Houses of New Orleans

Houses of New Orleans

Author: Alex Caemmerer
Schiffer Books
ISBN #978-0-7643-3317-6

New Orleans is one of the most impressive cities that we have in the United States. The damage that was done by Hurricane Katrina ruined a great portion of the city – that which was on lower ground. The districts that were on higher ground (the Garden District, the Lower Garden District, Central City, the French Quarter, and the Creole faubourgs) sustained high wind damage, but were able to be repaired. What is visible is the lack of trees, which were uprooted by the hurricane force winds.

It was interesting for me to note that while we normally think of New Orleans as being a southern city, the cultural and architectural influences come from even further south, from the Caribbean Islands.

There is a nice bit of history in the beginning of the book, so that the reader gets a feel for the cultural background of this lovely city. Being a port city, on of it’s biggest needs is for adequate housing for workers. The areas north and east of the original city, areas that were once plantations, were divided into “faubourgs”, or neighborhoods. The home builders of the early part of the Nineteenth Century were mostly free blacks and Creole entrepreneurs – houses were both designed and constructed, for the most part, without the assistance of an architect.

Early house types included different versions of the Creole style, while later styles include the Shotgun style (which I remember distinctly from a mystery book that I read!). An interesting tid bit from the book about the Shotgun style was that it allowed some important African values to be maintained without extensive modifications, which helped them to endure difficult social conditions.

Another style popular in New Orleans was the Greek Revival style. The individual style of the house was shown off in variations of elaborate plaster work, mill work and cast iron decorations. The Romantic styles that followed included Victorian, Queen Anne, Italianate, Second Empire and Eastlake. Some facets of the Romantic style were added to existing homes in the form of decorations.

It is hard to imagine how beautiful a narrow home with one window and a door can look until you see the photo’s, with the shutters, lovely colors and ironwork, (Ornamental ironwork is amazingly graceful, and adds a touch of class to any building, in my mind.)

I am impressed with the depth of the homes offered here. From one to three bay shotgun homes, to a Greek Revival three bay Shotgun home, to a three bay Victorian – they are lovely, very individualistic homes. One of my favorite photo’s was of a double shotgun style home with Victorian-Queen Anne millwork and turned posts, with an Italianate motif on the gallery. The Plantation style homes were oh so elegant, with such attention to detail that one wonders where the craft went! Then there is the Greek Revival from the Lower Garden District – very appealing to those of a conservative nature. And the Greek Revival from the Garden District – quite an elegant mansion!

The photo’s and the history in this book are both compelling, showing a culture that is different from every other part of the United States. If you didn’t want to visit before, you will after you read this book!

© September 2009

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