchased the Presbytère from the wardens for $55,000. At the time of the sale, the Presbytère was occupied by the Supreme Court and district courts, as well as officers and clerks of those courts. The clergy of St. Louis Cathedral occupied the rear of the property.
The Louisiana Supreme Court moved to the Cabildo in 1853, but the Presbytère continued to be used by the City of New Orleans as a courthouse until 1911, when the Presbytère became part of the Louisiana State Museum. Today the Presbytère houses ongoing exhibits regarding Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina, as well as other special exhibits.