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Long Absent Cupola Returns to the Presbytere

By: Staff

Raising the Restored Presbytere Cupola

Most people gaze upon the beautiful panorama of Jackson Square and observe the symmetrical layout of the buildings. The Presbytere and the Cabildo flank St. Louis Cathedral like mirror images. Yet, astute observers will notice one very small difference between the two historic State Museum properties. The Cabildo is topped with a classically designed cupola. The Presbytere is not. This was not always the case and will not be the case for much longer.

The Louisiana State Museum is three quarters of the way through a 10 month restoration project that will not only repair the roof of the Mardi Gras themed museum but will top it off with a cupola identical to the one on the Cabildo. Local firm Yeates & Yeates Architects, L.L.C. has designed the cupola and other renovations and Brice Building Company is handling the construction.

This project presents a unique opportunity for necessary repairs as well as a chance to honor the lost architectural heritage of a magnificent and historic building.

Construction on the Presbytere began in 1797 during the Spanish Colonial period, and was completed under the Americans in 1813. The building underwent major renovations in the 1840s after the Baroness Pontalba built the famous Pontalba apartments. Imposing mansard roofs, a third floor and matching cupolas crowned the Presbytere and Cabildo and for the rest of the 19th century the two were like twin sisters overlooking the public square.

Raising the Restored Presbytere Cupola

The original Presbytere cupola lasted more than 60 years. On September 29, 1915 a Category Four hurricane caused major damage to the New Orleans area, uprooting live oaks, flooding parts of the city and destroying or damaging several landmark structures. The exterior structure of the Presbytere’s cupola was demolished. Due to lack of funds at the time, the roof was patched without a cupola and remained bare for almost a century.

Oddly enough, another hurricane would play a role in returning the Presbytere to its previous architectural condition. Wind and water damage from Hurricane Georges on September 28, 1998 compounded by damage from a freak hailstorm, forced state officials to address a major renovation project to repair the roof and exterior of the building. Louisiana State Facility Planning and Control officials, museum director James Sefcik, and the architect for the restoration Ames Yeates made the decision to restore the building to the way it was when the State Museum acquired it in 1911.

Yeates noted that while his office was doing field investigations they discovered that the central heavy timber structural ring that supported the original cupola was still in place in the attic area. The new cupola will be supported from this original heavy timber ring. Also among their discoveries was the patched indention in the roof where the original structure had been extended through the roof to the attic.

This project will be made possible due to $1,974,270.00 in state capital outlay funds and insurance settlements from the recent storm damage. The restoration is scheduled for completion in October 2005. During the renovation, the museum remains open to the public on Tuesdays-Sundays from 9 am-5pm.

For more information on the cupola renovation or the Louisiana State Museum call 504-568-6968 or 800-568-6968 or visit