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Architect Walks New Orleans, Exploring Its Distinctive Style

Bonjour, mes amis! Today on AD, architect Robby Cangelosi leads us on an insightful walking tour of New Orleans, exploring the fascinating history of its neighborhoods and buildings from its origins to the present day.

Released on 04/20/2023


Hi, I'm Robby, I'm a local architect here in New Orleans

and I'm gonna take you on

an architectural walking tour of our city.

[rhythmic music]

We're now along the shores of Bayou St. John.

French Canadians lived along the bayou here

before the city of New Orleans was established.

There was actually a Native American village here

that one tribe chased another tribe off

and it was abandoned here,

and the French Canadians moved along this waterway,

which was very easy for them to go

from Lake Pontchartrain, down Bayou St. John

into what would be the city of New Orleans,

rather than fighting the current of the Mississippi River

from the Gulf of Mexico on up.

This house here, known as the Pitot House,

is named for James Pitot,

the first elected mayor of the City of New Orleans.

Interview with a Vampire was filmed in this house here.

The scene with the girl cutting her hair and growing back

was filmed in the parlor here.

The house was actually begun in the Spanish colonial period

by a family that had a very beautiful house

in the French Quarter.

This was their country house.

The house reflects this early French

Creole architecture of the country.

You'll notice that the doors and the windows

are not symmetrically placed between the columns.

The French were very laissez-faire about these things.

They didn't have this symmetry bias that the Americans did,

wanting everything to be lined up, to be very symmetrical.

Typically, in these Creole houses

there's no designated front door.

The functions of the rooms would change with the season,

so you weren't going into a hallway

and you weren't going into a living room there

because if it's too hot to sleep in this part of the house

you go to the other part of the house.

If it's too cold there, you come back over here.

The colors on the house are interesting.

The ceiling colors called grow rouge or big red.

The shutters are Paris green,

which was a very common color used

in the city of New Orleans,

it's made by mixing arsenic and lead.

Very deadly combination.

It is interesting in the house

if there's a break in the roof line.

This is showing the evolution of architecture here.

When these French Canadians came back,

they had these big steep brews to get the snow and ice off

and they didn't have porches, galleries,

verandas on these houses.

When they began to react to the local climate

they continued to frame to the wall of the house,

then they did a kick out.

So you get this sort of witches hat effect

on the roof line of the house there

and that just indicates that this is a very early house

because that is still shown there.

[rhythmic music]

We're standing in front of the Hermann-Grima House.

This house was designed by William Brand

who came to New Orleans from Virginia,

and he brought with him

the Eastern Seaboard architectural taste.

This is reflecting the American federal style

brought into the city of New Orleans.

The original building contract

called for them to import the northern brick.

Well, they kind of faked it here.

They used the local brick

made along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain,

then they painted the facade and penciled it.

This is one of the few houses in the French Quarter

that still has the whole facade painted in pencil.

The doorways there are quite nice,

with the elliptical transoms and the little zinc castings,

leaves and floral details, in it there.

If you look up on the balcony there,

they call that the arching over pattern,

and that's a term used actually in the building contract

where the arch does not go up to the ball singly,

it arches on over to the next post.

The ground floor shutters are solid,

but that's more for security purposes.

In the earlier part of New Orleans

when they're still being influenced

by their French and French Canadian roots,

they would use solid shutters to keep the heat inside.

The shutters on the upper floor are louvered,

which they called Venetian shutters at the timeframe.

They actually set those shutters

in a way that increased the volume of airflow there.

You can imagine how hot these were in hot summer days here

with very heavy, long clothing on men and women there.

It had to be miserable living in here,

particularly with all of the manure in the streets.

Mark Twain was said,

it was grateful that it rained so much in New Orleans,

it was like flushing all the manure

back to the swamps in the back of town there.

[rhythmic music]

We're now standing in front

of the United States Custom House here in New Orleans.

It's a very interesting building,

both historically and architecturally.

The style of the building is Egyptian revival.

You can see the lotus leaves on the column capitals there.

However, the best feature of this building is

the Marble Hall, a grand hall

where all the custom activities

for the Port of New Orleans took place.

It's got these beautiful colossal marble columns in there

of Georgian marble.

Now, when the building is built,

there's still this rivalry between the Anglos,

who lived on the up river side of Canal Street

where we're standing,

versus the Creoles that lived on the down river side.

We call it in New Orleans our medium's neutral grounds,

because it was the neutral territory, or the DMZ zone,

between the Creoles and the Anglos.

When the Creoles gave the property

for the United States Custom House,

they did not want it to face Canal Street

because they thought it would favor the Americans.

Legend is is that the foundation of the building

is on bales of cotton.

That's not true at all.

There's wood, brick, granite,

and we got this beautiful granite facade

of Quincy granite on the building there.

When it was built, it was the second largest

federal building in the United States,

second only to the United States Capitol.

Mark Twain thought it was horrible.

He said it looked like a gas meter

sitting here on Canal Street there.

But today, we cherish the building.

It is a national historic landmark

and part of our historic heritage.

[rhythmic music]

We're standing now in Jackson Square

and behind me are the Pontalba buildings

flanking the square.

As early as the 1830s, the Baronens Pontalba

made proposals to put facades

on the existing building she inherited from her father.

Ultimately, she decides that the buildings

were in too poor condition to put a new facade on them,

so she plans on tearing 'em down

and putting new row houses on the site.

Row houses were introduced in New Orleans by the Americans,

a series of identical houses built in a row.

These are somewhat unusual

in that there is a central pediment

and pediments on the two ends of the building

so it doesn't become very monotonous.

It looks like a much larger single building here.

The buildings have a variety

of imported products into the city of New Orleans,

we have the Quincy granite

for the pillars on the ground floor.

We got Baltimore hard red American brick.

We've got New York fabricated cast iron verandas.

We have Welsh slates on the roof.

We have English ridge tiles there.

We got New Jersey and French float glass

in the building there.

Stylistically, there's some holdovers

with federal style and exposed red brick,

the Greek revival attic windows,

there are no dormers on there.

But also there's this Italianate influence coming in,

particularly the cast on verandas on the building.

[rhythmic music]

We're standing now in front of Gallier Hall.

This is the ceremonial city hall for New Orleans.

Mardi Gras was just last week,

and this is where all of the royalty

on the carnival parades come by

and toast the city officials here.

The building is an outstanding example

of Greek revival architecture

here in New Orleans and the nation.

The architect for this was James Gallier Sr.

And it's was originally built

when New Orleans had this very bizarre form of government.

We had three municipalities, two Creole, one Anglo,

each with its own city council,

police force, sanitation, everything else,

but one mayor elected across all three municipalities.

They finally realized

this was a very bizarre form of government,

and then they reunited the city.

But this is a wonderful piece of architecture here.

The Greek revival building here

has the classic Greek temple front.

In a true Greek temple, the columns go all the way around,

whereas in a Roman temple, they're always on the front.

They took a little bit of liberty

in designing the building here with these classical columns,

the classical portico on the building,

and the front door has all these stylized Greek details,

the anthuriums, the acanthus leaves.

But in this Greek revival period, things are very stylized.

[rhythmic music]

Our historic Cabildo is one of

the more famous buildings in the city of New Orleans.

This was the city council

during the Spanish colonial period,

and at the time of the transfer from Spain back to France,

then over to the United States 20 days later,

the transfer took place in this building.

Not the Louisiana Purchase, as many people say,

but the transfer of government took place in the building.

This is where the city of New Orleans was ruled from.

It was completed in 1799 after the greats fire of 1794.

The mansard roof is not original.

The fire laws following the fire of 1794

mandated flat roofs.

The city council hated it because every time it rained

water was pouring into the building.

As part of the Baroness Pontabla's plans

for the renovation of Jackson Square,

she did these proposals that had these mansard roofs

on the facades added over the sidewalk,

and you walked under a cade underneath the sidewalk there.

To make, according to the city council rackets,

to look like the Palais-Royal.

Details of the Renaissance style seen in the building

are the engaged columns, the symmetry, the monumentality,

the pilasters on the building.

It's the classical pediment in the center of the building,

which originally had the Spanish coat of arms.

When the American came in, they ripped it on out

and the American eagle and shield

is put on the top of the building there.

[rhythmic music]

We're in front of the Luling Mansion right now.

This is in what we call Faubourg St. John.

This house here is quite spectacular,

but today it's only a fragment of what it used to be.

The Luling family was from New York

and they were allowed to run the blockade

of the city of New Orleans during the Civil War.

They would be able to buy

products and goods cheap in New York,

selling them at much inflated prices

here in the city of New Orleans.

They moved from our garden district

to purchasing 85 acres out here

and built this magnificent house in 1864.

It was a five part hyphen house, which survives today

as the center part of the house,

there were causeways or walkways

to two pavilions on each side.

The family suffered some financial hardships later on

and they decided to sell the house

to the Louisiana Jockey Club.

Later on, the house fell into a little bit more disrepair,

and the owner of the house decided

they were selling off all this land.

they demolished the two hyphens to the house,

they cut two streets in, and there are now over 65 houses

on what was the original grounds to this house.

It's Italianate in style.

We have the rustificated ground floor.

We have these very deep brackets on the house,

supporting the roof as well as the balcony on the house.

And so this house is a real gem

that is just waiting to be fully restored

and the current owners are planning on doing exactly that.

[rhythmic music]

We're now at the Piazza D'Italia.

It's a great example of post-modern architecture.

You really don't expect this

here in the city of New Orleans,

but this is really a very lively experience

of color, light, sound.

It was designed by Charles Moore

in association with the local architectural firm

of August Perez and Associates.

There's a lot of fun going on here.

We've got classical columns with neon lights on it.

Charles Moore's face is right behind me,

spitting water out at you

when the fountains are working there.

The draftsman at the local firm did it as a joke,

Charles Moore loved it

and it became part of the design of the building there.

When you stand at the podium off to my right here,

your image is reflected in the metal columns back there.

It's traditional designs using a non-traditional manner.

[rhythmic music]