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The Robb Mansion

The Robb Mansion

Designed by James Freret and built at a cost of about $70,000 in the mid- 1800s, the Robb mansion at 1220 Washington Ave. featured a gallery to house his extensive art collection. The interiors had painted frescos by the famous artist Dominique Canova, who also painted the frescoes in the old French Opera House. Another feature was the much talked-about “Mirror Room” with its black onyx mantelpiece, doors of hand-tooled Honduran mahogany and seven large, gold-leaf framed mirrors, arranged in a way to reflect each other and the ceiling frescoes in all directions.

Image, c 1920s, appears courtesy of: The Charles L. Franck Studio Collection at The Historic New Orleans Collection. Accession number 1979.325.2254

James Robb moved to New Orleans in the 1830s and found great success in banking and business. In the mid-1850s, he purchased the entire Garden District block bounded by Washington Avenue and Camp, Sixth and Chestnut streets, and built a grand Italian villa-style mansion.

Family and financial difficulties forced Robb to sell the home. Wealthy sugar plantation owner John Burnside bought the home for $55,000 in 1859 and made very few changes to it. He died in 1881, and in 1889 the mansion was bought by the fledgling Sophie Newcomb College.

Funded by Josephine Louise Newcomb in honor of her late daughter, Newcomb College was able to expand their college for women, which had outgrown its first home on Camp Street. Classes began at the mansion in January 1891, and soon the college bought additional nearby buildings and the school expanded more. Eventually the Washington Avenue property could no longer contain Newcomb, and the school moved to Broadway Street in 1918, taking acorns from the oak trees on Washington to plant on their new campus.

The newly founded Baptist Bible Institute bought the property for an estimated $100,000 and opened for its first classes in October 1918. They also eventually outgrew the property, and the school, now called the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, moved to Gentilly in 1954.

The Robb mansion, once such a desirable piece of property, proved hard to sell. Marketed as “excellent for a private school,” no buyers were found for the mansion and the dormitories, chapel and academic buildings with a $600,000 price tag. Instead, the buildings were razed, the grounds subdivided and an extension of Conery Street was run from Chestnut to Camp streets.

The new neighborhood, built in the mid-1950s, featured homes with “modern conveniences” such as intercom systems and air-conditioning. Some were constructed with materials from the demolished seminary buildings, and the granite steps from a building were left in position at 1230 Washington Ave.

 

 

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