The 1970s preservation efforts at St. Louis Cemeteries Nos. 1 and 2 initiated the stabilization and rehabilitation of historic cemeteries around New Orleans.
Situated just north of the Vieux Carré, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was established in 1789 as the main burial site for the city of New Orleans. St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, located a few blocks further north than No. 1, was consecrated in 1823.¹ Both cemeteries are prime examples of the city’s distinctive burial traditions, with aboveground masonry tombs and copings crowded together to create what are popularly known as “cities of the dead.”² In 1974, the Archdiocese of New Orleans planned to demolish the deteriorating wall vaults around the periphery of St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 and replace them with a chain-link fence, an intervention that would have substantially diminished the cemetery’s historic integrity.³ In an effort to prevent this action, preservationist and author Mary Louise Christovich led the charge to establish the non-profit preservation organization Save Our Cemeteries.⁴ The fledgling group was successful in convincing the Archdiocese to retain and repair the vaults, and it also successfully nominated both St. Louis Nos. 1 and 2 on the National Register of Historic Places that summer.⁵ These two historic cemeteries were the first in New Orleans to benefit from such organized preservation efforts, and the threats that spurred their preservation and the formation of Save Our Cemeteries led to stabilization and rehabilitation efforts in historic cemeteries across the city.
However, all of the city’s historic cemeteries, including St. Louis Nos. 1 and 2, continue to be at risk. Owners’ neglect, increasing tourism, vandalism, and vibrations from large-scale construction projects and traffic are all threats that Save Our Cemeteries and other preservation advocates continue to battle through stabilization work and educational programs. In December 2013, for instance, the alleged tomb of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, a popular tourist attraction in St. Louis No. 1, was slathered in bright pink latex paint.⁶ In 2014, the redevelopment of the Iberville housing projects next to St. Louis No. 2 was a serious concern despite the implementation of vibration monitoring systems.⁷
1. Leonard V. Huber, “New Orleans Cemeteries: A Brief History,” in New Orleans Architecture, Volume III: The Cemeteries, ed. Mary Louise Christovich (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1974), 5, 10.
2. Save Our Cemeteries, “Mission & History.”
3. Joyce M. Davis, “$3 Million Needed to Save St. Louis Cemetery No. 2,” The Times-Picayune, December 8, 1974.
4. Save Our Cemeteries, “Mission & History.”
5. Mary Louise Christovich, “St. Louis Cemeteries I & II,” Preservation In Print 1 no. 1 (August 1975): 2.
6. Richard A. Webster, "Marie Laveau's Tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Painted Pink by Mysterious Vandal," nola.com, December 29, 2013.
7. Richard A. Webster, “Iberville redevelopment threatens St. Louis cemeteries, preservationists contend,” nola.com, March 15, 2013.