New Orleans’ architecture, like its food, music, and people, echoes the multicultural influences that make our beautiful city so special. You will notice in visiting the historic parts of our city that there are distinguishable architectural typologies ranging from the narrow shotgun houses, to the Creole cottages and Creole townhouses, to the American townhouses, and even the midcentury addition of the California Bungalows. But even within a particular style of home, each structure can be appreciated individually, thanks to the careful details and extraordinary ornamentation that make the architecture so well loved. Collectively, these individual features make a neighborhood come alive. The series of front doors pictured below, as seen in the historic Algiers Point neighborhood, is a prime example of the variety of beauty and detail that can be found in New Orleans’ historic homes, even within a relatively narrow genre of architecture. In this historic district you will find primarily one-story homes in the Greek Revival, Italiante, and Victorian styles, reflecting its period of growth from 1850-1900.
LeBeuf Plantation as it was formerly known is now called Quarters A. This French Creole style estate is one of the few remaining plantation homes in New Orleans! Most of the original houses built on long plots of land known as plantations (or farms) were fatal victims of urbanization. Quarters A is situated on the Westbank of New Orleans in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods – Algiers. Built in 1840, this historic structure has survived hurricanes, termites, the Civil War, even a cannon ball hit! In 1903 the U.S. Navy took control of the house after its last owner committed suicide. It’s said that the ghost of its previous owner haunts the property. But every historic home needs a good ghost story! Under military ownership it served as a New Deal schoolhouse and later as barracks for the Coast Guard. Starting in 1943, the home was used to house high ranking Navy and Marine Corps officers and their families. It is still used as a transient home for such military leaders today, and they couldn’t be better custodians! In 1993 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the house underwent a $1.6 million renovation, the first since the 1940s! It’s hard to imagine this home costing a mere $3500 to construct back in 1840!
The well known Cornstalk Hotel is a landmark and tourist attraction on the picturesque Royal Street. But did you know this French Quarter hotel's namesake architectural feature, the ornate cornstalk fence, has an uptown predecessor? The original cornstalk fence was designed for a Garden District villa, commissioned by it's owner Colonel Robert Henry Short. Colonel Short had the fence made for his wife who was homesick for life back in Iowa. The cast iron fence was designed to be reminiscent of corn fields where she grew up. That's love.
Driving through New Orleans, you may notice street names (though at times difficult to pronounce!) are often named after important historical figures. Driving down Gallier St. in the historic Bywater neighborhood this weekend inspired a tribute to the man who contributed so much to the architecture of New Orleans and the practice at large.
James Gallier, born James Gallagher from Ireland, changed his surname to the French Gallier after moving to New Orleans in 1834. He was one of the first architects to develop the professional practice of architecture as we know it today. Gallier stood apart from his peers at the time due to his particularly proficient adaptation of classical forms, and more importantly, his construction management skills. Many of his works are now registered National Historic Landmarks. Most notable among them are Gallier Hall, which housed New Orleans City Hall for a century, and the Pontalba Buildings, a landmark in Jackson Square.
The iconic shotgun house is a testimony to the rich culture and history of the city of New Orleans. These pint-sized structures were born during the 1800s from the necessity to create housing for the influx of people to cities from rural America and foreign countries. Building lots were small and taxation was based off of lot frontage, which later shifted to number of rooms. Thus, the shotgun house is long and narrow, with rooms lined up one after the other and doors at each end of the residence. The layout was also designed for the hot and humid climate in the South before modern air conditioning was invented, as it allowed for cross-ventilation in each room. While there are several variations of the shotgun that have evolved over time, the living room is typically at the front of the house, followed by two bedrooms and finally, the kitchen. The exclusion of hallways, closets and, occasionally, bathrooms can make renovation for modern living challenging. Nonetheless, the charm, detail, and heritage that the shotgun house embodies far outweigh its shortcomings!
The old 1907 Dixie Brewery in Mid City has been repurposed. After a long battle against demolition, workers are transforming the old Brewery on Tulane Avenue into part of the new VA Medical Center complex. It will become a state of the art research center for the VA. The six-story building will be stabilized and its iconic architectural elements will be preserved as the building is incorporated into a new modern glass and brick structure.