A Brief History
Le Richelieu is named for Armand-Jean du Plessis, Duke and Cardinal de Richelieu, powerful Prime Minister of Louis XIII, and the acknowledged architect of France's greatness in the 17th Century.
A portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, painted by a local artist, Carl Cramer, hangs in our lobby. It was inspired by a painting by Philippe de Champaigne, France, circa 1635, which hangs in the Musee` du Louvre.
The land upon which Le Richelieu is built was part of 1745 Royal Land Grant from Louis XV of France to the Sisters of St. Ursula (Ursuline nuns). He mandated that they care for sick French soldiers and establish a school for “young ladies”. A “casernes”, or lodging, and a hospital were built at this location, and housed French, Spanish and American soldiers for over 100 years.
In 1763 with the French treasury depleted, Louis XV (he did live well) secretly gave Louisiana to his cousin, Charles III of Spain. Upon hearing of this two years later, the horrified French subjects in New Orleans rebelled against injustice and forced out the first Spanish governor, Antonio de Uloa. Spain then sent, in 1769, Count Alexander O'Reilly and 3000 soldiers to quell the rebellious French. O'Reilly then arrested the French patriot, Nicolous Chauvin de La Freniere, attorney general of the colony. In the courtyard of the barracks, (where our parking lot in now located), he had La Freniere and four of his compatriots executed by firing squad, earning himself the title of “ Bloody O'Reilly”. The La Freniere-led “October Rebellion” was the first revolution against a foreign power on soil of the Continental United States.
But life goes on, and eventually the French and Spanish intermarried. The children of these marriages became “Creoles”.
In 1824 the Ursuline nuns moved, and deeded their land grant to the Catholic Bishops of New Orleans. With the exception of the area immediately around the Convent, the land was divided into lots and sold to citizens.
John McDonough, eccentric land baron and native of Baltimore, Maryland purchased most of this property in 1828. McDonough was disliked and distrusted by the fun-loving, free-spending Creoles, who consider him a miser. He was publicly ridiculed for his practice of having a slave row him from his plantation in Algiers, across the Mississippi to New Orleans, thus saving the 5 cents ferry fare. (This scene is depicted in the painting in our lobby, done by a local artist, Carl Cramer.)
Imagine the surprised Creoles when, upon his death in 1850, they learned that he had left a bulk of his estate to the cities of New Orleans and Baltimore for educational purposes! New Orleans used its share to establish the public school system, and erected 36 school buildings, all named for McDonough. His birthday is celebrated by the school children of New Orleans to this day.
In 1845, Dominique Lanata built 5 identical houses in a row, facing Chartres Street, for his family. They were among the first Greek revival buildings in the French Quarter. They changed hands many times, until 1963 when Sam Reclie, a local entrepreneur, bought and restored one of the buildings. It now houses our lobby and bar, and second floor contains three suites, which for two and a half months were home to Paul McCartney, of the Beatles, and his family.
In 1902, the Cusimano family built the first macaroni factory in New Orleans at the corner of Charters and Barracks Streets. It was then the largest factory of its kind in the United States. The land it stood on once belonged to the Duplessis family, distant relatives of Cardinal Richelieu, and later served as a garden for the wealthy Charbonnet family. The factory burned down in 1916, and was rebuilt the next year. The Cusimano family operated it until 1939, when it was sold and converted into a furniture factory. It later became a mattress factory, and then stood idle for many years. Sam Recile purchased it in 1963 and along with the adjoining building (the lobby and bar area), it became Le Richelieu Apartment Hotel. The Vieux Carre Commission presented an “Honor Award for Renovation” to the property in 1965.
The property was sold in August, 1969, to two New Orleanians, Frank Rochefort Jr. and Gerald Senner, and after renovation, began operating as a hotel. Le Richelieu is rated three Stars by Mobil.