America has only three cities; New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.– Tennessee Williams
Although born in Mississippi and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Tennessee Williams always considered New Orleans to be his spiritual home. Born Thomas Lanier Williams III, he first came to New Orleans in 1938 at the age of 27, and he would make the French Quarter his on-and-off home for the rest of his life. Williams admired the bohemian spirit of the city, and it was while staying in its various hotels and apartments that he would rename himself Tennessee. The city is also where he would write some of his most famous works, such as “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Today, many of Williams’ old homes and manuscripts are owned by the Historic New Orleans Collection. Founded in 1966 by Lewis Kemper Williams and Leila Williams, the collection has served as a sponsor for the literary festival in his name since its first year in 1986. Both the collection and Williams Research Center are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, but appointments at the research center are encouraged.
For 36 years, New Orleans has returned Williams’ love of the city with the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, a five-day celebration during his birthday on March 26. The festival features panels and masterclasses with well-known writers, artists, and filmmakers; live music from local musicians; tours; and special events such as the Stella Shouting Contest. The festival is also the perfect time to visit some of Williams’ favorite French Quarter locations, as well as a few new ones named in his honor.
722 Toulouse St.
The Louis Adam House at 722 Toulouse St. is a two-story townhouse built in 1788, which served as Williams’ first New Orleans residence. He lived in the attic apartment and briefly worked as a waiter for the Quarter Eat Shop, a shortlived restaurant that his landlady ran out of the same building. The apartment was later immortalized as the setting for Williams’ 1977 play “Vieux Carré.”
In 1945, the Louis Adam House was purchased and restored by Leila and Lewis Kemper Williams. The Historic New Orleans Collection now uses the building for staff offices. It is not accessible to the public, but there is a plaque near the entrance memorializing the apartment’s significance in Tennessee Williams’ life.
632 1/2 St. Peter St.
Originally built in 1842, the Avart-Peretti House at 6321/2 St. Peter St. was said to be Williams’ favorite apartment. He lived there from 1946 to 1947, while he was writing “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The house was hugely influential to Williams; he could hear the sounds of the Desire streetcar line as it ran through the nearby Royal Street, inspiring the play’s title. A fictionalized version of the house, renamed Elysian Fields, serves as the setting for “Streetcar.”
Like the Louis Adam House, the Avart-Peretti House is not currently available to the public, but the entrance is marked by a plaque from the Orleans Parish Landmarks Commission, documenting Williams’ stay there.
1014 Dumaine St.
After growing tired of renting, Williams bought this 1784 townhouse in 1962, although he would not officially move in until 1972. He lived in the second-floor apartment on and off until his death in 1983. In his Memoirs, Williams wrote about his love for the house. “I hope to die in my sleep,” he said, “in this beautiful big brass bed in my New Orleans apartment.”
In 2006, the house was designated as a Literary Landmark by Friends of Libraries U.S.A. It, along with Williams’ other residences, is featured on the Tennessee Williams Literary Walking Tour, to be held on Friday, March 24, at 10 a.m. as part of the festival.
Hotel Monteleone was Williams’ favorite hotel in New Orleans and was featured in his play “The Rose Tattoo.” The hotel, located at 214 Royal St., was opened in 1886 by Antonio Monteleone and has been owned and operated by the Monteleone family ever since.
In addition to Williams, the hotel was often visited by several other well-known literary figures, such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Truman Capote. Because of its significance, Hotel Monteleone has been named a Literary Landmark by Friends of Libraries U.S.A. The hotel has many suites named in honor of the authors who frequented it, including the Tennessee Williams Suite.
The Pontchartrain Hotel
The Pontchartrain Hotel is located at 2031 St. Charles Ave. in the Garden District. Originally founded by the Aschaffenburg family in 1927, the hotel has since been visited by many notable people, including Tennessee Williams, who worked on “A Streetcar Named Desire” during his stay.
The hotel currently houses two establishments named in reference to Williams’ work. The Jack Rose restaurant and bar, named after characters from Williams’ 1951 play “The Rose Tattoo,” offers Italian, Spanish and French cuisine. Hot Tin is a rooftop cocktail bar, originally a penthouse, named after 1955’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Galatoire’s, the historic French-Creole restaurant at 209 Bourbon St., was founded by French immigrant Jean Galatoire in 1905. The restaurant is owned and operated by the Galatoire family to this day. Galatoire’s was a favorite of Tennessee Williams, who would typically sit at a table in the front window. His fondness for the restaurant is immortalized in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” where it is visited by Stella and Blanche.
Chartres House Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Located at 540 Chartres St., just down the block from Williams’ Toulouse Street apartment, this building was originally built by Joseph Reynes in 1795. In the 1880s, it was purchased by Victor Valentinen, who opened Victor’s Café. Williams was a frequent customer at Victor’s until its closure in 1962.
540 Chartres Street now houses the Chartres House Restaurant & Oyster Bar, which offers Cajun-Creole dining and cocktails. The Chartres House has two private rooms for events, named in honor of the building’s history—the Reynes-Roche Room and the Tennessee Williams Room.
The Napoleon House at 500 Chartres St. was first owned by the Girod family in 1798. Nicholas Girod—who served as the mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815—offered the house to Napoleon Buonaparte after his exile in 1821, although this plan never came to fruition.
In 1914, the house was purchased by the Impastato family, who renovated the Napoleon House into a bar, which they continued operating until 2015 when it was sold to Ralph Brennan. Throughout the years, the bar has been a popular spot for writers and was often visited by Tennessee Williams.
Stanley of New Orleans
Stanley of New Orleans, located at 547 St. Ann St., takes its name from Stanley Kowalski of Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Stanley once had a sister restaurant next door named Stella that is now closed. Stanley is a casual restaurant that offers breakfast, seafood and poboys.
Stanley has a great view of the historic St. Louis Cathedral and of Jackson Square, where the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival’s famous Stella Shouting Contest takes place.
The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival starts on Sunday, March 19, 2023, with the Stella Shouting Contest and runs through Sunday, March 26. Some of this year’s highlights include theater performances of “Night of the Iguana” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”; an LGBTQ+ French Quarter Tour; authors Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Tom Piazza, David Armand, Augustin J. Correro, Douglas Brinkley, Katy Simpson Smith, Cheryl A. Head and Rebecca Makkai; plus lots more tours, sessions on writing and special events. See the full schedule here.
Featured art at top is “Le Solitaire,” Tennessee Williams’ self-portrait that was exhibited in 2014 in Key West, Florida, as part of the Tennessee Williams Key West Exhibit.