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Unconventional venues for unique wedding events in New Orleans 

There's nothing unusual about having a wedding ceremony or reception in a historic venue — especially in a city like New Orleans. On the other hand, there are historic landmarks that shine with fresh appeal. Some offer the extra cachet of having recently opened for weddings and related events.

  Built in 1752, The Old Ursuline Convent (1100 Chartres St., 504-529-3040; www.stlouiscathedral.org/convent.html) in the French Quarter is one of the oldest buildings in the Mississippi River Valley and the oldest example of French Colonial architecture in the United States. For many years, visitors could experience the structure and grounds (which include a formal parterre, most of the interior, a rear garden with an 80-by-40-foot tent and a parking lot, which also can be tented) only by taking guided tours. Two years ago, the convent opened its doors for private functions. Catholic weddings can be booked in St. Mary's Chapel next door; the convent can be booked for all denominations for wedding receptions and parties.

   "It's been a hidden gem for years," says Kevin Charpentier, the venue's wedding director. "When girls walk in through the gatehouse and into the garden, it's overwhelming. You don't expect it to be behind the wall."

  The convent can accommodate as many as 2,000 people. "Everybody wants something different," Charpentier says. "The convent has such a French ambience. You're outside and you're under the stars and you're looking at the buildings of the French Quarter."

  Opened last December for weddings and other events, The New Orleans Lakefront Airport (6001 Stars and Stripes Blvd., 504-243-4010; www.lakefrontairport.com) is a triumph of art deco architecture and a preservationist's dream. A full interior and exterior restoration by RCL Architecture was completed in 2013, returning the structure to its original design.

  The terminal features a two-story atrium, a painted tile and plaster coffered ceiling, aluminum deco railings and scalloped, smoked glass lighting fixtures. There also are a cafe, a spacious bar and an exterior observation deck with spectacular views of the airfield and Lake Pontchartrain. Seven of the eight original murals by late artist Xavier Gonzalez remain and are being restored. The first and second floors of the atrium can be rented for large parties (up to 800 people banquet-style), while the Walnut Room, restored to its 1934 grandeur, is ideal for smaller, more intimate gatherings.

   Kristin Casey, director of sales and marketing for Messina's Catering & Events (504-469-7373, www.messinascatering.com), which manages the space and handles the catering, suggests brides begin the planning process a year in advance to ensure availability.

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Unconventional venues for unique wedding events in New Orleans
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  "When you walk in the front door, the airport definitely has a wow factor," says Louis Capo, executive director of The Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority, the agency that oversees the airport. "We want the Airport Terminal to become a destination venue."

  Surrounded by history and billed as a cultural crossroads, Basin Street Station (501 Basin St., 504-293-2600; www.basinststation.com) is another well-preserved snapshot of New Orleans' past. Built in the 1920s, it is the last remaining original train station in the city.

  In 2001, Valentino Hospitality Enterprises bought the structure and renovated it as a visitor and information center, office building and event venue. The first floor houses the visitor center, Southern Railway model train collection, a coffeeshop and a gift shop; the fourth floor addition, designed to capture the building's panoramic views of the French Quarter, Treme and CBD, is home to a dining room that seats 50 to 120 guests. There's also a bar, a catering kitchen and an outdoor terrace.

  The facility's parking lot is steps from the front door. Because the space is relatively small, Michael Valentino, managing partner of Valentino Hospitality Enterprises, says it is best suited to rehearsal dinners and small weddings.

  "One of the attributes of the building is that we can do cocktails and hors d'oeuvres on the first floor where people can drift around, enjoy the exhibits and artifacts, then elevator everyone up for the event on the fourth floor where guests are captivated by the views," he says. The facility's event planner, Ivy Restituto, can help with details (whether catering is handled in house or independently). Though six months is the optimal lead time for wedding party events, Basin Street Station can accommodate bookings with less notice.

  Located on the spot originally occupied by Union Race Course, which opened in 1852, The Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots (1751 Gentilly Blvd., 504-944-5515; www.fairgroundsracecourse.com) is the third oldest racing site still in operation in America. It's also a popular venue for weddings and related affairs. Weddings, receptions, rehearsal dinners and showers during the race season (November to March) are easily built around a "day at the races" theme. But there are perks for off-season events as well – including lots of free, secure parking, indoor and outdoor spaces and several event planners on staff. Group sales manager Shannon Campagne has booked events into next year but notes that the Fairgrounds has booked wedding events with as little as a month's notice.

  "A lot of people don't realize we are open for events year around," she says.

  For those in search of ecclesiastic ambience without denominational constraints, The Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdinand St., 504-948-9998; www.marignyoperahouse.org) offers the beauty and history of a church with an unconventional twist. Dating from 1853, the building was Holy Trinity Church until 1997. Current owners Scott King and Dave Hurlbert have reconceptualized it as a "Church of the Arts," an acoustic-only venue for performing arts, weddings and other functions. The 3,000 square feet of available space includes a Steinway grand piano, seating for 150, a shaded side lawn and what associate director Spencer Doyle calls "perfect acoustics." The site also has a special events coordinator, Brandon Sanford.

  A casual outdoor space and a small-town atmosphere are what you'll find at St. Bernard Parish's Aycock Barn (409 Aycock St., 504-278-4242; www.visitstbernard.com). The huge open-air pavilion affords weddings, corporate events, picnics and other parties the rustic charm of an outside setting while also providing protection from the elements. Located in Old Arabi's Cultural District, it is home to St. Bernard's seasonal Seafood & Farmer's Market and the Old Arabi Art & Wine Walk. It is near The Old Arabi Sugar Museum and the former site of LeBeau Plantation (now the site of The Old Arabi Sugar Festival).

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