- Walking Tour
- Season 1
- Episode 12
Architect Walks New Orleans, Exploring Its Distinctive Style
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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