AN APARTMENT DESIRED
This French Quarter Pad Has A Literary Link
Gray Coleman and Brian Theis have created a shrine to honor Tennessee Williams in their third-floor apartment on St. Peter Street, where the famous playwright wrote A Streetcar Named Desire. It may seem strange for Coleman, a New York entertainment lawyer, and Theis, a fine art photographer who specializes in urban scenes, to want to add another location – a 2,000-square-foot apartment – to their residence in Greenwich Village just above Washington Square and a beach house on Fire Island.
“The property’s theatrical provenance proved to be irresistible,” says Coleman.
A sixth generation native New Orleanian, Coleman has always maintained strong ties to the city, and the stars seemed to fall in line when he decided to find a place in the French Quarter after his mother died in 2014.
“I had no remaining nuclear family in the area” he says. “However, I desired to maintain a toehold here.”
Located just steps from Jackson Square, the apartment is a sun washed space with 14-foot ceilings and a 28-by-38 living and dining room that is a museum of all things Tennessee Williams. It features large windows and even the skylight Williams mentioned when he wrote about living in the apartment as a young playwright.
“It was a stroke of good fortune that this historic apartment appeared on the market just as we made a decision to acquire a place in the French Quarter,” Theis adds.
Known as the Avart-Peretti House, the plaque on the building reads: “Erected in 1842 as a two-story house for Mme. Augustine Eugenie de Lassize widow of Louis Robert Avart. J.N.B. dePouilly and Ernest Goudchaux Architect-Builders. From 1906 through 1923 it was the residence and studio of the artist Achille Peretti. During 1946 and 1947 Tennessee Williams lived here and wrote A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Coleman quotes the exact words Williams wrote in his memoirs to describe the apartment: “In New Orleans, in the autumn of 1946, I obtained one of the loveliest apartments I ever occupied. It was near the corner of St. Peter and Royal, and what I liked most about it was a long refectory table under a skylight which provided me with ideal conditions for working in the mornings. I know of no city where it is better to have a skylight than New Orleans. You know, New Orleans is slightly below sea level and maybe that’s why the clouds and the sky seem so close. They were fleecy and in continual motion. I was alone all day. Consistent with my habit, which I still follow today, I would rise early, have my black coffee and go straight back to work.”
Today the dining room table is positioned directly under the skylight, as it was when Williams lived in the apartment. Over the mantel there is a large framed print of the original 1951 theatrical film poster featuring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando promoting A Streetcar Named Desire. A nearby bookcase if filled with other memorabilia Coleman and Theis have collected over the years.
“We especially cherish the needlepoint pillow, lovingly stitched by Brian’s aunt, Linda McKinney of Houston, to meticulously recreate the poster design and quote that Mitch said to Blanche: ‘That don’t make no difference in the Quarter,’” says Coleman.
Gray is excited that the historic apartment will be opened to sponsors and other select guests during a special event for the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (March 30-April 3).
“By happy coincidence, my childhood friend Janet Daley Duval, president of the festival, found out we now have the historic apartment and was pleased when we offered it as a first time gathering place as a means of raising funds for the festival,” he says. “It seems only fitting that Tennessee’s St. Peter Street apartment will be included in the program, and we are both thrilled to support the festival.”
The third-floor home is located on St. Peter Street near Jackson Square; the building is where Williams wrote Desire.
Gray Coleman, seated, and Brian Theis.
Coleman and Theis use a refectory-style dining table under the skylight similar to the one used by Tennessee Williams when he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire.
A wall of windows adjoins the entry to the third floor.
An icon on the wall has a place of honor in the master bedroom.
A 1920s French Art Deco screen serves as a backdrop for the bar.
The sitting room doubles as a guest bedroom.
Family portraits are displayed in the living room.