reposted with permission of R. Stephanie Bruno
photos and article by R. Stephanie Bruno
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Faubourg St. John, in the Esplanade Ridge Historic District. The faubourg is bounded roughly by Bayou Road/Gentilly Boulevard/Belfort Avenue on the north, Orleans Avenue on the south, North Broad Street on the east and Bayou St. John on the west. The spot where Bayou St. John and Grand Route St. John meet is believed to be the point at which travelers disembarked from boats and began their foot journey into the city along a sliver of high ground used for centuries by American Indians (though the exact location of the spot is debated by scholars).
Nonetheless, the old Indian portage along what is now Grand Route St. John and its extension, Bayou Road, was the 18th- and early 19th-century equivalent of Interstate 10.
THE BLOCK: The 2800 block of Grand Route St. John on the odd-numbered, or north, side of the street, between Crete Street on the east and North White Street on the west.
Esplanade Avenue’s cafes and restaurants are just a few blocks in one direction and the Fair Grounds a couple of blocks in another.
THE HOUSES: A collection of nine dating from the early 19th century to about 1940, including three large two-story homes, three single shotguns, a bungalow and two shotgun doubles.
Houses on the 2800 block of Grand Route St. John date from the early 19th century to about 1940.
I never tire of walking the streets off Esplanade Avenue, near the Fair Grounds. They angle in and out, making for an aggravating maze if you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry, but a pleasant meandering path if you’re lazily strolling along.
This week, the freshly leafed oaks on Esplanade Avenue attract my attention and beckon to me. Being more in the lazy-stroller than determined-traveler state of mind, I surrender to the crooked streets and choose the 2800 block of Grand Route St. John for a walk.
Anatomy of the block
It’s a long block, and I decide right away that I must paint my house descriptions in broad brush strokes if I am going to make it to the end. I start at the corner of Grand Route St. John and North White Street, where a lovely double-gallery home occupies a large lot surrounded by an iron fence.
With a style transitional from Greek Revival to Italianate, the house features fluted Corinthian columns on the second floor supporting the entablature and fluted Ionic columns on the first. Dentils on the frieze and modillions beneath the cornice add to the visual appeal. I peek around a large palm tree on the right side and can see a beautifully detailed double gallery facing the side yard.
The tall, two-story cottage I encounter next is much simpler in design than the grande dame on the corner, but therein resides its charm. With its side-gabled and steeply pitched roof, its box columns and plain millwork, the house eschews grandiosity in favor of uncluttered lines. A fence of wide, white wood pickets reinforces its unassuming air.
I find a single shotgun in the Eastlake style third on the block. Raised well above the sidewalk, it offers a full menu of delectable Eastlake details, including turned wood columns, an open frieze, turned balusters, quoins and drop-lap siding. The owner has maintained the home’s Hurricane Katrina tattoo, testament to its survivor skills.
Shrubbery completely obscures the front of the fourth house on the block, so I move on to the next, a Craftsman-style double shotgun. Deep eaves with angle brackets and a colorful gable window fit the Craftsman profile, as do short, stout columns atop tall brick pedestals. Cats wave their tails languidly at me as I pass.
Odds are that the fifth house has much to recommend it, but it’s impossible to tell because of the tall wood fence that conceals from view all but the tops of the columns and the roofline. I pass it up in favor of the block’s second shotgun single.
The millwork here is a little simpler than that on the first shotgun single, but the two share features including drop-lap siding and quoins, cornices over the front door and full-length window, and the gable-over-hip configuration of the roof. I am especially drawn to the garden gate set in the side-yard fence. It reminds me of those I see so often in old watercolors of 19th century New Orleans houses.
How do I describe the two-story house to the right of the shotgun single? It hails from the 20th rather than 19th century — that’s undeniable. But what style is it? Is it meant to be a single or multi-family house?
The front porch is centered on the structure but doesn’t stretch the full width — maybe half. The entry is on the right of the porch, with a bay on the left. The porch overhang is decorated with millwork garlands that are applied on the flat areas. But the most prominent feature is the roof dormer, detailed with a wide overhang, pilasters separating windows, and purple and aqua stained glass set in a diamond pattern. A red terra-cotta finial tops off the whole composition.
A shotgun double with Neoclassical Revival features completes the block. It appears to be under renovation, so I make a mental note to revisit in a few months — Jazz Fest maybe? — to see the progress.
Life on the street
Arthur Scully greets me early in my walk. A man of letters who wrote a biography of architect James Dakin in the 1970s, Scully has lived his entire life on the block in a Craftsman house built by his grandfather in 1923. He fills me in on everything.
“First of all, you know, Andrew Jackson rode down this path when he was entering New Orleans before the Battle of New Orleans,” Scully tells me. “Of course it wasn’t a street then, just a path the Indians used to use to get from the bayou to the river.”
He points to the double-gallery house at the corner of North White and asks, “Do you know whose house that was? You ever heard of Josie Arlington?”
I tell him I know she was a famous Storyville madame.
“The house used to be at the corner of North White and Esplanade, but then they decided to build the McDonogh School there, so they told her to take it away or it would be demolished,” Scully tells me. “The house was broken into pieces and hauled here down North White Street in 1925.”
And so the walk goes. Scully tells me about the Duvigneaud house — next door to Arlington’s — and that it dates to 1834. He makes Tommy Lewis get off his bike and come say hello. He brings Gloria Martin over from working in her garden to greet me. He tells me about Jeff Treffinger’s screened porch addition. And about architectural historian Eleanor Burke, who lives on the block with her husband and children.
By the time I leave, I feel like I’m part of the family, thanks to Arthur Scully.
R. Stephanie Bruno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.