Fire at New Orleans mansion owned by Beyoncé investigated as a possible arson

The fire appeared to have started in the kitchen, where firefighters found books inside of an oven


Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — The fire that erupted late Wednesday inside a vacant Garden District mansion owned by pop superstar Beyoncé is being investigated as a possible arson.

The blaze in the 1500 block of Harmony Street appeared to have started in the kitchen, where firefighters found books inside of an oven, according to a source who was briefed on the investigation. A gas can was also found in the house.

Firefighters suspect arson in a fire in a mansion purchased by Beyoncé in 2015 in New Orleans' Garden District.
Firefighters suspect arson in a fire in a mansion purchased by Beyoncé in 2015 in New Orleans' Garden District. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)

Neighbors who asked not to be identified said authorities seemed to suspect that someone broke into the home shortly before the fire. One neighbor said people are known to use an unlocked gate to come onto and leave the property.

Another, Jacques Michell, said: "Inside the house, I've never seen any activity in the two years I've been here. No activity at all."

A smoke alarm at the nearly century-old home went off around 6:20 p.m., about the same time that police received a report of a suspicious person in the 3100 block of St. Charles Avenue, just around the corner, according to authorities.

Officers determined the suspicious-person call was connected to the fire, which was later classified as an arson, according to the New Orleans Police Department.

No one had lived in the home recently, but the house did have working utilities, fire officials said. They declined to comment what may have caused the one-alarm blaze, but on Thursday, investigators with the fire department, police department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were seen inside the home.

The blaze is just the latest chapter in the long history of the Harmony Street mansion.

The 15,000-square-foot, three-story Spanish baroque building was constructed in 1926 by the then-fledgling Westminster Presbyterian Church. It drew inspiration from Latin America's Mission-style churches and cost $84,000 to build.

The church's founding pastor, admitted Ku Klux Klan leader J.C. Barr, left in 1930 following a disagreement over the closure of a Presbyterian hospital.

The congregation stayed at the building until the late 1960s. After that it sat vacant for several years.

Renowned New Orleans ballet instructor Harvey Hysell, who was the son of a church organist, spent about $100,000 to acquire the building in 1977 and turn it into a ballet school. The school operated there until 2001, training a generation of New Orleans dancers, before new owners renovated the building into a three-bedroom, 3 1/2 -bath house.

In 2015, it was Beyoncé's turn to own the home.

City records show that a shell company listing a mailing address for the management firm owned by the 28-time Grammy winner, Parkwood Entertainment, purchased the home for $2.6 million that year.

That property is separate from another century-old New Orleans church that Beyoncé reportedly bought in 2018, at the corner of Camp and Seventh Street, roughly a half-mile away.

Parkwood Entertainment didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Beyoncé's manager, Michael Oppenheim, said Thursday that he was unaware of the fire and declined comment.

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(c)2021 The Times-Picayune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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