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Favorite Building Friday – Napoleon House

Favorite Building Friday! For this week’s Favorite Building Friday, I want to share the not only one of my favorite buildings, but it is also one of my favorite casual restaurants in the city: the Napoleon House. I had lunch at this spot earlier in the week, and it really reminded me of how much I love this building.

Napoleon House Sign -
Napoleon House Sign –

The Napoleon House was built in 1814 for Nicholas Girod, mayor of New Orleans from 1812-1815. If you have been by this building, I know that you are thinking, that the sign over the door says 1797. Yes, it sure does, and that is because Napoleon House is lying. But it’s a white lie really – they also own the own the two story building next door which was built in 1797 by Nicholas Girod’s brother Claude Francois. Nicholas Girod is very famous in the myths of New Orleans because he invited Napoleon to come live in this house if he made it to the United States after escaping exile. The story goes that once he heard Napoleon had been recaptured, Nicholas Girod assembled the pirates to go rescue (or kidnap, depending on which side you’re on) the fallen Emperor. Napoleon passed away in exile before he could be rescued. Despite rumors and stories, Napoleon never made it to New Orleans although he had actually been in control of Louisiana for a couple years as a result of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. Napoleon sold the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803.

napoleonhouseeditAnyway, back to the building. It is very important to note that at this point, even though the City of New Orleans getting pretty deep into the American Phase – as the Louisiana Purchase happened 11 years earlier – the architecture of this building is still quite creole – a term used to describe things with French and/or Spanish characteristics. This building has the telltale signs of a French Colonial Building such as a hipped roof (shingles on all four sides, without gables) dormers (windows that pierce through the roof to allow light and air into the attic) and French doors (unlike the hung windows seen in American sections of town). Wrought iron balconies signify the influence of the Spanish in town.  This building was designed by Hyacinth Laclotte who also designed the Pedesclaux-Lemonnier house on Royal Street in 1811. (Another great building! I’ll share that one with you soon.)

This building is constructed out of brick covered in plaster, which is now crumbling both on the exterior and interior. On one hand I would love to see it all restored back to its former glory as it had looked two hundred years ago, but on the other I think this building stands out because it is wears its age so proudly. The roof is covered in tiles that are still original and the octagonal belvedere is a sight to behold. A closer inspection shows that this is a lookout tower as it has windows in it. I would love to see a view of the city from that vantage point!

The building was purchased in the early 1900s by the Impastato family who ran a grocery in the lower level and lived in the upstairs apartment. Over time the grocery store started serving food and drinks, and became the Napoleon House Restaurant. The Impastato family ran it until 2015 when it was bought by Ralph Brennan. Amazingly, nothing has changed. They serve simple Louisiana favorites: red beans and rice, jambalaya, and gumbo at affordable prices. Locals and tourist alike enjoy long lunches in the inner courtyard. This building has an incredible story and impressive features. I can’t believe it took me so long to share it with y’all.

Sources Consulted:

  • A Guide to New Orleans Architecture by the New Orleans Chapter of the American Intsitute of Architects. New Orleans, LA: American Institute of Architects, 1974.
  • House, Napoleon. “Napoleon House : Napoleon House – New Orleans.” Napoleon House. Accessed November 02, 2016.
  • Vogt, Lloyd. Historic Buildings of the French Quarter. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2002.