Jim and Kathryn Danner own and operate the Olivier Guest House (see website) at 828 Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. They also own and operate Wildcliff Resort in Blackwater, Missouri. To run their two businesses, they commute back and forth. They have five children.
Community Standard: You are both from Missouri, so it is easy to understand starting a business there, but why did you want to establish a business in the Vieux Carré?
Jim: We have always had a love for New Orleans. We got married in 1958 and we came here on our honeymoon. We never missed a year coming here at least once, most years twice.
Kathryn: There's never been a time when we came here on a trip and said, “Now we're ready to go home.” We always wanted to stay.
Community Standard: How did you become involved in the guest business?
Kathryn: We know Rose Noble, who has the Cornstalk Hotel here. We used to talk to her, and we thought, “What a fun way that would be to make a living!”
When Jim sold our farm supply business in Missouri, we started talking to her about buying her business. That is what we actually came here to do, but we found this building and liked it so much better that when we found out that we could buy it, we just automatically decided to make it into a hotel.
“We just automatically decided to make it into a hotel.”
Community Standard: Since you like New Orleans so much, why do you still maintain a business and home in Missouri?
Jim: The main reason was the kids. They never got adjusted to the city. They are so unhappy here.
Another reason was we couldn't afford to live as well here as we live in the country. It is just so much cheaper to live in the country with a big family. We couldn't afford the kind of house here that we have there because it just costs too much. Country real estate is a lot cheaper.
Community Standard: What was the building at 828 Touhouse being used for when you bought it?
Jim: It was apartments when we bought it. Originally it was a townhouse, then a rooming house. It has been a funeral parlor and it has been a cathouse.
Kathryn: It was built in 1836 by Madame Olivier, who was a widow, quite wealthy and quite young. She used it as a townhouse. She also owned a plantation.
Community Standard: When did you open your guest house?
Jim: We opened September 5, 1970.
Kathryn: I thought at the time that it was a relatively simple business — just like having house guests, only on a larger scale. Maybe I didn't really realize what we were getting into… It has gotten more compliated as we've gotten larger. We have forty rooms and eleven employees, plus Andrea Giovenco, our manager.
“The Olivier House has become internationally known for jazz musicians.”
Community Standard: How are the rooms furnished?
Kathryn: We specialize in rooms decorated with antiques.
Jim: Also, my hobby — aside from making a living — is woodworking. I have made quite a bit of the furniture, including some of the poster beds.
Community Standard: What are some of the unusual or funny things that have happened here?
Jim: Sometimes we have been too crowded and we have had people sleeping in the halls and the lobby. Occasionally the desk will forget to wake a guest at a certain time, and we have to figure out how to get him to the airport on time anyway.
We have had one suicide and one wedding. I don't think anybody has had a baby yet, although I'm sure a lot have been manufactured here.
Kathryn: The suicide occurred in a split-level balcony bedroom. He was a karate expert. That's what he did for a living. He hanged himself with his brown belt by jumping from the loft area of his room. He was wearing just his shorts.
Community Standard: Each April during the Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Olivier House is the site of a jazz party. Tell us about that.
Jim: We have a tour group conducted by Mike Casimir come in from Europe. Mike lives in England and is in the antique business. He is also a jazz enthusiast and has a band called the New Iberia Stompers. During the time that he's here, we have a jazz fest that lasts several days.
In addition to the New Iberia Stompers, we have had a famous jazz band from Japan called the New Orleans Rascals, and one from Australia called the Yera Yera. The Olivier House has become internationally known, I would say, for jazz musicians.
A suite at the Olivier House, furnished with a poster bed made by Jim Danner.
Community Standard: Do you have any expansion plans?
Kathryn: No… The main reason I don't want to get any bigger is that I'm afraid of losing the personal touch and the fun aspect of it. Forty rooms is all you can handle and handle it right. The best thing about our business is the fact that we can give everybody personal attention. It's fun for us and fun for the guests.
Community Standard: Will you ever choose between a life in Louisiana and a life in Missouri, or will you always go back and forth?
Kathryn: We probably won't make a choice unless the issue is forced. Perhaps when the children are grown, we will decide to stay here.
Jim: Or, if the economy forced us to, we might live in Missouri.
Copyright © 1975–2006 Henry H. Mitchell.