Written February 20, 2019
A Victorian-style mansion on St. Charles Avenue was engulfed in flames Wednesday morning. According to the New Orleans Fire Department, the fire started in the home’s basement but the cause wasn’t immediately known. However, officials stated in a press release that they believe it could have stemmed from chemical products in the basement. The inhabitants — Anne and Bill Grace, along with Anne’s 92-year-old grandmother and an elderly poodle — escaped without injury. The fire took about six hours to subdue.
Now referred to as Downman Mansion, the beautiful house was a key stop for a procession of Carnival enthusiasts, and has been occupied for nearly a century. The mansion was believed to be built in 1865 and was home to six generations of the same family. Anne Grace, one of the victims and the home’s owner, stated that the house was “a grand old lady who served us so well.”
The mansion is revered by both tourists and locals alike. Located in New Orleans’ historic Garden District, Downman Mansion was a frequent toasting stop throughout the years of the Rex parade — a tradition that started in 1907, when Robert Henry Downman began his reign as Rex. In 2002, Bill Grace resigned from the family’s long reign.
Anne Kock Montgomery, Anne Grace’s mother, said the toasting tradition began when her grandfather invited “a bunch of friends from the Adirondacks” to town the year he began his reign as Rex in 1907. Throughout the years, the parade has stopped in front of their house to celebrate. Montgomery also stated “The house was built for entertaining” and “It was made for people.” While this may put a damper on the Mardi Gras season, New Orleanians will continue to admire the home’s everlasting spirit of the holiday they cherish.