The Merieult House on 533 Royal Street serves as the entrance to the intricate web of buildings and courtyards that make up The Historic New Orleans Collection. Dating from the 18th century, the house occupies land that has been in continuous use since the early days of the colony in the 1720s. The square bordered by Royal, St. Louis, Bourbon, and Toulouse Streets belonged to the French Crown and was the site of workmen’s barracks and the king’s forges. Later, when the land was subdivided, a private dwelling was constructed on the Royal Street lot but was reduced to rubble by the great fire of 1788. In 1792, Jean François Merieult, a prosperous merchant and trader, purchased the property on Royal Street and began construction on the building that would survive the fire of 1794.
An inventory taken just after Merieult died in 1818 described his property as a principal house consisting on the ground floor of six stores, coach house, stable, cellars, pantry, two kitchens, and storehouses for wood. The ground floor was used for business activities, with living quarters on the floor above.
Two ownerships intervened before Merieult’s Spanish colonial house was remodeled in the 1830s by the Cuban firm of Lizardi Brothers, commission merchants and international bankers. In keeping with the emerging Greek Revival style in architecture, the new owners changed mantels, transoms, and shutters, and chose granite for the first-floor facade and cast iron for the balcony railing.
Theodore Danflous, a saddle and harness maker, acquired the property around mid-century. In 1878, the next owner, Jean Baptiste Trapolin, converted the old house into a small hotel—the Royal House—where he and his family also resided. In 1889, Trapolin built a separate residence for his family at the back of the lot and acquired another parcel of land that allowed access to the house from Toulouse Street. This residence became the home of General and Mrs. L. Kemper Williams after they purchased it and the Merieult House in 1938.
When Kemper and Leila Williams lived on the property, the ground floor of the Merieult House was used commercially. Upstairs, the Merieult’s former living quarters provided room for the Williamses’ growing collection of history-related materials. Eventually, The Historic New Orleans Collection, created by the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation, opened the Louisiana History Galleries on the second floor and located the museum shop and the Williams Gallery for changing exhibitions on the first floor.
The Merieult House today still preserves the style of the 1830s renovation. Above the granite on the first-floor facade, broad stucco bands contained by pilasters define the second level; thick walls inside suggest permanence and the presence of history.