NEW ORLEANS - 25 years ago this weekend, nearly two centuries of Louisiana history went up in smoke in a matter of hours, as flames ravaged the historic Cabildo in Jackson Square.
The 7-alarm fire destroyed the third floor of the building, originally constructed between 1795 and 1799, and known as the spot where the Louisiana Purchase documents were signed. Centuries of history were displayed by the Louisiana State Museum, which owns and operates the building to this day.
Investigators later determined that welding torches being used by workers on the roof caused the blaze, which gripped the city and historic French Quarter for hours on the afternoon of May 11, 1988.
There was a very real concern, voiced by legendary fire Supt. William McCrossen in the WWL-TV story above, that the fire would spread to nearby St. Louis Cathedral. While that didn’t happen, flames tore through the building’s third floor and caused smoke and water damage to floors underneath. Some unmistakable images from that day remain, including flames pouring out of the building's cupola and firefighters and other first responders carrying priceless artifacts out of the building by hand.
It would be nearly six years before the Cabildo would reopen, after a massive renovation totaling more than $8 million. Much of that money was raised by the public, some thanks to a campaign launched by Channel 4 and other donors.