AP NEWS

Historic New Orleans Collection opening $38M expansion

April 3, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A New Orleans history museum’s $38 million expansion includes a permanent exhibit about the French Quarter’s history and incorporates a touch station, a smelling station and virtual reality. The Historic New Orleans Collection plans a block party Saturday, when it opens its new buildings to the public.

“It will allow us to welcome much larger audiences and impact on the experience of being in the French Quarter,” said Daniel Hammer, the museum and research center’s vice president and deputy director. “Hopefully we’ll be able to contribute to a French Quarter that engages people in activities that sustain it as a historical place.”

The 36,000-square-foot (3,300-sq.-meter) new Welcome Center includes a restored three-story mansion built in 1816 and a new building behind it. Together, they double the museum’s public spaces.

A large touchscreen table at the entrance features an interactive map with information about hundreds of buildings in the French Quarter. You can see photographs and other images from different periods, a written description and historical information. The table also offers virtual tours on subjects including the slave trade and literature; the ability to see the locations of different sorts of buildings, such as creole cottages or commercial buildings; and historical maps, Hammer said.

“You can look at the present-day 3-D map and overlay that with historical maps going all the way back to the 18th century and including things like where the fires of 1788 and 1794 took place,” he said in an interview.

On the second and third floors overlooking a courtyard, virtual reality binoculars show what it looked like in earlier times. Each shows four scenes: 1820s, 1880s, 1920s and 1950s.

Restoration work showed that the buildings facing the courtyard were built in sections, so the 1820s scene shows very different buildings, Hammer said.

In the 1880s, the ground floor held shops catering to the elite, while the upper floor held tenement apartments, Hammer said. When the binoculars point toward the upper floor, the scene shows people feeding chickens and handling laundry.

The 1920s scene shows art students at work, since the building was owned by the Arts and Crafts Club of New York. The fourth scene illustrates the 1950s, when WDSU-TV owned the building and used the courtyard to film a variety of programs.

A virtual “window” in one elevator shows a 19th-century merchant selling food and drink to wealthy customers on the ground floor. Hammer noted that a tin that had held quail with truffles was among mid-19th-century trash found in a well the museum discovered during archaeological excavations before restoration began.

“That’s very telling, I think, of the type of canned foods being imported into New Orleans and sold in stores like the one we show,” he said.

It and other items found in the well are displayed by a window overlooking the well, which is now covered with glass paving.

On the second floor, the elevator scene shows a woman nursing her husband in a tenement apartment. The wallpaper pattern, Hammer noted, is one found in the building and dated to the period.

There’s also a 17½-minute immersive movie shown on all four walls of one gallery, starting with nighttime in a swamp and finishing with a night on Bourbon Street in 2017.

An area geared toward children includes a smell station, where pulling up on a lever wafts up the smell of river, barnyard or smoke. The table it’s attached to holds illustrations for each. There’s also a touchable — and sniffable — smoke-tanned deer hide.

“It’s a pretty intense smell,” Hammer said.