CEO Wes Palmisano Reflects on Historic Restoration, Hotel Saint Vincent for Retrofit Magazine
Originally published on Retrofit Magazine
A long-neglected property in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District reopened as Hotel Saint Vincent following a $22.5 million restoration of the historically designated, five-building campus.
Constructed in 1864, the main red-brick Victorian structure originally housed the St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum, an orphanage operated by the Daughters of Charity. The building was primarily financed by Margaret Haughery, an Irish immigrant, local businesswoman and philanthropist. The orphanage underwent a couple expansions that included construction of an additional small building for expectant mothers, as well as a laundry and carriage house that served the adjacent stables. In the early 20th century, the facility was converted into a low-budget hostel for single mothers and eventually garnered a reputation as a rundown hub of unsavory activities.
Entrepreneurial hotel developer Zachary Kupperman, founder and CEO of Kupperman Companies, purchased the dilapidated property in 2017 with the goal of transforming the campus into a high-end neighborhood hotel. He spent the first 18 months gaining support and approval from the city, neighborhood associations and New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission, whose approval was vital for securing the historic rehabilitation tax credits that made the project financially feasible.
To convert the 150-year-old property into a 74-room boutique hotel, Kupperman assembled a design and construction team that included architect MetroStudio, interior designer Lambert McGuire Design and design-assist contractor Impetus. MML Hospitality operates the hotel, which is situated among the Greek Revival and Italianate-style mansions of the city’s charming Lower Garden District.
Structural Challenges, Improvements
The restoration project began with extensive structural work that involved repairing the exterior clay masonry and other structural elements, dating back to the 19th century. The engineering and construction teams had to employ an array of complementary strategies to address structural repairs and load-path modifications of the original structural elements, which included heavy timber, load-bearing masonry, built-up iron beams, cast-iron columns and an early version of cast-in-place concrete.
Structural upgrades also included the introduction of waterproofing details that repel moisture and assimilate with the buildings’ historic aesthetic. The installation of dedicated outdoor air units to pressurize each building also helps negate the excess moisture issues that are common in the hot, humid New Orleans climate.
The challenging geotechnical conditions of New Orleans created additional structural complexities. Because the original buildings were set on soil-supported corbeled masonry footings, the introduction of new loads at or adjacent to the existing foundation elements could generate settlement issues. To mitigate these potential risks, the architect and structural engineer devised strategies that included the development of an extensive stormwater-management plan and installation of a new stormwater-retention and -drainage system that incorporates permeable paving, French drains and planter beds.
The addition of all-new insulation and a complete replacement of the legacy HVAC system with a system that incorporates variable refrigerant flow (VRF) technology improves energy efficiency.
A meticulous restoration of the landmark edifice included preservation of the 71,500-square-foot primary building’s distinctive wrought-iron railings and balconies. The addition of custom millwork, trim and door fabrication integrates seamlessly with the structure’s historic features.
Construction crews converted more than 12,000 square feet of exterior corridors into private verandas for each guest room. They also restored and reglazed all doors and windows and used French Quarter-style pavers throughout the property to complement the historic brick.
Because three of the five original structures were linked together by a series of multistory exterior gallery balconies, the team devised a new, more efficient circulation plan for the entire complex.
The renovation also included the addition of two new buildings: a 6,000-square-foot multipurpose event space and a pool bar structure that separates the dining courtyard from the pool area.
Preserving Historical Elements
Many of the distinctive historical elements of the original property were preserved, including the Virgin Mary grotto in the courtyard, a gargoyle sculpture perched atop the clock tower and a marble header inscribed with “St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum” positioned at the Magazine Street entrance.
The interior spaces also retain numerous signature design features. The grand staircase and wide sweeping corridors remain intact, facilitating an open layout with expansive common areas, as well as concealed corners for guests to discover. And the staircase has been extended to the third and fourth floors with the addition of a new matching stair.
Historic doors and windows in the chapel area have been restored to their original condition, and remnants from a mosaic tile flooring discovered in the former infirmary served as a design template for the flooring in a hotel restaurant. Other notable details that were discovered and preserved include the original pine flooring, cast-iron columns and stair landings.
During the renovation, the construction team also uncovered hidden, decorative cast-iron components, along with plaster and millwork details from the orphanage’s original chapel. The architect used these salvaged components to recreate millwork details as part of the overall restoration program.
Eclectic Interior Design
Designed by acclaimed boutique hotel designer Liz Lambert, the interior spaces fuse an eclectic mix of design styles that range from 20th century Italian to Mid-century Modern and Art Deco.
Guest rooms and suites are painted charcoal gray and enlivened by distinctive red-velvet headboards, eclectic objects and custom marbled wallpaper. Some of the rooms incorporate patterned rugs and psychedelic accent walls, which extend into the bright red and pink bathrooms that feature curvaceous white soaking tubs and 1970s-era custom blown-glass chandeliers.
The hotel is home to two restaurants; four bars; three commercial kitchens; and a landscaped, terracotta-tiled courtyard area with a cabana, swimming pool and onsite parking.
The San Lorenzo & Paradise Lounge is a fine-dining restaurant, featuring coastal Italian cuisine with a local Creole twist. Boasting sweeping views of the pool, the grand room features pale-green paneling, painted floors and murals, and custom mohair couches.
Adjacent to the main hotel building is the Elizabeth Street Café, a more casual French and Vietnamese-style cafe and bakery that spills out into a courtyard garden. Its distinctive design includes velvet-upholstered banquettes and bar-front panels, custom-designed marble wallpapers, hand-painted murals, and hand-picked vintage furniture and lighting details.
The hotel also houses the Chapel Club, a guest-only bar with design flourishes that include a hot-pink velvet bar front, black-and-white marble countertops, and stained glass and marble accents.
Outside, a bar adjacent to the swimming pool is surrounded by lounge seating, umbrellas and tropical plants in a central courtyard.
Since opening its doors in 2021, the Hotel Saint Vincent has become a premier destination for visitors to the Crescent City and a nexus of the thriving arts community that surrounds the property.
Perhaps more importantly, the award-winning restoration has returned this legendary property back to the neighborhood and to the city at large.