The Mysterious Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast

Is this Inn home to ghosts or just a victim of overactive imaginations?

From the veranda of the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast, it’s not uncommon to hear the rickety vibration of the century-old green streetcars rumbling past 4125 Saint Charles Avenue. Designed in the Queen Anne architectural style, the Avenue Inn is set back from the main New Orleans throughway by a small garden oasis. Winding paths lead you up to the front steps of this nineteenth century mansion, where the Innkeepers, Joe and Bebe Rabhan, welcome you to their lovely property.

The Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast is a stately affair, offering its guests the luxury of staying on a property with lots of old world charm with the added touch of modern amenities. Situated in the Garden District just steps from New Orleans’ most historic transportation, located minutes from the commercial Magazine Street, and just a short ride from the French Quarter, the Avenue Inn could not be better placed.

As Joe Rabhan appropriately said, the Avenue Inn provides its guests with that perfect getaway feel after long hours of tromping around all over the city.

But historical properties generally come with some quirks, and the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast has no shortage of interesting past owners and some strange, mysterious occurrences. Could this beautiful Bed and Breakfast be your final destination during your future trip to New Orleans? There’s only one way to find out . . .

The History of the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast

A Time of Building

When Henry Picard, a wealthy New Orleanian merchant, decided to commission a new house for his family, he didn’t hesitate on the desired location for his new residence. The Upper Saint Charles Avenue area, which is also considered to be the Garden District, was on the up-and-up during the late nineteenth century.

Picard enlisted the famed architect, Thomas Sully (1855-1939) to design the property and what a fine decision this was. Considered one of the most innovative and original architects in New Orleans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Sully was an exceptional choice on Picard’s part. The architect had designed homes with various architectural influences, including Queen Anne (such as the Avenue Inn), Second Empire, Romanesque and others.

With the help of builder L.C. LeCorgne, 4125 Saint Charles Avenue was finally completed in 1891 for a staggering sum of $12,000. Sully was so dedicated to constructing one-of-a-kind properties, that in almost every building that he built, that he designed unique wooden medallions in each of property that he was commissioned to build. At the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast (or as it was once known, the Picard Mansion), one of Sully’s marking talisman can be found by the front entranceway in the shape of a long arrow with curved and ridged edges.

Unfortunately, Henry Picard passed in 1902, and the residence shifted into new hands.

A Glint of Gold: the Waldhorn Period

After Picard’s death, 4125 Saint Charles Avenue was quickly snatched up by new owners, Moise Waldhorn and his family.

Born in Alsace-Lorraine, a German province between modern-day France and Germany, jewish Waldhorn immigrated to New Orleans sometime during the 1870s. Upon arriving in the Crescent City, Waldhorn found work quickly as a clerk at the Isaac Levi’s Canal Street loan shop. It wasn’t bad business or employment, but Waldhorn—as many newcomers to America did—hoped for more.

By 1881, Moise Waldhorn had full ownership of the People’s Loan Office, a former bank at the corner of Royal and Conti Streets in the French Quarter. He converted the property into a jewelry and curios business, and an early advertisement in the Daily Picayune (1891) promoted Waldhorn’s budding business as “Antique Treasures from Old Creole Families."

The items sold at the shop were certainly “treasures,” though they must have been parted with some hesitation and regret. See, Waldhorn was purchasing all of the items for sale from Creole families who were wrecked by the Civil War and balanced on the edge of impoverishment.

Although he initially started his business this way, Waldhorn was traveling far and wide to acquire only the finest jewelry and other objects. By the early twentieth century when he and his family moved into 4125 Saint Charles Avenue at the former Picard Mansion, Waldhorn had built up the finest and most luxurious antique shop in all of New Orleans.

Plus, he had some very interesting visitors come to his place of business, including Josie Arlington, Storyville’s most notorious madame, who made an annual pilgrimage to the store every December to buy jewelry for the prostitutes who worked in her brothel. (What other antique store can have that sort of claim to fame?)

Tragedy soon struck the Waldhorn family, however: in 1910, Moise, the patriarch of the Waldhorn family, fell ill. So ill, in fact, that he apparently saw no other recourse but to take his own life. On 31 October 1910, a newspaper from Texas notes that “Moise Waldhorn, a prominent jeweler and dealer in antiquities, committed suicide at his place of business here today by shooting. His act attributed to his ill health.”

Despite, Moise’s untimed death, the family continued to live at the former Picard Mansion until 1919.

Today, Waldhorn Antiques is owned by the Adler Family, though it is still located at 343 Royal Street. And if you’re looking for an interesting experience, don’t forget to head down there while you are traipsing around the French Quarter. They even have a twentieth-century Husband-Killing Dagger for sale ($800), which was created by the wronged wife’s brother so that she could go and . . . well, murder her husband. (Here’s to hoping that it wasn’t used!)

The Next Step: The Land of Felines

Strangely enough, before Joe and Bebe Rabhan had even opened Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast in the early 2000s, the property at 4125 Saint Charles Avenue actually operated as a boardinghouse for most of the twentieth century.

From the 1950s until about the 1990s, Picard Mansion was owned by Jeanie Ellison, who earned the reputation as the “cat lady” around the Upper Saint Charles Avenue area. If you think five or even ten cats are a lot, prepare yourself. Jeanie Ellison did not own ten cats, she owned a hundred cats, which she housed all on the property. (Cat lady, indeed, am I right?)

Known to be rather eccentric, Jeanie Ellison operated the current Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast as a boardinghouse for forty-five years. It was during this time, unfortunately, that the Thomas Sully Queen Anne structure took a rapid decline.

One account of the property during the ‘nineties, described it as having fallen into complete disrepair. “On the left is an awkwardly added side room,” the account noted. “Baluster railways and the fine old iron fence are missing. Unattractive awnings cover the windows.”

By the time that Joe and Bebe Rabhan arrived to save the day, this once beautiful mansion was a shell of its former self.

Restoration and Returning the Mansion to its Former Glory

Joe and Bebe Rabhan didn't intending to purchase the current Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast. Sure, they’d decided to operate their own bed and breakfast during their retirement years; and, sure, they had loads of entrepreneurship and hospitality experience between them, but they stumbled upon 4125 Saint Charles Avenue completely by accident.

According to Joe, he and his wife, Bebe, had always tossed around the idea of becoming Innkeepers. After over two decades of experience in the hotel industry, Joe certainly knew what he was doing. What they didn’t realize, alternatively, was how hard it might to be to actually find the right property to convert into a travel destination for visitors.

“This building was not even listed on any of the local places for sale,” he explained as he took Ghost City Tours’ owner and myself around on a tour of the property. Apparently, 4125 Saint Charles Avenue was listed on only one national website. Just one.

One was all the Rabhans needed. They purchased the property and set about making it the stand-out Bed and Breakfast that it is today. Though, admittedly, it took a lot of work and historical preservation. When they showed up, the former Picard Mansion did not even have its beautiful veranda. It had been partially turned into an interior room, and partially stripped away entirely.

Reconstructing the entire property into the Victorian-era beauty that it is today certainly did not come easy. The Rabhans even went to Tulane’s Architectural Archives to find out anything about the property that they owned; a single page was dedicated to 4125 Saint Charles.

Perhaps it is the irony that with such interesting history, only one page would remain for them to find. Or perhaps this left the couple with the chance to create the Thomas Sully house into what it is today: one of the most prominent bed and breakfast locations in all of New Orleans.

. . . Although in discovering all of this information, Joe and Bebe fell upon some other interesting occurrences. What might be happening in the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast, however?

Strange Activity at the Avenue Inn

With vacation packages like “Voo Doo, Hou Doo, You Doo!” and the “Spirits Alive!”, the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast is not unused to its guests hoping to take part in New Orleans’ paranormal and spiritual culture.

It is New Orleans, after all.

But in some instances, some of that mysterious and otherworldly activity has been known to transpire at this Victorian mansion.

In one occurrence, a guest trekked down to the Rabhan’s office one morning with a very singular complaint: she had seen a cat by her fireplace the night before when readying for bed. When she offhandedly threw out to the Rabhans that she thought that the bed and breakfast was pet free, Joe and Bebe were quick to assure her that it was. “No pets,” they affirmed.

“Well . . . It was only there for a moment and then it disappeared,” the guest mused.

According to Joe and Bebe, this strange occurrence does make sense, though not because they have secret cats inside of the bed and breakfast. Instead, they wonder if perhaps one of the spirits of Jeanie Ellison’s cats still roams the property, popping up here and there.

(I’d have to agree: a hundred cats, and it seems relatively likely that one of those cats decided to stick around its home after death).

The Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast is home to some other mysterious activity, as well. Some guests have reported experiencing the beds on the second floor shake beneath them, just before they shift across the room. Is this something paranormal or just the effects of living in a historic building with all sorts of quirks?

Another guest remarked that they heard singing echoing from the old Nanny’s Quarters, though it remained empty; and yet, in another instance, the sounds of knocking emanated from the dining room fireplace during a wedding ceremony.

Joe and Bebe suspect that the sounds of approval might have been old Mr. Picard himself congratulating the newly wed couple.

As for all the rest of the otherworldly activity, it might be up to you to stay at the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast and discover for yourself if anything mysterious occurs . . .

Staying at the Mysterious Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast

If you’re looking for a place to stay during your next visit to New Orleans, the stately Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast might just be the place for you. With seventeen appropriately appointed guest rooms that truly transplant you to a different era, there’s a little bit of something for everyone at this beautiful bed and breakfast.

More importantly, Joe and Bebe Rabhan truly wish to make their guests’ stay exceptional, a one-of-a-kind experience that can’t be found anywhere else. Are you looking for a specific package deal? The Rabhans have probably already got it covered, including one hilarious one (that sells!) called, “Breaking Up is So Very Hard to Do, But I’ll Get Over Him.” You’ve got it: if you’re hurting in the heart vicinity, this package is geared toward curing you from that bad break up.

Staying at the Avenue Inn isn’t a cookie cutter experience; it’s a travel destination that appeals to your need for luxury, comfort and wits. What can possible be better?

If you’re interesting in checking out the Avenue Inn some more, follow this link to get all the information you could possibly want.

And if that something “mysterious” happens to you during your stay? Don’t say we didn’t prepare you.

(As for myself, I’m hoping for the ghost cat).

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