Music has always played a dominant role in the history of New Orleans. One edifice where much of the city’s cultural exhibitions took place was at the Theatre d’Orleans. The location of the theatre, between Bourbon and Royal Streets, marked the heart of the New Orleans opera world, and proved to be a popular meeting place for renowned Mardi Gras Krewes.
Although the final incarnation of the building burned in 1919, this pivotal locale was first established in 1809. When the first structure burned in 1813, another was built on the same site for a considerable price tag of $80,000. The theatre was a fashionable venue and around 1817 a stunning ballroom was added to the structure. Although the exterior of the ballroom was said to be extremely plain, the interior was another story. From the crystal chandeliers to the costly dance floor made of three layers of cypress topped with quarter sawn oak, the ballroom was best known as the site for the Bals du Cordon Bleu, otherwise known as the Quadroon Balls, perhaps one of the most celebrated forms of entertainment at the time.
The main theatre was where the cultural elite of New Orleans gathered and opera in the French tradition flourished. When the theatre was sold in 1859, a faction split off from the new owner and the French Opera House Association was formed. This association purchased a nearby plot at Bourbon and Toulouse Street and built a new opera house that was completed on April 9, 1859.
After decades of providing world class performances in opera, the opera house was bought by an anonymous donor and presented to Tulane University. Unfortunately, on December 2, 1919, a fire of unknown origin destroyed the building. Despite the tragic loss of a historic landmark, music and culture continue on as a mainstay in New Orleans.