What do you know about the Court of Two Lions on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter?
The property you ask about actually has two addresses: 708-712 Toulouse St. and 538-541 Royal St. — and several famous names attached to it. In 1818, the property was acquired by Vincent Nolte, who built a house on it and placed white lions atop a tall fence on each side of the entrance gate. On Toulouse Street you can see the lions that gave the house its name.
Nolte was born in Italy and became a merchant and cotton buyer there and in Germany. Between 1804 and 1838, he made several visits to the United States, traveling extensively within the country and staying for years at a time. He came to New Orleans in 1806, made a lot of money and rose in the city's social circles.
Fighting as a private for the Americans, Nolte witnessed the British defeat at the Battle of New Orleans in Chalmette in 1815. He described this and many other experiences in Fifty Years in Both Hemispheres or Reminiscences of the Life of a Former Merchant, published (in English) in New York in 1854, shortly before Nolte's death.
His memoirs provide a vivid account of life in the 1800s and contribute to our knowledge about New Orleans when it was what Nolte called a "great and growing city." He describes the business climate in New Orleans just after the Louisiana Purchase and praises the acumen of gentlemen, including John McDonogh, who made their fortunes here. Nolte was forced to return to Europe after his firm failed.
Of greater significance is the architect who designed the house, Benjamin Latrobe, who lived from 1764 to 1820. Latrobe was born in Leeds, England, and studied engineering and architecture in Germany, France and Italy. He came to America in 1796 and traveled to Philadelphia, where he gained a reputation as a talented architect of Greek Revival buildings. President Thomas Jefferson admired his work. In 1803, Latrobe was called to Washington to work on the U.S. Capitol.
Latrobe's resume includes the Baltimore Basilica, the first Catholic cathedral built in the U.S., and designing porticos for the White House.
In 1810, Latrobe sent his son Henry to New Orleans to present the City Council with a plan for a waterworks system, which the city adopted the next year. Henry died from yellow fever in 1817 before the project was finished, and Latrobe moved to the city in 1819 to complete the system. His journal of Jan. 9, 1919, says, "New Orleans has, at first sight, a very imposing and handsome appearance, beyond any other city in the United States in which I have yet been."
Busy as he was during his stay here, Latrobe made time to oversee renovations to the Place d'Armes and to design local landmarks — a tomb for the first wife of Louisiana Gov. William C.C. Claiborne, a central steeple for the St. Louis Cathedral, the Louisiana State Bank building, and Vincent Nolte's house.
Latrobe died of yellow fever on Sept. 3, 1820, and was buried with his son in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
The house has two more distinctions. In The Crossing, a novel by American writer Winston Churchill (a contemporary of the English statesman of the same name), the heroine reportedly stayed in the Court of Two Lions. The house also was the birthplace of silent-movie actor Robert Edeson.