NEW ORLEANS -- Twenty five years ago, we watched one of the most photographed buildings in the world burn. The massive fire ate through the roof of the Cabildo, the one-time City Hall, courthouse, prison and now museum that was built in 1795 and sits across from Jackson Square.
"The most important thing is that everyone got out safely, and that would not have been possible had it not been for alert security guards,” Sally Ann Roberts reported in 1988.
A welder's torch during roof repairs apparently sparked the $4 million blaze that destroyed the museum's third floor. Firefighters, museum employees and volunteers rescued the museum's treasures from the burning building.
After the fire the state had the money to repair the building, but not to put museum exhibits inside. But then the people of New Orleans, and people from around the country, stepped in and over five years raised millions of dollars that were needed.
Eyewitness News Action Reports profiled school children who saved money for the Cabildo Rebuilding fund, and the thousands who attended huge galas. They paid for exhibits that trace the early history of Louisiana, and those who came before us.
"We want to concentrate on people, particularly the ethnic diversity of the state,” said Jim Sefcik, the former state museums director, in 1992.
"The Cabildo is really the flagship property for the state museum system, and really the most historic property I think in the country outside of some buildings in New York,” said Mark Tullos, the state museums executive director.
Tullos says that 25 years after the fire, new renovations are coming.
"We're planning to even more improvements on the Cabildo in the next couple of years, and some more restoration work,” he said.
But there is also a very special 200th anniversary to commemorate.
"In about a year and a half, we're going to celebrate the Battle of New Orleans, and the Cabildo played an important role in that, and we're going to mount an exhibition about the War of 1812, and the Battle of New Orleans,” Tullos said.