Happy Favorite Building Friday! This week we head uptown to the Garden District to talk about the Morris Israel House, one of the best examples of Italianate architecture in the city. This house was designed in 1860 by Samuel Jamison. Mr. Jamison started his career as a craftsman working primarily in masonry and plaster. One of his more famous projects was the buildings of Factor’s Row in the Central Business District, known as the setting for Edgar Degas’ painting The Cotton Office in New Orleans. The Factor’s Row buildings were designed by Lewis Reynolds, and built by Samuel Jamison in 1858.
A couple years later, Samuel Jamison was in the business of designing buildings himself. He designed the Morris Israel house located at 1331 First Street and a few years later he designed the Joseph Carroll House at 1315 First Street.
As mentioned above, the Morris Israel house is important because it is one of the best examples of Italianate architecture present in the city. Many houses have features that combine both Greek Revival and Italianate styles, but this house has all the features of early Italianate style which became popular in New Orleans in the late 1850s. Just a quick glance at this house reveals the more delicate features that became popular as people moved away from the austerity and formality of Greek Revival architecture.
One of the key features that separates Greek Revival from Italianate homes is the window and door frames. The Italianate doors and windows are arched as they are modeled after Italian villas. If you were paying attention in 8th grade history class you may remember it was the Romans (not the Greeks) who became famous for their widespread use of arches in their architecture. Greek styled bays are rectangular, and often include a specialized door treatment referred to as Greek Key, in which the top horizontal piece (the lintel) is wider than the rest of the frame, and the vertical pieces flair out as they reach the floor.
The detailed cast iron work on the galleries is another tell that this house has shifted to Italianate style. Instead of the typical Greek orders of Ionic or Corinthian columns supporting the porches, we have slender cast iron columns decorated with arched spandrels that have been described as “iron lace”. Is the design a floral pattern? Maybe. That’s what it looks like to me. Above the top gallery the floral motif is continued with cast iron palmettes. Above that along the roofline, the typical Greek Revival decorations known as dentils have been replaced by larger corbels.
Both sides of the building include a semi-octagonal protrusion extending a few feet from the wall. I get the impression that this is the step that is necessary between the solid boxiness of the Greek Revival architecture and the fanciful towers and turrets of the Queen Anne Style which will become more prevalent in the 1880s (more on that later!)
The home was bought by Joseph C. Morris and stayed in his family for over 50 years. According to tax assessor’s office, the home is currently in the care of Tulane University, who appear to be maintaining it quite well. I always like to show this house to my guests, and I’m not the only guide who does so. It is a very popular stop on many Garden District tours, with stories that range from the architectural features to even about how it might be haunted. I’ve even heard guides tell guests that this house is the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I can neither confirm nor deny the haunted house stories but I do know that this house was not the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion. That home is the Shipley-Lydecker House of Baltimore, Maryland.
Malone, Paul, and Lee Malone. The Majesty of the Garden District. Gretna: Pelican Pub., 1994.
Progressland. “The Shipley-Lydecker House.” Disneyland Nomenclature: Building a Disneyland Encyclopedia, Day by Day. March 19, 2008. Accessed October 05, 2016. http://disneylandcompendium.blogspot.com/2008/03/shipley-lydecker-house.html.
Vogt, Lloyd. New Orleans Houses: A House-Watcher’s Guide. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub., 1985.