Banks of Bayou St. John don’t disappoint
Friday, September 16, 2011, 4:00 PM
By R. Stephanie Bruno NOLA.com
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Faubourg St. John, in the Esplanade Ridge Historic District. Although the Esplanade Ridge district stretches on both sides of Esplanade Avenue all the way from Bayou St. John to North Rampart Street, the Faubourg St. John neighborhood is bounded by Bayou St. John on the north (including houses facing the bayou on both sides), North Broad Street on the south, Onzaga/Marurepas/St. Louis No. 3 Cemetery (north border) on the east and Orleans Avenue on the west.
Although Esplanade Avenue serves as the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, the bayou defines its personality. Once the main water route into the city, the bayou was the site of introduction for settlers, travelers and traders coming to La Nouvelle Orleans.
Today, many festivals make use of its appealing shores, while canoes and kayaks ply its waters, and walkers, joggers and cyclists travel its banks.
THE BLOCK: The 1400 block of Moss Street on the odd-numbered, or north, side, between North Carrollton Avenue on the east and Wilson Drive on the west.
The rear property lines of the houses on this side of the bayou serve as the official border between the Esplanade Ridge and Parkview districts.
THE HOUSES: A dozen houses, each as interesting as its neighbor. The Craftsman style of the early 20th century dominates, but there are a couple of Neoclassical Revival styles and one home that establishes a style all its own.
Photo illustration by R. Stephanie Bruno
The Craftsman house style of the early 20th century dominates the block, but there are a couple of Neoclassical Revival styles and one home that establishes a style all its own.
I am out on Bayou St. John early on a Saturday for a scavenger hunt benefiting Re-Bridge’s efforts to restore the waterway’s bridges, when I am struck by the beauty of the homes lining its banks on the north side.
Truth be told, the south side has always attracted my attention, with the Pitot House and a few other French Colonial plantation-style houses as standouts.
But the morning I visit, the sun is shining on the opposite of the bayou, and I can’t resist a Street Walk.
Anatomy of the block
Given the embarrassment of architectural riches on the block, I force myself to focus on five of its offerings, hoping that readers will take the opportunity to enjoy more on a walk of their own.
I start at Wilson Drive and walk toward North Carrollton Avenue, skipping the first house and stopping in front of a two-story home with a wonderful, wild garden in front. It’s an appealing two-story house with galleries across the front on both levels and a pair of dramatic Neoclassical Revival style gables, detailed with deep eaves and modillions (decorative blocks of wood).
All openings to the porches are French doors. Imagine what the indoor space is like with all of them flung open to the bayou! The garden’s free-form style, with a blooming bird of paradise, dahlias, zinnias and fanciful ceramic totem, contrasts with the restraint and symmetry of the house.
A snug blue bungalow occupies the wide lot next door. I spot a number of Craftsman details, including exposed rafter tails, sidelights flanking the front door and post brackets in the front gable eaves. But the scalloped millwork “fringe” on the porch overhang is a charming idiosyncrasy. Short Doric columns rest atop masonry bases and support the porch roof on the front, down one side and along the rear wing. Like a few more houses on the block, this house is not content with just a front porch but has one wrapping around one side.
Next door, the porch is still more striking, wrapping across the front and then down both the right and left sides. If I mentally remove the porches at both levels, I realize the house is actually quite modest — one room wide in the front, rather like a two-story shotgun.
But it’s the porches that bring the drama, not just because they wrap around, but also because of how they are detailed with exuberant curved spandrels attached to each side of the box columns at mid-height. They arch upward and connect with the spandrel of the neighboring column, creating a visual rhythm and a Gothic flair. I have always noticed and admired this house — haven’t you?
I hate doing it because each of the next four houses has remarkable attributes, but for the sake of economy of space, I skip them and stop in front of a stucco Craftsman home with a comely terra-cotta tile roof and Mediterranean Revival accents.
Its proportions are so horizontal, so low and expansive, that it contrasts significantly with the tall, vertically accented houses I passed farther back on the block. Like a true Craftsman bungalow, its facade is asymmetrical, a bay extends forward on the left and a colonnade crosses the front on the right and wraps around the right side.
The roof slope is distinctive: steeper at the top, growing shallower toward the eaves, then canting slightly upward. Stucco columns are spare, rather than ornamented with capitals or elaborate shapes, and also slightly battered (or tapered from top to bottom). To call attention to the distinctive roof line, exposed rafter tails extend outward far from under the eaves.
There are two more raised Craftsman bungalows on the block, and I choose to spend time with the first one because of its highly complex roofline.
There is one roof with side gables over the main body of the house. There is a second roof, also with side gables, that extends over the porch that wraps across the right front and then down the right side of the house. And then a third, hipped roof over what could be called a large roof dormer.
All of that is visible from the front, but on the left side I see yet another side-gabled roof several rooms back, and I am reminded that bungalows, unlike shotgun houses, often have interesting details on their sides as well as their front facades. Exposed rafter tails are visible only on the dormer, but there they extend far from the structure.
Life on the street
A pug walks toward me, leading a human whom I soon discover is Barbara Golden, a resident of the neighborhood for just a week.
“This is Riley, my daughter’s dog,” Golden tells me. “I lived in the Quarter before, and I loved it, but I also like all the greenery out here, and the bayou.”
Golden says she’s still in the process of getting to know her new neighborhood and scouting out places to dine and socialize.
“I have found a few interesting bars hiding away,” she confides.
Golden says she expects to get out of the house more in her new neighborhood — walking and enjoying the outdoors — than she did in her former one.
“You know how it is in the Quarter: You spend money, eat and drink,” she says. “So you have to get out unless you want to go broke, get fat or become an alcoholic.”
R. Stephanie Bruno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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