About 25 years ago, we lived at 922 Burdette St. in New Orleans. The house across the street at 925 Burdette is a large, two-story frame house that sits on about a quarter of the block. For years it has been occupied by the family of Edward J. Ireland, and it has been rumored that the house was built by Weedle Williams of aviation fame some 100 years ago. But no one, including the Ireland family, knows for sure. How do I find the answer?
You ask Blake, of course.
The person you refer to as Weedle Williams was actually Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams, who formed a famous aviation partnership — but did not build the house on Burdette Street. Williams' widow, Marguerite Clark Williams, did lease the home for a while during the late 1930s, however.
James Robert "Jimmie" Wedell was born in Texas City, Texas, in 1900. He dropped out of school, but had a keen interest in mechanics and aviation. Wedell learned to fly but was not allowed to be a pilot in the U.S. Army because of an accident that left him blind in one eye. Nevertheless, during the 1920s he earned money barnstorming across the state and giving flying lessons.
In 1927, Wedell moved to New Orleans, and in 1929, he collaborated with wealthy Louisiana businessman Harry Williams to form Wedell-Williams Air Service in Patterson, La. The company built high-speed planes, gave flying lessons and operated passenger, charter and mail services. It also established an airport.
Wedell flew planes in a number of races and gained a reputation for his piloting ability as well as the speed of his planes. In fact, The Wedell-Williams 44 won more races than any other plane of its day.
Wedell died on June 24, 1934, when the Gypsy Moth training plane he was using for a flying lesson crashed.
When Harry Palmerston Williams was born in Patterson in 1889, his family owned the local cypress mill and had made a fortune exporting the processed lumber around the world.
Wedell and Williams made a good team; Williams, a millionaire, put up the money and Wedell designed the planes. The Wedell-Williams Air Service may have had the largest private fleet of aircraft in the world at the time.
In 1918, Williams married Marguerite Clark, a glamorous and popular silent-movie star. She gave up fame and attention from her adoring fans to live in the relative obscurity of Patterson. However, she and Williams spent much time in New Orleans and stayed at the home of Harry's father, Frank B. Williams, at 5120 St. Charles Ave.
Harry Williams died on May 19, 1936, when his plane crashed near Baton Rouge. As a tribute to her late husband, Marguerite donated the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport in Patterson to the state of Louisiana, but served as president of Wedell-Williams Aviation Company, which she inherited when her husband died, until it was sold to Eastern Airlines.
She also made New Orleans her home, moving in to her father-in-law's mansion on St. Charles. When the house was sold, she rented two houses, including the one on Burdette Street, where she lived until she moved to New York City in 1939 to live with her sister Cora.
Marguerite Williams died on Sept. 24, 1940, from complications following a heart attack, and her ashes are entombed in the Williams' family vault in Metairie Cemetery. She was 57 years old when she died and left an estate worth $565,563.
The former Williams mansion on St. Charles Avenue is now the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library.