[StBernard] Lebeau Plantation is a great loss to Old Arabi: Around Arabi

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Dec 1 21:59:29 EST 2013

Lebeau Plantation is a great loss to Old Arabi: Around Arabi

Print Barry Lemoine By Barry Lemoine
on November 28, 2013 at 6:41 AM, updated November 28, 2013 at 6:45 AM

Whenever my New York friends talk about the attack on 9/11, they speak of
the lives and the security that was loss that day. But they also speak of a
different kind of loss - the loss of a symbol on their iconic skyline. On a
smaller scale, but just as real, is the recent loss of the Lebeau Plantation
in Old Arabi. It represented so much to so many. For some, the historic,
two-story mansion represented a look back at a different era. Bill Hyland,
the parish historian in St. Bernard, said the antebellum home captured a
distinct time period.

"It was a symbol of the plantation culture of St. Bernard Parish at its
zenith just before the Civil War," Hyland said.

But for some people, the Lebeau House represented a spooky adventure. The
abandoned house with its supposed haunted history drew visitors and
trespassers to it over the years. It was almost a teenage rite of passage to
sneak into Lebeau.

But no matter how you saw the house, it's gone now. Despite firefighters'
efforts to save it, the 10,000-square-foot mansion recently burned to the
ground. All that's left of the once grand home are its four chimneys, and a
lot of memories.

Last spring, I was lucky to tour the home, joining Richard Campanella and
his Tulane architecture students. Chris and Bill Haines of the Arlene and
Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, which own the building, had invited me
to visit the landmark. Hyland was with the group as was my wife Katherine
and preservation architect Gene Cizek.

Everyone on the tour remarked on the home's great history and the great view
of the river and the New Orleans skyline. Everyone also knew it would cost
several million dollars to restore it, but the possibilities were endless -
a living history museum and the premier stop on a tour of the
underappreciated depth of St. Bernard history.

Ideas and dreams for the home have been as much a part of the Lebeau history
as its ghost stories. And now a handful of arsonists have taken it all away
- the structure, its history, and all of its possibilities. And the scenery
of Old Arabi and St. Bernard will never be the same.

Fire Chief Tommy Stone said having a historical building burn is a fire
chief's worst nightmare.

"It was a beautiful building," Stone said. "We had people come out here and
start crying. They are devastated by this. We all are."

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