The imposing Victorian building on the corner of Magazine and Race streets in the Lower Garden District started out as an orphan sanctuary during the Civil War. Soon it will begin a new life as the Hotel St. Vincent, an Italian-themed boutique inn with a palm-shaded courtyard and expansive balconies for each of its 75 rooms.
The St. Vincent is the brainchild of Zachary Kupperman, a lawyer-turned-tech-entrepreneur-turned-hotel developer. He bought the property four years ago from owners who in the early 1990s had turned it into a budget hostel with something of a seamy reputation.
It is one of a number of redevelopments across the city in recent years that have transformed smaller, historic buildings into boutique hotels aimed at travelers less interested in the hulking corporate hotels along Poydras and Canal streets. In 2016, the Ace Hotel opened on Carondelet Street in the Warehouse District, followed by the NOPSI in the former utility building around the corner on Baronne Street.
More recently, the St. Peter & Paul Hotel on Burgundy Street has attracted travelers to its converted Roman Catholic church in the Marigny.
The $22.5 million St. Vincent makeover that Kupperman has nearly completed with his Austin-based partners, Liz Lambert and Larry McGuire, has sought to keep all the exterior features of the historic building while adding “Art Deco and 20th-century Italian aesthetics.”
The result is a mix of styles that retains some of the old building’s institutional feel: outside in the courtyard, for example, the original Virgin Mary grotto occupies a space not far from the terracotta-tiled pool area and bar, while inside long sunless corridors are punctuated by Art Deco wall lights and a deep azure decor.
Kupperman said he and his partners focused on detail that would reference the hotel’s history. That included echoing the design pattern in the diary of Margaret Haughery — the 19th century rags-to-riches Irish immigrant who had helped to build the original St. Vincent Infant Asylum — in the colorful bathroom wallpaper.
St. Vincent’s remained in use as an infant orphanage until the early 20th century when it morphed into a refuge for single mothers that remained into the 1990s.
The building had fallen into a state of disrepair and was sold in 1994 to Klaus Peter Schreiber and his wife Sarah “Sally” Schreiber, who ran it for the next two decades as a budget operation. The cheap $250-a-week toll attracted international students and some long-stay locals, and it acquired a reputation for scruffiness where cookouts in the courtyard were not uncommon.
Klaus Peter Schreiber, who owned other New Orleans hotels including the Creole Gardens, disappeared mysteriously in 2015 at the age of 74. According to the New Orleans Police Department, his Mercedes-Benz was found parked at the airport and he had tickets to fly to Ireland but never boarded. The police said this week that the investigation remains open.
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Sally Schreiber died in late 2015 leaving one surviving daughter. The St. Vincent was sold out of a trust two years later.
“The building had been a low-budget hostel that had become a beacon of unsavory activity,” said Kupperman, who spent the first year and a half getting city permissions and convincing neighborhood associations and the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission about the merits of the project.
The HDLC’s blessing was necessary to secure the historic rehabilitation tax credits that would make the project work financially, said Kupperman, who was a real estate lawyer for four years after graduating from Tulane University Law School just over a decade ago.
Kupperman’s early business ventures included a company supplying “collegiate poker chips” and other gaming supplies to college students, and an app for taking quick opinion polls, both of which he sold. A notable flop was Dinner Lab, a dining experience business that grew fast and received national media attention but went bankrupt in 2016 after three years in operation.
More recently, Kupperman has put together a portfolio of boutique hotels and other properties, including The Drifter on Tulane Avenue. He also developed The Catahoula and The Rampart in the Central Business District, two townhouse-style boutique hotels, and bought the historic 1,200-capacity Joy Theater at the end of 2019.
His newest project is The Mountain Chalet, a historic but somewhat dated Bavarian-themed resort with a prime location near the ski lift in Aspen, Colorado, which he also plans to renovate with Lambert and McGuire.
The St. Vincent is expected to open in mid-July now that it has overcome an initial struggle to find people to fill the 70 jobs it had going. Though they received 150 applications initially, only 30 people turned up to interview, Kupperman said, reflecting a post-pandemic dearth of hospitality sector workers.
But he said they now have a chef for their signature restaurant, the San Lorenzo. They have also found people to fill most other positions, including for the hotel’s three bars and the “Elizabeth Street Café” that has been attached to the Uptown side of the main building.
Kupperman said that all the industry data he follows points to a strong pick up in the New Orleans leisure market from late summer, into early fall. He said hopes the Hotel St. Vincent will fill a new niche in the market.
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“The big differentiator for the St. Vincent is that it is a neighborhood hotel, not just a rectangular box,” he said. “It has a true campus feel.”