This morning I took a Marigny tour offered by Friends of the Cabildo. It was a wonderful tour led by Sandy (I believe her last name was Baptie.) Sandy is an architect who volunteers her time with Friends of the Cabildo to take people out on tours.
This tour started at 10 am at the U.S. Mint located on Esplanade Avenue. At this landmark, she gave her intro and explained the history of this neighborhood. As every member of the group were locals, she didn’t have to delve too deep into the history of the whole city- we all had a pretty good idea of it already. More than half of the group were tour guides or folks training to become tour guides. Sandy had many maps and visual aids available to show us the area in different stages of development.
As it turns out, the land the Mint is situated on is an area that was the boundary of the old town of New Orleans and the Marigny Plantation. There had been a protective wall and Fort San Carlos was located in this spot. Sandy discussed the Mint building in detail, giving not only its history, including style of the structure, but also fun little anecdotes on what had happened in this building over the years. She also included information about current exhibits/events.
Then we walked up Esplanade Avenue, and stopped at different houses that exemplified different styles of architecture, of which there was great variety. Just at the corner of Decatur and Esplanade, (on the lakeside of the block) Sandy pointed out the differences between the American influenced building on the left (decorative swag in woodwork, blocks in the cornice, and wooden panels below the windows) versus the Creole influenced building across the neutral ground to the right which is demonstrated with a Mansard roof.
As we went, she told us the history of the styles and why they developed as they did. New Orleans’s most prosperous period was between the Louisiana Purchase and the Civil War which just so happened to coincide with the Greek Revival and Italianate styles’ rise in popularity, so it’s no wonder why these buildings are so plentiful.
After discussing about ten houses on Esplanade Avenue, we crossed the neutral ground and headed downriver on Bourbon Street. The amazing Whann-Bohn house that sits at 807 Esplanade Avenue has recently been attributed to the famous architect Henry Howard, and I think that it does indeed remind me a little of Colonel Short’s Villa in the Garden District, with its cast iron galleries and octagonal bay. I think that the most interesting thing about this house though, is the crenelated section attached to the garçonnière at the rear of the property. It was explained that the Italianate style was meant to mimic the fortified Italian villas, so crenelated features are sometimes used. The house was built in 1859 for Captain Whann.
Another house that I found fascinating was the Creole Cottage located at 1436 Pauger Street. This house was built by Jean Louis Dolliole, a free person of color. Many houses in this neighborhood were owned by French speaking Creole people of color. One fun fact about home ownership in the area is that 40% of the property was owned by free women of color. Anyway, if you look closely, the house is built on a bend in the road, which led to the house’s shape not being a typical square or rectangle, but instead it has 5 sides, but isn’t really a pentagon. Plans for this house can be found at the Library of Congress website.
We continued our tour to Washington Square and Elysian Fields Avenue and then made our way back to Frenchmen Street where we discussed the new buildings that have been built in the past half-decade or so. With our newly acquired knowledge about architecture in the area, we could tell our architect-guide just what was a little off about these new buildings. They had tried very hard to blend in, but they couldn’t escape our assessments.
This was a delightful tour and I learned so much. I can’t wait for the next one.