Featured Property: The Estate of Mary Louise Christovich
A lifelong resident of New Orleans, prolific author, and tireless advocate for preservation of the built environment and the written record, Mary Louise Mossy Christovich was a consummate humanist. In a career spanning more than seven decades, she worked to ensure future generations’ access to Louisiana’s artistic, architectural, and archival resources. The twinned values of education and preservation underscored Mary Lou’s life’s work.
Research and writing were constants in her life; perhaps the only thing she relished more than a successful archival treasure hunt was the chance to craft a persuasive narrative. She authored 10 books—many with her close friend, Roulhac Toledano— including the landmark Friends of the Cabildo New Orleans Architecture series (1971–97), which won an award of merit from the American Association for State and Local History in 1976 and an Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award from the Society of Architectural Historians in 1977. These works, along with her preservation activities, earned her recognition as Alumna of the Year from her beloved Newcomb College, in 1992. Most recently, The Historic New Orleans Collection’s staff worked with her to produce Garden Legacy, a 2016 publication exploring 300 years of French and French-influenced garden design in New Orleans. Described by Susan Larson as “a garden of delights” and by R. Stephanie Bruno as “an authoritative guide to New Orleans and its gardens,” Garden Legacy was a labor of love for Mary Lou, who worked painstakingly on both the writing and design of the book.
It’s the rare preservation-oriented group that Mary Lou didn’t touch with her energetic leadership. She was a charter member of the Friends of the Cabildo, a founder and longtime director of Save Our Cemeteries, a cofounder of the Preservation Resource Center, and a vital player in the development of such neighborhood advocacy groups as the Coliseum Square Association, Esplanade Ridge Association, and Felicity Redevelopment Corporation. Mary Lou was dedicated to the preservation not only of neighborhoods but also of the archives that document their growth. While the explicit purpose of the New Orleans Architecture book series was to save the city’s architectural heritage, the volumes implicitly drew attention to the vulnerability of local archives. Indeed, the launch of the series prompted an outpouring of public support for the New Orleans Notarial Archives and the eventual establishment of the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University. Garden Legacy, in turn, showcased the remarkable “illustration art,” to use her term, of the Notarial Archives while reminding readers that these “fragile survivors” demand constant care and attention.
Here at The Collection, Mary Lou was known as a force of nature for nearly a half century. A member of the board of directors of the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation since 1972—its president from 1996 to 2003, and its chair from 2003 to shortly before her death—Mary Lou applied fiscal responsibility and intellectual curiosity to her governance role.
Mary Lou was married to attorney William K. Christovich for more than 50 years, until his death in 2012. She is survived by their four children, Michael and Jeffrey Christovich, Marie Elise “Kitten” Grote, and Terry Christovich Gay, as well as 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
President & Chief Executive Officer
The Historic New Orleans Collection
Previously Published in Volume XXXV, Number 2, Spring 2018 Issue of The Historic New Orleans Collection Quarterly
Lot 950: American Late Classical Mahogany Sofa
Lot 467: Constant Joseph Brochart (French, 1816-1899), "Sisterly Devotion" and "The Gossips"
Lot 981: Julian Onderdonk (American/Texas, 1882-1922), "Wooded Landscape with a Pond"
Lot 1003: American Transitional Late Classical-into-Rococo Revival Rosewood Bedstead, mid-19th century, attributed to C. Lee, Manchester, Massachusetts