Omni Royal Orleans
621 St. Louis Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130

Omni Royal Orleans Hotel History

Royal Orleans lobby entrance staircase

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Very much like the City of New Orleans, the history of Omni Royal Orleans Hotel is one marked by a triumphant struggle to overcome life’s many tribulations. The hotel itself harkens back to the early 19th century, when New Orleans was rapidly becoming one of the nation’s most important ports. Thousands of merchants moved their products into the city, given its relative location at the mouth of the Mississippi River. All sorts of steamboats and sailing ships docked in New Orleans’ bustling wharfs, delivering such goods like sugarcane and cotton. Yet, not all commerce was noble in nature, as the community was also deeply invested in the national slave trade. Dozens of auction houses operated within the city that saw the distribution of slaves throughout the American South. Among the places where slave trading occurred regularly was at The City Exchange, where many slaves were auctioned off to prospective buyers every week. This operation fortunately shutdown in the early 1830s, though, when aspiring hotelier James Hewlett decided to use the location for the site of a grand hotel.

Hewlett, a Creole descended from the city’s black and French populations, had long yearned to own a magnificent holiday destination that would rival the St. Charles Hotel in its eloquence. He hoped that this facility would provide a meeting place for people of all backgrounds to congregate and relax. Hewlett broke ground on the project in 1838, recruiting architect Jacques Nicholas Bussiere De Poilly to oversee the project. De Poilly had been specifically tasked with recreating the sophisticated aura of Paris’ Rue de Rivoli inside the building. Called the “St. Louis Hotel,” it took the two men five years to complete. Part of the delay was the result of a massive fire that compromised the entire layout of the building. Crestfallen, Hewlett and De Poilly had to start rebuilding the structure nearly from scratch. But when the hotel finally opened in 1843, it stood as one of the most glorious buildings in downtown New Orleans. Its opening ceremony was attended by some 600 guests who quickly scattered throughout the hotel’s three luxurious floors.

The St. Louis Hotel maintained its status as one of the city’s most exclusive retreats during the mid-19th century, with some of the most extravagant Mardi Gras ceremonies held inside its spectacular ballrooms. But the outbreak of the American Civil War brought this era of prosperity to a dramatic end. New Orleans’ strategic location along the Gulf Coast made it an immediate target for both the Union and Confederate militaries, which rendered the city a battleground almost as soon as the conflict started. The hotel did not escape this fate, as it was requisitioned by the Union in early 1862 for use as a military hospital. Local politicians then acquired the hotel during Reconstruction with the intent on transforming it into the state’s temporary capitol while they established a provisional government. The State of Louisiana soon decided to reopen the building as a hotel and leased it to various entrepreneurs. None of these hoteliers managed to turn a profit, though. The hotel languished and ultimately closed its doors in 1912. This period of decline was only made worse when a powerful hurricane slammed into New Orleans some three years later, which greatly damaged the building. In fact, only one original wall of the building remains today on the corner of Charters and St. Louis, and as the building crumbled into decay over the years, the words that once read “CITY EXCHANGE” now only reads “CHANGE.” The wall is historically protected by the Vieux Carre Commission, and it is designated by a historic marker.

After World War II, a group of individuals led by Edith and Edgar Stern started to discuss the prospect of renovating the St. Louis Hotel as part of a large push to revitalize the entire French Quarter. After nearly a decade of deliberations, the Sterns and their allies were finally ready to finance the construction project. They hired architects Arthur Davis and Samuel Wilson Jr., to fully rehabilitate both the interior and exterior layout of the St. Louis Hotel. What Davis and Wilson managed to achieve was nothing short of miraculous, as they fully recreated the building’s grand Renaissance Revival-style architecture. Debuting once again in 1960, the hotel quickly resumed its place as one of the city’s great Grand Dames. It attracted many famous celebrities and politicians, including Muhammad Ali, Paul Newman, and even Lassie, the dog. The Stern family eventually sold the location to Aetna in 1980, which in turn, transferred it to the Sonesta Corporation.

Omni Hotels then acquired the lease in 1986, operating it as the “Omni Royal Orleans Hotel.” Today, Omni Royal Orleans Hotel is owned and operated by Omni Hotels & Resorts. A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2010, Omni Royal Orleans Hotel is still a place to see and be seen in downtown New Orleans.

Fodor's Best New Orleans   Voted Fodor's Best "8 Hotels in New Orleans With a Ton of History" – #1 

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