For a long time, I could take or leave New Orleans. Then I started getting off the beaten path of Bourbon Street. Now I love New Orleans. I love the architecture of the Garden District. The New Orleans Museum of Art. The art and antique galleries up and down Royal Street, especially M.S. Rau.
If a European royal family held an estate sale it might look something like M.S. Rau.
Museum quality artwork. Opulent furniture. Silver everything. Jewelry befitting a coronation.
M.S. Rau has been in business selling the best of the best for over 100 years from New Orleans, Louisiana’s French Quarter. The venerable retail wonderland entered a new era November 16, 2019, opening 19,000-square-feet of additional showroom space, nearly doubling its existing footprint.
The expansion was made possible through the acquisition and renovation of two buildings adjacent to its existing 630 Royal Street location, the first purchased in 2015, its sister property in 2016. Built in 1831, the identical, three-story brick buildings are quintessential examples of 1800s Creole architecture, making them historically important in the French Quarter.
M.S. Rau expands – with complications
“Permitting is the hardest part,” Rebecca Rau, Strategic Development Director for the family business, said of the project.
As you might imagine, major renovations made to any historic building in the city’s much-treasured Vieux Carré (old square) require no small amount of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, and rightfully so.
Combined with Royal Street’s narrow roadway, fragile, aged condition and utilities, continually bustling with tourists, big jobs like this one become especially difficult, time consuming and costly.
More than four years of planning and construction went into the project with extreme care taken to preserve the decorative and historic features of the buildings while updating them for modern use. Traditional carriage entrances, stunning arched openings and gorgeous French doors have been carefully restored. The entire façade of each building has been returned to their original state. Doors, stairs, banisters and windows original to the buildings have been retained and painstakingly restored. The buildings feature almost a dozen fireplaces with original mantels which have all been restored to their original grandeur.
A pair of historic outdoor courtyards, not visible from the street and not part of the previous location, have been updated for use by shoppers.
The only modern addition is an elevator providing access to the second and third floors of the expansive new gallery.
“I’m mostly excited to be able to give every piece of importance the real estate that it deserves,” Rau said. “You sometimes take for granted, or you overlook, how important things are when they’re so closely installed, but by letting everything breathe, we’ll be able to better tell the story of each piece and add a kind of gravitas to our collection.”
Paintings, jewelry, historic objects and more
That collection includes seven figure-plus oil paintings by van Gogh, Monet and Rene Magritte. A 116.16 carat sapphire necklace. An astonishing jeweled cross given by Pope Paul VI as a gift to the United Nations in 1965. The magnificent object could serve as the centerpiece for an Indiana Jones movie.
None of those, however, are Rau’s favorite item to pass through the store.
“We sold Abraham Lincoln’s opera glasses that he was using on the night that he was shot and it’s almost certainly the last thing that the president ever touched,” Rau answered when asked which object most stood out to her. “They were really haunting to hold on to and look at.”
M.S. Rau also played a key role in a historic painting with a lineage that includes Winston Churchill, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
U.S. Rau next turned its attention to the 630 Royal Street property where the ground floor was transformed into an expanded jewelry gallery.
“We’re very much looking forward to expanding our jewelry department,” Rau said. “That that is a big part of our future.”
The footprint of M.S. Rau’s jewelry department will almost quadruple once the upgrades have been completed in fall of 2020.
“For me, as a young person who is now more rooted in New Orleans in the business, it means really committing to the desire to continue to build and grow this business to be a part of the local cultural scene and the local economy and to intend to see it through in a long-term way,” Rau said.