Race & Religious is located along the riverfront of the Lower Garden District, between the Convention Center and Magazine Street. Offering 6,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor floor-space (4,000 indoor), Race & Religious is comprised of three structures on the property.
Built in the 1830’s, a two-story Creole cottage facing Religious Street was purchased by owner Granville Semmes in 1977 in complete disrepair. He spent nearly thirty years gutting the property, restoring its original beauty and adding hand-picked antiques and layers of decor.
Years later, Semmes became eager to acquire the neighboring corner property at 510 Race Street, which he eventually purchased in August of 2003.
The addition was a three story Greek Revival Rowhouse accompanied by the historical Slave Quarter, a hallmark of the property.
The labor of love required extensive renovations, including his decision to re-imagine the space by merging the separate homes together with a lush brick courtyard and swimming pool lit by the flicker of gas lamps.
The unified space includes two commercially-equipped kitchens, working fireplaces, interior and exterior speakers, balconies overlooking the courtyard and downtown New Orleans.
The property is a relic of an older Louisiana. Originally built in 1836, the Greek-revival row-house at 510 Race St. was made up of a row of three. Later in 1843, Creole Cottages lined Religious Street, the architectural style is common to the city and was typically constructed for middle class families. The history of the homes is undiluted and common to the city
Located along the riverfront, the houses were built with bricks of Mississippi River clay baked along Tchoupitoulas Street. Diaries and letters from the period tell a neighborhood of butchers and railroad families, drunken sailors and Creole orphans. Race Street then ended in a racetrack and Orange Street is the namesake of an orange grove, cultivated by Ursuline nuns.
Though faced with a property in disrepair, Semmes augmented the authenticity of Race & Religious without compromising livability. Preserving 95% of the moldings and details, he elected to leave some staircases unvarnished, maintaining traces of prior residents. French tiles and other inputs were typically 150 to 200 years old, highlighting European design elements indigenous to the property.
Semmes outfitted the homes with old Italian and antique country French furniture, such as the Renaissance dining table, hewn of a single chunk of a walnut tree, and the Basque deux corps, carved by a celebrated craftsman. Extensive travels are apparent throughout, from the Buenos Aires wrought-iron gates and stained-glass doors, to the Seville-inspired box bay window, to copious Oriental rugs and Soviet Realist movie posters, to the Peruvian tabernacle and the leper-carved armadillo.
Louisiana poignancy rings strong within Race & Religious, present within the history of the homes, the religious themes, and much of the art. A gem of Religious Street, the statue of the blessed Virgin was salvaged from a bulldozed church and found by the Semmes on a Waveland porch, braving the elements. Family is also threaded into the property, from family photos to paintings by daughter Elsie Semmes, to murals of the city executed by friend Steve Richardson and others, to whimsical works by Blake Boyd.
The thirty-year Race & Religious project began with a rich canvas of antebellum tradition, which Semmes improved upon, to highlight its uniqueness. Each renovation, piece of furniture, and design element is playfully purposeful, capturing the attention of visitors and redirecting it to other eclecticisms.