Prominent architect and military leader Allison Owen was also an early advocate for the preservation of New Orleans’ oldest landmarks.
An architect, educator, preservationist, and military leader, Allison Owen is responsible for designing some of New Orleans’ most notable buildings and fighting to save several of its historic landmarks. He attended Tulane University in the 1880s, and in 1895, after continuing his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he partnered with local architect Collins C. Diboll to form Diboll & Owen, which became one of the city’s leading architectural firms in the early twentieth century.¹ Together, they designed such high-profile projects as the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library on Lee Circle (demolished), Pythian Temple on Loyola Avenue, and Notre Dame Seminary on Carrollton Avenue.² In addition to his practice, Owen lectured on architectural history at Tulane, served as a dean of Loyola University’s architecture school and president of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), actively participated in several municipal beautification efforts, and was the longtime editor of Architectural Art and Its Allies,a locally published journal that began as Architecture and Allied Arts in 1905 and ran until 1913.³ Today, an online index of the journal’s contents is available via the New Orleans Public Library’s Louisiana Division, and archival issues are housed at Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archive.
Owen was also a dedicated preservation advocate who believed that the buildings of the Vieux Carré were “actual heirlooms of the past.”4 In the 1890s, he participated in the fight to save the Cabildo from demolition with his uncle James S. Zacharie and artist William Woodward. As early as 1895, he attempted to create a society to preserve city landmarks.5 In the 1920s, when the Beauregard-Keyes House on Chartres Street was in danger of collapse, Owen purchased the house with his own funds so that it could be restored and preserved in honor of former resident General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.6
1. Bernard Lemann, Malcolm Heard Jr., and John P. Klingman, Talk About Architecture: A Century of Architectural Education at Tulane (New Orleans: Tulane University School of Architecture, 1993), 26.
2. John Smith Kendall, History of New Orleans: Volume III (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1922), 1191-93.
3. Kendall, History of New Orleans,1191-93; and New Orleans Public Library, Louisiana Division, “Index to Architectural Art and Its Allies.”
4. “Honor President of Vieux Carre Property Group,” The Times-Picayune, August 6, 1942.
5. Hilary Irvin, “Vieux Carré Commission,” in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010-). Article published April 5, 2013 [link:]; Vieux Carré Commission Foundation, “History of the Vieux Carré Commission”; and “Allison Owen – A New Orleans Boy Graduates in Boston with High Honors,” The Daily Picayune, May 29, 1894.
6. Beauregard-Keyes House, “Learn.”
Suggestions for Additional Reading and Research
Allison Owen Manuscript, 1930s. Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.
Allison Owen Papers, 1804–1972. Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.
Ferguson, John. “Architecture of the American Renaissance,” Preservation Press 7 no. 8(December, 1980): 2-3.