January 20, 2012

New Orleans French Quarter - Notable Buildings

The New Orleans' famed French Quarter is, in my opinion, an American gem - a unique jewel among our country's many different and diverse neighborhoods. There is nothing else like it. What you may not know is that the French Quarter still exists much like it was 100 years ago because of city's previous economic stagnation. There was just never enough money to tear most of it down.

In the early 20th century, there was a large desire to tear the French Quarter down. It had become the equivalent of a New York City tenement neighborhood. It was largely poor and working class at best and often close to being a slum. Just as some of the city leaders were prepared to make the French Quarter a giant urban renewal project, the Great Depression put a screeching halt on those ideas.

Meanwhile, the preservationist movement and tourism was starting to take hold in the city, so by the end of WWII, the French Quarter was largely safe except for the failed attempt to run an expressway along the river side. The preservationists and new tourism entrepreneurs were able to stop those plans.
So, now, fortunately for the city and America, the French Quarter remains an American masterpiece.  Here are a few beautiful buildings to check out:

Madame John's Legacy, 628-32 Dumaine Street, 1788. One of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter, the building is reminiscent of a French Colonial Plantation home. There are no buildings left from the French Colonial period in the city, but this house is about as close as one can get.

The Bosque House, 617-19 Chartres St., 1795. This house typifies the Spanish Colonial Period. The Spanish brought the courtyard to New Orleans, and those courtyards are reached through a covered carriageway. Situated at the rear of courtyards are usually the service rooms and kitchens. Sometimes these are attached as an ell to the house and sometimes not, among homes of that era.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, 941 Bourbon St., about 1781. This shop was responsible for quite a few homes built in the Quarter from the late 18th century through much of the 19th century. These homes were commonly four rooms with fireplaces in each and steep roof. Dormers have been added to the Lafitte's house. The type is often called a Creole Cottage and sometimes have smaller cabinets at the rear.

1122 Burgundy Street, 1826. This too is a cottage but the narrower type to fit a smaller lot. This is a three bay house with a steep roof and dormer. Some are two bay homes and some have an open side gallery, not an uncommon feature among New Orleans homes of various types.

1012 Dauphine Street, 1826. Another variation on the cottage theme but a wider cottage with five bays including a center door.

817-19 St. Ann Street, 1811. Again, another variation on the cottage theme but a taller version. Some are a full two stories tall and some are one and three/quarters stories tall with the roof sloping steeply so that some space under the lowest part of the roof is usable only for storage.

838-42 Royal Street, 1805. The townhouse was a larger home in the French Quarter. These are two and three story homes with the well-known covered balcony on the second and third floors. There were often shops on the first floor with residential rooms on the second and third floors. There is usually a courtyard as private space in the rear of the home with typical urban service buildings at the back.

Pedesclaux-Le Monnier House, 636-40 Royal Street, 1794-1811. This tall and unusual Creole Townhouse tested the builder's confidence in soil conditions. This was a major concern at the time and often limited buildings to fewer floors. This is a four story building with each floor projecting vertically more than might be expected.

Napoleon House, 500-06 Chartres St., 1798-1814. This building houses one of the more popular and famous barrooms in the city. It is another fine example of a Creole Townhouse. The building got its name for the rumor that Napoleon Bonaparte was to be spirited away to New Orleans from English capture to live in this building. It is a remarkable building and a must-see for any visitor to the city.

817 Burgundy St., 1840. This is one of many examples of the American Townhouse in the French Quarter.  They fit so well into the Vieux CarrĂ© that you have to believe they are French even if the Quarter itself is largely Spanish. There are many fine examples of this type in the area. They are generally three bays wide, two or three stories tall with outbuildings often attached. One bay is the door entrance to a side hall.

This small sample does not do justice to the variety and number of beautiful, remarkable buildings in the French Quarter. When visiting the city, especially if you are interested in American vernacular architecture, make sure to spend the time seeing as many blocks as possible, and as always be careful in a city with a deserved urban reputation.

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