Help us Rebuild The Keller Mansion
Standing in the center of the block on Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way between Josephine and St. Andrew St, “The Keller Mansion” – its structure and its metaphor – represents a fascinating past of entrepreneurial pioneership and a future potential to provide stability and opportunity to the city’s marginalized.
The history and mythology of this grand four-story residence in Central City begins with the immigrant tale of Johann Heinrich Keller, who arrived in New Orleans at the age of 18 in 1848 from Zurich, Switzerland. After a dedicated apprenticeship in soap manufacturing, Keller purchased a small property, which at the time was in the middle of dense swampland, and began to build his legacy: The Southern Soapworks Factory. Keller subsequently went on to build his own family residence, “The Keller Mansion”, as well as tract housing for his factory workers, the Keller Market (still located on the corner of Magnolia and Felicity St.) and a public school for the children of his workers (now McDonough No. 10). In the archives, Keller is heralded as a benevolent capitalist success story for the ways he built his business, paid decent wages, offered services to his workers and stayed committed to philanthropy. This figure stands for the more common narrative of the “American dream” stemming from the industrial age: A white man pioneering swamp land to grow a fortune and support the urbanization of New Orleans.
The structure of the Keller Mansion, according to engineers, is sound; the foundation, built of cypress, secure. Apart from the toll of time and a few years of neglect, it is still a rather impressive building that just requires some care and expertise to renovate. Preserving the historical integrity and spirit of the building is one of the commitments of its most recent owner, Rising Foundations (https://www.risingfoundations.org/). Rising Foundations has a vision for the Keller Mansion. It seeks to continue the growth and support of the Central City community today by providing transitional housing, small business development, and support services for formerly incarcerated men and women -- some of the most under-served residents of the city. A more contemporary version of the American dream, this house would allow for these men and women to be able to provide for their families and enhance their futures.