A fire chief says the LeBeau Plantation house was destroyed in what he called “suspicious circumstances” early Friday morning in St. Bernard Parish. The Old Arabi landmark was built in the 1850s and was one of the largest south of New Orleans.
“Every chief’s worst nightmare is to have a historical structure destroyed in their community, and that is what happened here,” Stone said about 9 a.m. Friday from the scene as the fire still smoldered and he awaited the arrival of the state fire marshal’s arson investigator and arson dog. “We got the call around 2:11 a.m. and the first unit that got on the scene said it was engulfed in fire. …It was total devastation.”
All that remained of the house on Friday morning were its four chimneys, a small portion of its interior brick wall and its unique brick foundation.
In terms of assessing the financial cost of the damage, Stone simply said, “it was priceless.”
Built in 1854, the plantation home has been a private residence, a hotel, a boarding house, and an illegal casino (historic photos). In its heyday, the LeBeau house was one of the largest plantations south of New Orleans.
The house currently is owned by the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation. Rita Gue, president of the foundation, said on Friday that her family “is so saddened by this fire and we are anxious to see the investigation go forward and see what it is all about.”
While she said she and her family were in talks with two or three different people about possible future uses for the home, nothing specific had yet been decided for the vacant home.
“But we had beautiful visions and dreams and plans,” she said. “It is just a real unfortunate sad day for all of us.”
Stone said 25 fire fighters, six fire engines and two rescue squads assisted in the fight on Friday morning. Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials also were on the scene assisting on Friday morning.
If anyone has any tips about the potential arson, Stone asks that they call the parish Fire Department’s fire prevention bureau at 504.278.4477.