Attorney Jacob Morrison and his wife, Mary, labored to protect the historic Vieux Carré for more than forty years through legal counsel, organizational leadership, and outspoken activism.
Jacob Haight Morrison was an attorney, legal author, and preservationist from New Roads, Louisiana, whose passion for the Vieux Carré's historic architecture and willingness to provide legal counsel for numerous preservation causes made him a central player in the city's early days of organized protection efforts.¹ In the late 1930s he married Mississippi-born Mary Meek, who shared his love for the district's architectural heritage, and the couple moved to Royal Street.² In 1938, Morrison co-founded the Vieux Carré Property Owners Association, Inc. (VCPORA), for which he authored the organizing charter, served as president for three years, and provided decades of legal counsel.³ The Morrisons were also involved in the Friends of the Cabildo, for which Morrison drafted the charter and served as president in 1957–58, the Louisiana Council for the Vieux Carré, which Morrison helped to establish, and the Louisiana Landmarks Society, among other groups.⁴ In recalling their early days of activism, Mary Morrison said:
We were young and full of energy and terribly optimistic in those days….We were so filled with enthusiasm about the charm and historic importance of the Vieux Carré, and we thought that once we had made others aware of that importance, the Quarter would be safe, and we could then sit back in our patios and relax and enjoy life.
Instead, we’ve had to fight over and over again to save the Vieux Carré from one threat after another.⁵
In 1957, Jacob Morrison wrote the country’s first preservation legislation text, Historic Preservation Law, which the National Trust for Historic Preservation published as a revised edition in 1965.⁶ The book remains an invaluable guide to state and municipal statutes, ordinances, and court decisions, all supplemented by Morrison’s expert commentary.⁷ In October 1974, two months before Morrison’s death, the couple received the National Trust’s Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award for their superlative achievements in preservation.⁸ Mary Morrison’s involvement in the Vieux Carré’s protection remained unabated until her death in 1999 at the couple’s lovingly preserved home on Ursulines Street.
Since 2002, the Vieux Carré Commission Foundation and VCPORA have memorialized the Morrisons’ legacy with the biannual Jacob Haight and Mary Meek Morrison Memorial Lecture Series.⁹
1. Louisiana Historical Association, “Dictionary of Louisiana Biography: Jake Morrison.”
2. Scott S. Ellis, Madame Vieux Carré: The French Quarter in the Twentieth Century (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 51.
3. Leonard V. Huber, “Dedication,” in New Orleans Architecture, Volume V: The Esplanade Ridge, written by Mary Louise Christovich, Sally Kittredge Evans, and Roulhac Toledano (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1977), v.
5. Stella Pitts, “Saving Vieux Carré’s Charms Is Constant Battle, She Says,” The Times-Picayune, April 9, 1978.
6. Huber, “Dedication,” v.
8. “Preservation Award Given,” The Times-Picayune, October 7, 1974.
9. Vieux Carré Commission Foundation, “Programs.”
Suggestions for Additional Reading and Research
Gallas, Walter W. “Neighborhood Preservation and Politics in New Orleans: Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates, Inc. and City Government, 1938–1983.” Master’s thesis, University of New Orleans, 1996.
Jacob H. Morrison Papers, 1920s–1974. Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.
Mary Meek Morrison and Jacob H. Morrison Papers. The Historic New Orleans Collection.
Morrison, Jacob Haight. Historic Preservation Law. 2nd ed. Washington DC: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1965.