Samuel Wilson Jr.

Architectural historian, educator, preservationist, civic activist, often referred to as the "Dean of Historic Preservation" in New Orleans, Samuel Wilson Jr. in conjunction with architect Richard Koch worked to rehabilitate some of Louisiana's most notable historic buildings, including The Cabildo, Shadows-on-the-Teche, and the Pontalba Buildings.  The author of more than 175 scholarly articles and books, the Louisiana Architects Association awarded him the Medal of Honor in 1987, as well as an honorary PhD from Tulane University, where he taught for more than thirty years.

Born in 1911,in New Orleans, to parents Stella Poupeney and Samuel Wilson Sr., Sam entered Tulane University's School of Architecture in 1927, at the age of sixteen, after graduating from Warren Easton High School.  While attending college, Wilson worked part-time for the architectural firm of Moise Goldstein, to which he was employed full time after his graduation in 1931. Some early projects while there; were Dillard University, Feibleman's Department Store, and the American Bank Building.

Wilson left Goldstein's office to work for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1934.  HABS was a New Deal program that provided jobs for architects and draftsmen during the Great Depression.  The district officer for the program in Louisiana was Richard Koch, who had served on a jury for one of Wilson's Tulane student projects.  After some time spent documenting important buildings for HABS, Wilson became an employee at Koch's firm in 1935, there he would work on Works Progress Administration(WPA) projects in New Orleans's City Park, including the golf house, pigeonnieres, shelters, bridges, gardens, and the stadium.

In 1938 the American Institute of Architects awarded Wilson the Edward Langley Scholarship, which allowed him to spend six months in Europe, researching and studying the origins of Louisiana architecture. In France, he conducted pioneering research in the architectural records of the Archives Nationales, Ministère des Colonies, and Bibliotheque Nationales, documenting French colonial buildings in the United States.


Wilson published one of his first articles, “Early Aids to Navigation at the Mouth of the Mississippi River,” in the 1944 United States Naval Institute, "Proceedings", while he served in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve from 1942 to 1945.  His research and writing for HABS, on the historic Louisiana State Bank, led to a life-long interest in its architect, Benjamin Henry Bonval Latrobe. Latrobe is generally regarded as the founder of professional architecture in the United States. Wilson became acquainted with the Latrobe family in Baltimore and edited "Impressions Respecting New Orleans" written by Latrobe.  In 1951, he began courting Latrobe’s great-great granddaughter, Ellen Elizabeth Latrobe. The two were married in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—a Baltimore cathedral designed by Latrobe.


Wilson returned to Koch’s office in 1945, and also became an adjunct professor at Tulane University where he taught a course titled “Historic Louisiana Architecture” for thirty eight years. In 1949, Wilson helped organize and found the Louisiana Landmarks Society, and served as its first president from 1950 to 1956. He also helped establish other preservation groups such as Friends of The Cabildo, Save Our Cemeteries, the Preservation Resource Center, and the Orleans Parish Landmarks Commission.


Wilson was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1955. That same year, he became Richard Koch’s partner, and continued with him until Koch’s death in 1971. Wilson’s two architectural firms (Richard Koch and Samuel Wilson, Jr., and its successor, Koch and Wilson Architects) were responsible for the rehabilitation of many of the most notable historic structures in Louisiana and Mississippi. Their projects include The Cabildo, Ursuline Convent, Shadows-on-the-Teche, San Francisco Plantation, St. Patrick Church, Gallier House, Hermann-Grima House, Rene Beauregard House, Trinity Church, The Pontalba Buildings, St. Mary’s Assumption Church, The French Market, House on Ellicott Hill and King’s Tavern in Natchez, and hundreds of other commissions in the French Quarter and Garden District in New Orleans. Wilson also published essays detailing the architectural history of some of these buildings.


Wilson’s preservation efforts were acknowledged with numerous awards from such organizations as the American Institute of Architects, Classical America, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, Vieux Carré Commission, Louisiana Preservation Alliance, Foundation for Historical Louisiana, and American Association of State and Local History. He also received the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the Minister of Culture of France.


In 1993, Wilson died in his Garden District home at the age of eighty-two; he was preparing to oppose the demolition of the Rivergate Convention Center at a New Orleans city council meeting. He was the subject of a 1989 doctoral dissertation by Abbye Gorin, who published Conversations with Samuel Wilson, Jr. in 1991. His work continues to inspire architects and preservationists throughout the state.

Suggested Readings

 

Robert Cangelosi Jr., “Samuel Wilson Jr.,” in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–). Article published January 25, 2011.

 

Farnsworth, Jean M., and Ann Masson, eds. The Architecture of Colonial Louisiana: Collected Essays of Samuel Wilson, Jr., Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, 1987. 

Gorin, Abbye, ed. Conversations with Samuel Wilson, Jr., Dean of Architectural Preservation in New Orleans.  Louisiana Landmarks Society, 1991. 

Gorin, Abbye, and Barbara Coleman. Samuel Wilson, Jr. 1911-1993. DVDs. New Orleans: Coleman Gorin Production, 1985-1990. Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University. 

Koch and Wilson Office Records. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Tulane University. 

Latrobe, Benjamin Henry Boneval. Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary & Sketches, 1818-1820. Edited by Samuel Wilson Jr. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951. 

Sam Wilson, Jr. Collection, 1747-1846. Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University. 

Wilson, Samuel, Jr. 1980. Interview by Dorothy Schlesinger. Tape recording. July 9 and July 17. Friends of the Cabildo Oral History Program, New Orleans Public Library. 

Wilson, Samuel, Jr. Bienville's New Orleans: A French Colonial Capital, 1718-1768. New Orleans: Friends of the Cabildo, 1968.

Louisiana Landmarks Society, “About Louisiana Landmarks”; and Cangelosi, “Samuel Wilson Jr.”

Wilson, Samuel, Jr., F.A.I.A. A Guide to Architecture of New Orleans, 1699–1959. New York, NY: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1959.


Partial List of Publications:

 

 

 

1946 - An Architectural History of the Royal Hospital and the Ursuline                   Convent of New Orleans (Article in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly           Series)

1963 - Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians May 1963

1965 - A Guide to the Early Architecture of New Orleans 

1966 - Baroness Pontalba's Buildings and the Remarkable Woman who                  Built Them

1968 - Bienville's New Orleans: A French Colonial Capital 1718-1768

​1968 - The Vieux Carre, New Orleans: Its Plan, Its Growth, Its Architecture

1969 - Ignace Fracois Broutin

1972 - The Basilica on Jackson Square: The History of the St. Louis                        Cathedral and its Predecessors 1727-1965

1977 - Gulf Coast Architecture-

1975 - New Orleans Architecture Series: Volume 1: The Lower Garden                  District

1979 - The St. Louis Cemeteries of New Orleans 

1980 - Lost New Orleans

1984 - A History of the U.S. Customhouse in New Orleans

1985 - Over New Orleans: Aerial Photographs- Co-Author

1987 - The Architecture of Colonial Louisiana: Collected Essays of Samuel              Wilson Jr. 

1990 - Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association

​1992 - St. Patrick's Church, 1833-1992: A National Historic Landmark, Its            History and its Pastors (New Orleans)

1999 - Queen of the South: New Orleans, 1853-1862

1999 - The Cabildo on Jackson Square- Co-Author 

2011- A Guide to Architecture in New Orleans-

2011 - Landmarks of New Orleans

2011 - The Pitot House on Bayou St. John

2011 - Battle of New Orleans: Plantation Houses on the Battlefield of New            Orleans

2011 -  An Account of the Province of Carolina in America -Together with an             Abstract of the Patent, and Several Other Necessary and Useful                 Particulars, to Such as Have Thoughts of Transporting Themselves                 Thither: Published for Their Information. (1682)

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