The Collins C. Diboll Vieux Carré Survey - a project of The Historic New Orleans Collection      History of the Vieux Carré Survey

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The Louisiana Constitution, as amended in 1936 by Article XIV, Section 22A, Act 139, authorized the City of New Orleans to create the Vieux Carré Commission, whose purpose is the preservation of buildings within the French Quarter deemed to have architectural and historic value. In 1938, under the Works Progress Administration, the Historic American Buildings Survey undertook a study of a few city blocks within the Vieux Carré, but a comprehensive survey of the Quarter was not begun until 1960. In that year, the Louisiana Landmarks Society underwrote the cost of a pilot study of a single city block: square 63, bounded by Royal, Conti, Bourbon, and St. Louis streets. The Louisiana Landmarks Society and the Vieux Carré Commission were so pleased with the result that they went in search of grant funds to undertake such a study for the entire Vieux Carré. The Edward G. Schlieder Educational Foundation agreed to fund the project through the Tulane University School of Architecture.

John W. Lawrence, then dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture, was selected to head an advisory board of scholars and civic leaders, whose job it would be to direct the study. Serving on the board with Lawrence were collector Leonard V. Huber, preservation architect Richard Koch, collector L. Kemper Williams, restoration architect Samuel Wilson Jr., artist Boyd Cruise, professor of architecture Bernard Lemann, and architecture historian Edith Long.  Under their guidance, work commenced on April 1, 1961, on what has become known as the Vieux Carré Survey.

Staff employed to work on the survey photographed or copied historic maps, major site plans, and old drawings, engravings, sketches, and paintings. They searched newspapers and early travel accounts for information on buildings and sites within the Quarter. Photographer Dan Leyrer was hired to make a photographic record of every street façade and lot, including those without buildings. Architect John Bohlke created a series of front-elevation drawings of each block, in order to show spatial and design relationships among buildings. Tulane students assisted in compiling an ownership record of the land and buildings. Starting with the then-current owner, property was traced back until no further transactions could be located, or until the chains became too difficult to trace in the original Spanish and French records. The chains of title became the heart of the survey, supporting all the other documentation to form a history of the land as well as modifications made to the buildings on it.

The work on the Vieux Carré Survey, as overseen by the initial advisory board, officially ceased on June 1, 1966. Only eighty-eight of the 120 city squares had been researched. The survey was microfilmed, and copies of that microfilm were placed with Tulane University’s Howard Tilton Memorial Library, the Schlieder Educational Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Vieux Carré Commission, which later turned its copy over to the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library. The survey itself would remain in the Vieux Carré with the collection of General L. Kemper Williams.

After the advisory board was disbanded, in October of 1966, The Historic New Orleans Collection continued to supplement the survey, and in 1977 funding was received from architect Collins Diboll to complete the survey. A new review committee was established under the direction of Humberto Rodriguez-Camilloni, professor of historic preservation at Tulane. Serving with Rodriguez-Camilloni were Bernard Lemann, Boyd Cruise, Samuel Wilson Jr., Stanton Frazar, and Dode Platou. Tulane students researched chains of title, produced photographs, and compiled supplementary materials pertaining to selected lots and squares. In 1979 The Historic New Orleans Collection, along with Collins Diboll, financed a permanent workforce to complete the survey. Staff were hired to research chains of title, and photographer Jerry Toler was employed to photograph each building and site in the Vieux Carré. By the end of 1980, all the squares had been fully researched and updated.

In 2000 the Systems Department of The Collection conducted an extensive analysis of the Vieux Carré Survey and designed a database to accommodate the information with the goal of digitizing the survey. As a paper document without external indices, much of the information within the survey is difficult to access or analyze, as it can be accessed only following the survey’s physical arrangement: by municipal address. Digitizing the survey would allow access and analysis by various other data elements, such as owners’ names. To assist in the financing of the digitization of the Vieux Carré Survey, The Collection turned to the Collins C. Diboll Foundation, which graciously granted monies to convert the survey into electronic format, digitize its images, and create a searchable, web-based interface for the data and images. In 2010 The Historic New Orleans Collection hired photographer John Watson Riley to update the visual record of the properties of the Quarter. We are pleased to make the Collins C. Diboll Vieux Carré Digital Survey available to the world through the internet. The Historic New Orleans Collection remains committed to maintaining the survey and has staff currently working to update the chains of title.

This project was made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Collins C. Diboll Private Foundation.
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