Elizabeth Werlein, “Mayor to the French Quarter”

 

A portrait of Elizebeth Werlein by artist Maddie Stratton of Where Y’Art, as commissioned by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for its “300 for 300” celebration of New Orleans’ tricentennial. (NOLA.com)

 

“What I do for the Vieux Carre is prompted solely by my interest in saving this living museum by any means in my power.” — Elizebeth T. Werlein, in a 1943 letter to the editor of The Times-Picayune

  • She was born in 1883 in Bay City, Michigan, the daughter of Henry Thomas and Marie Louise Felton Smith Thomas.
  • Her father was a dynamite manufacturer.
  • She was an accomplished soprano, having studied voice in Paris under famed Polish tenor Jean de Reszke.
  • She loved adventure and was said to have been one of the first women to ride in a hot-air balloon, as well as one of the first women to ride in an airplane. She also took several big-game hunting trips in Africa. In 1917, she became chairwoman of a committee to establish airplane landing fields in Louisiana.
  • From 1924 to 1930, she worked as the head of public relations for the Saenger company, the multi-state movie theater chain headquartered in New Orleans.
  • She would go on to become head of the Louisiana Women’s Suffrage Party and the first president of the Louisiana League of Women Voters.
  • Around 1916, she wrote and published a booklet titled “Wrought Iron Railings of the Le Vieux Carre in New Orleans.” She would later help found the Quartier Club, a group of women united in a desire to preserve the French Quarter.
  • She pushed for the Legislature to grant regulatory power to the group that would become the Vieux Carre Commission and was a founder of the neighborhood watchdog group Vieux Carre Property Owners Association.

Other items about Werlein:

Mayor Robert A. Maestri called her the “mayor to the French Quarter.” 

In 1938, when she became dissatisfied with what she considered to be the VCC’s indifference, Werlein became the founding president of a neighborhood watchdog group called the Vieux Carré Property Owners Association, now known as VCPORA. In that role she convinced Mayor Robert Maestri to strengthen VCC regulations and increase police enforcement of quality-of-life issues. According to fellow preservationist Martha Gilmore Robinson, Werlein “virtually policed the Quarter—urging property owners to restore their buildings, persuading others to remove trash and litter and inspiring many creative and influential people with her drive and spirit.”

For all her successes she did encounter failure, “Werlein — and consequently the city — lost several skirmishes against businessmen whose encroachment caused gerrymandering of the French Quarter to exclude their project from the Vieux Carre Commission controls.”  There were numerous demolitions in this vicinity before litigation took place declaring these exclusions unconstitutional.

Werlein’s front door today:

 

Elizabeth’s daughter was also impressive:

Carter, Betty Werlein

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About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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