Tuesday, April 28, 2009

First Lady's New Orleans Visit

In the summer of 1970, First Lady Patricia Nixon (1916-1993) visited a hurricane-damaged New Orleans. Architectural historian Samuel Wilson, Jr. (1911-1993) hosted her August tour of St. Mary's Assumption Church. She was a captive audience and took notes, including the following:

Cornerstone laid Ap. 25, 1858

$68,500 cost over three years. 1858-1860

Tower 190' high

Within two weeks of her tour, Mrs. Nixon sent Wilson a thank you letter, and carefully folded inside the card were her handwritten notes itemizing the structure's architectural features. The church has been attributed to Albert Diettel (1824-1896)* and was eventually restored after Hurricane Betsy (1965) by Nolan, Norman & Nolan and Koch & Wilson. Structural assessment of the building conducted by architect-engineer Alvin Fromherz revealed that the side walls' foundations were comprised of shell mortar poured concrete (lime mortar of clam shells and river sand). **

The church reopened to the public 15 August 1975.

Image above: Betsy Swanson, photographer. Mrs. Richard M. Nixon with Samuel Wilson, Jr., St. Mary's Assumption Church, 901 Josephine Street, 14 August 1970. Box 52, Samuel Wilson, Jr. Papers, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

*Samuel Wilson had felt that similarities between St. Mary's and the churches Sts. Peter and Paul (Diettel and Howard, 1860) and St. John the Baptist (Diettel designer, Thomas Mulligan builder; 1869) suggested Diettel's presence. See Samuel Wilson, Jr., "The Church of St. Mary's Assumption" (January 1966) p. 2, typescript. Box 47, Samuel Wilson, Jr. Papers, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Tulane University Libraries.

**Ibid., p. 12.

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