Best of Architecture: Cheers for Tableau

Errol Laborde

If architecture was theater, this magazine’s choice for the “best of the new” would win a Tony Award. As it is, the architecture shares space with a theater that it has enriched.

Appropriately named “Tableau,” restaurateur Dickie Brennan’s conversion of part of the building that houses Le Petit Théâtre in the French Quarter is a masterpiece. The older, more historic part of the building that contains a 300-plus seat auditorium remains, and is considerably spruced up from the sale of the other part of the building which now houses the restaurant.

This magazine long endorsed the idea of sharing the building’s space with a restaurant as a way of providing support for the elegant but historically financially troubled theater. For as much as we believed in the project – though we were always a little concerned that the fit would seem awkward, like ramming something into a space where it didn’t belong – our worries were unfounded. The restaurant not only looks like it has always been there, but has also taken advantage of previously underused elements of the property, such as balconies overlooking the street and the courtyard. In every way the theater building is enriched by Tableau’s presence, not only in faithfulness to the Spanish Colonial style architecture motif, but in the little things: a handsome interior staircase, for example, was patterned after the Pontalba Apartments and handcrafted by Jason & Clayton Hartdegen, third generation master craftsmen.

There was much controversy behind the decision of selling part of the building to be used as a restaurant. Le Petit’s board at the time faced a sometimes bitter battle, but in the end the right decision was made. Now the corner of St. Peter and Chartres streets, at the edge of Jackson Square, is busy practically all the time – as it should be – and not dark as it was all too often when the building housed just a theater.

Originally a project of architects Koch and Wilson, the renovation was in the hands of architects Robert Boyd, John Conkerton, Conor Gibson and Raymond Armant. Jennifer Kelly of Design Lab handled the design. Broadmoor construction was the contractor. Steve Pettus, a partner in the Dickie Brennan company, oversaw the project.

All should take pride for a great design that not only reflects the character of the French Quarter but also enhances it.

Elsewhere in this issue we note other commendable projects as judged by Tulane architecture professor John P. Klingman.

They are all worthy.

Tableau, though, gets a standing ovation.

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