This neighborhood was developed by the first Americans to settle in New Orleans, and the fine old homes of the Garden District, bounded by Jackson and Louisiana avenues and St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street, preserve traces of the era of cotton and sugar empires, when grand antebellum plantations dominated the landscape.
The district owes its luxuriant vegetation to an 1816 flood caused by the overflowing Mississippi River. Although many plantations between Carrollton
and the emerging American sector were destroyed, a rich deposit of alluvial silt created a very desirable feature for future development―higher ground. In the early 1830s Jacques Livaudais sold his sugarcane plantation, which was soon subdivided, later incorporated as the city of Lafayette and subsequently annexed to New Orleans, when it became known as the Garden District.
In addition to thriving indigenous and exotic plantings and magnolia trees rivaling oaks in size, the neighborhood covers 27 city blocks and boasts 200 residences in a variety of building styles, including Gothic, Greek Revival and Renaissance. Many homes are embellished with iron lacework, a hallmark of New Orleans architecture. Mark Twain loved to visit the Garden District and called it a place where “the mansions stand in the center of large grounds and rise, garlanded with roses, out of the midst of swelling masses of shining green foliage and many-colored blossoms. No houses could well be in better harmony with their surroundings, or more pleasing to the eye.”
Our walking tour will begin at the corner of Washington Avenue and Prytania Street at an old roller skating palace...
The Garden District Book Shop
2727 Prytania Street, northeast corner of Washington Avenue
Built in 1884 as the Crescent City Skating Rink, it has been a long time since roller skates rounded the wooden floor here. Over the years it has served as a livery stable, mortuary facility, grocery store, and gas station. Today it is a bookstore, neighborhood resident Anne Rice’s favorite.
WALK EAST ON PRYTANIA STREET, AWAY FROM WASHINGTON AVENUE.
Colonel Short’s Villa
1448 Fourth Street, southwest corner of Prytania Street
This luxurious three-bay side-house was built in 1859 for $24,000. It was designed by architect Henry Howard for Kentucky Colonel Robert Short. There are conflicting stories about the distinctive cornstalk fence - one version has it that Short’s wife complained of missing the cornfields in her native Iowa, so he bought her the cornstalk fence. Another maintains that the wife picked it out of a building catalog because it was the most expensive.
WALK WEST ON PATTON AVENUE.
2605 Prytania Street
As the Garden District developed in the mid-1800s wealthy homeowners shunned the popular Gothic Revival style of the day as being too closely associated with the Creole-Catholic tradition. Charles Briggs, a transplant from London, defied his neighbors and commissioned James Gallier to design a “Gothic cottage” in 1849. Although many mansions built in New Orleans before the Civil War included slave quarters, Briggs is said to have not owned slaves, but instead employed Irish servants. The roomy matching Gothic guest house built as servant quarters repeats the lines of the main cottage.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel
2523 Prytania Street
This former Catholic chapel was bought by Anne Rice; a more recent owner is actor Nicolas Cage.
Women’s Opera Guild House
2504 Prytania Street
The Opera Guild House was built in 1859 for Edward Davies, a wealthy American commission merchant. Prominent New Orleans architect designed the house with a blend of Greek Revival style with stately columns and some elegant Italianate influences, such as graceful ceiling moldings. The Queen Ann style turret was added in the 1890s. The house and its contents were bequeathed by Mrs. Herman DaBacchelle Seabold, to the New Orleans Opera Guild in 1965 as a means of fundraising for the New Orleans Opera.
TURN LEFT ON 2ND STREET. TURN LEFT ON ST. CHARLES AVENUE.
2524 St. Charles Avenue
This traditional-style raised villa was built for the daughter-in-law of Bernard Marigny. Anne Rice’s family moved here when she was 14. It is prominently featured in her novel Violin.
St. Charles Avenue Streetcar
St. Charles Avenue
Streetcars have been an integral part of New Orleans since the first half of the 19th century. The longest of New Orleans’ streetcar lines, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, is considered the oldest continuously operating steet railway system in the world. It runs on South Carrollton Avenue towards the Mississippi River, then near the river levee onto Saint Charles Avenue. It continues to the edge of the French Quarter, a distance of about seven and a half miles. Officially the St. Charles Avenue Line is designated as Route 12. Travelers have been commuting between here and the downtown business district since the early 1800s, first on a steam engine, then on mule-drawn carts, and since 1893, by streetcar. The line still has one of the 1890s vintage cars in running condition, although it is not used for regular passenger service. The bulk of the line’s cars date from the 1920s.
2301 St. Charles Avenue
northeast corner of Philip Street
This spacious, two-story white house was Anne Rice’s childhood home.
TURN RIGHT ON PHILIP STREET. TURN RIGHT ON PRYTANIA STREET.
2340 Prytania Street
This is assumed to be the oldest house in the Garden District, dating to at least 1838. Built for Philadelphia wheelwright Thomas Toby, it is in the Greek Revival style, Anglicized with Creole building techniques such as raising the house up on brick piers to combat flooding and encourage air circulation.
Bradish Johnson House
2343 Prytania Street
Paris-trained architect James Freret adapted the picturesque French Second Empire-style to this common five-bay Garden District mansion in 1872. Notable are the mansard roof and ornamental details. Sugar baron Bradish Johnson paid $100,000 (a couple million today) to build it. Since 1929 the building has been the private Louise S. McGehee School for girls.
TURN LEFT ON 1ST STREET.
1420 1st Street
This is the home of Archie Manning, former quarterback of the New Orleans Saints and the city’s greatest sports hero. This was the boyhood home of star NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.
1407 1st Street
This grand Greek Revival double-galleried town house became typical of Garden district residences as wealthier and wealthier homeowners infiltrated the neighborhood int he mid-1800s.
1331 1st Street
This Italianate-styled double-galleried house was built in 1869 for Joseph C. Morris. The ornate cast iron galleries are repeated in the neighboring Carroll-Crawford House. Haunted houses are not as common in the Garden District as elsewhere in New Orleans but this is reportedly one.
1315 1st Street
Architect Samuel Jamison won the commission for this house and gave it the same resplendent cast iron galleries as the house he designed for Joseph Morris.
TURN LEFT ON COLISEUM STREET.
2329-2305 Coliseum Street
Shotgun houses effectively circulate air and are commonly found in hot climates. The name “shotgun” comes from the image of firing a shotgun blast through the front door and watching it go right out the back of the small, one-story dwellings. Also, a West African word for this native African house form sounds something like “shotgun.” While popular throughout the city, there small size makes them a rarity in the Garden District. These were built on speculation by a developer but the colorful local lore says that they came from a Garden denizen in the 19th-century who wanted to keep his seven daughters close to home, so he gave them these homes as wedding gifts. There are actually eight shotguns here but “Eight Sisters” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
RETURN TO 1ST STREET AND TURN LEFT.
1239 First Street
Built in 1857 for wealthy merchant Albert Brevard as a Greek Revival town house and later augmented with an Italianate bay, this house is a fine example of “transitional” architecture. But Brevard lived here only two years before shooting himself in front of the door when the tax assessment came in. A subsequent owner, Pamela Starr, lived in the house for many years before dying in a tumble down the stairs in 1929. The ghosts of these two owners have been reported to revisit the house over the years. In 1889 the house, called Rosegate for the rosette pattern on the fence (the fence’s woven diamond pattern is believed to be the precursor to the chain-link fence), was purchased by novelist Anne Rice. She set her Mayfair witches books in the house, describing the halls, gardens and pool in great detail and even published its address. Her husband Stan died of cancer in late 2002, and the writer moved out in 2004. She sold Rosegate for $2.6 million, about the same price, inflation-adjusted, as when Albert Brevard paid $12,000 for it in 1857.
1134 First Street
This classic antebellum Greek Revival house was built in 1849 for planter Jacob Payne, a pro-Unionist Southerner. Ironically, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, died at this house in 1889. After falling ill while traveling, Davis and was brought to the home of his friend Judge Charles Fenner (son-in-law of owner Jacob Payne). Note the sky-blue ceiling of the gallery -- the color is believed to keep winged insects from nesting there and to ward off evil spirits. Many Garden District homes adhere to this tradition.
TURN RIGHT ON CAMP STREET.
2427 Camp Street
This example of Georgian architecture is one of the few homes in the Garden District that is not a single-family residence. Note the buzzers, which indicate rented apartments.
TURN RIGHT ON 2ND STREET.
Joseph Merrick Jones House
2425 Coliseum Street, northeast corner of 2nd Street
This home was built for Joseph Merrick Jones when he moved to New Orleans after the Civil War. The Georgia-bred Jones was a respected physician and professor of medicine at Tulane. He died in 1896 at the age of 63. The house was purchased and extensively renovated by Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor. When he moved in, more anti-noise ordinances began being introduced into city council proceedings. The house is now the home of actor John Goodman.
TURN LEFT ON COLISEUM STREET.
1331 3rd Street, southeast corner of Coliseum Street
The Italianate house, a fanciful pink-clapboard structure fronted by fabulous cast-iron balconies, was built for Michel Musson, the Creole uncle of the French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas. Stripped of his wealth during the Civil War, Musson abandoned the Anglo-dominated Garden District for the Creole-friendly area around Esplanade Avenue.
1415 3rd Street, northeast corner of Coliseum Street
This massive mansion was constructed between 1859 and 1865 for tobacco grower and merchant Walter Robinson. The house, designed by respected architects Henry Howard and James Gallier, drips in ornamental ironwork. Aside from its palatial scale the Robinson House was best known around the Garden District for having the neighborhood’s earliest indoor plumbing. The entire roof is a large vat that once collected water and funneled water down into the house.
2618 Coliseum Street
This rambling Greek Revival house dates to the 1840s.
2627 Coliseum Street
This triple-gabled Victorian, decorated with ironwork galleries and gingerbread trim was built in the 1860s.
2700-2726 Coliseum Street
Architect William A. Freret built a string of five double-galleried town houses on speculation. The venture was not greeted with the success he had hoped and the block came to be known as Freret’s Folly. Too bad he couldn’t stick around for another 100 years to see the prices they fetch today.
1403 Washington Avenue, northeast corner of Coliseum Street
Emile Commander founded this landmark restaurant, all turrets and dressed in turquoise and white, in 1880. Inside the mansion is a maze of rooms and a tropical, oak-shaded courtyard. Popular chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse crafted their first bread pudding soufflés here.
TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON AVENUE.
Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery
1400 Washington Avenue
This is one of New Orleans’s oldest cemeteries, established in 1833 for Lafayette’s wealthy Anglo-American population. Many of the classic above-ground vaults and mausoleums are decaying now. Anne Rice staged many scenes in her novels in this “city of the dead.”
CONTINUE A HALF-BLOCK UP WASHINGTON AVENUE TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON THE CORNER OF PRYTANIA STREET.