Louisiana – the Southern Belle of the USA, with her sunny good looks, sweet drawl and darlin’ personality – will steal anyones heart, she sure stole mine. Between the bald cypress swamps, the old plantation houses and the elegant towns, it’s a state with a lot to offer. But Louisiana loses 30 miles a year off its coast and it lost 100 miles during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – that’s, as Bobby Jindal reminded us, the size of Rhode Island. With the recent flooding in Baton Rouge and Lafayette I felt that the spotlight should be turned to just how beautiful Louisiana really is, and how important it is that we, as a community, band together to protect and preserve the truly unique buildings that the people of Louisiana call their homes.
During Katrina and the levee breaches of 2005, the Lower Ninth ward of New Orleans was most affected, and today, some 11 years later many of the houses still haven’t been rebuilt. The Lower Ninth ward is an incredible place, home to Ronald Lewis and his House of Dancing Feathers, home to the famous steamboat houses built in the early 20th century and home to some of the kindest people of New Orleans. Today an organisation called lowernine.org is helping to keep rebuilding the neighbourhood and runs a series of tours around Lower Ninth to show the devastation caused by Katrina that still remains. I wanted to show my readers just how beautiful and imaginative the homes of New Orleans are, if you like them as much as I do, please donate to help the homes of Louisiana and its residents survive another day.
Most people will tell you to go see the Garden District if you’re after beautiful mansions and homes, but I’ll let you in on a little secret, the Marigny, Bywayter, Upper and Lower Ninth Wards are the ones filled with whimsical designs and splashed with colour. There are no homes quite as beautiful and unique as the steam boat houses in the Lower Ninth Ward (400 and 503 Egania Street), built by the Doullut family in 1905 and 1913. Captain Milton Doullut was a riverboat pilot who wanted to build himself a home that was inspired by the steamboats that he and his wife guided up and down the Mississippi river, and after completing his own unique home, he built an identical one for his son, Paul, across the road.
The houses feature decking around the house, narrow halls, metal smokestacks and woodwork that evokes the steamboat era, but also draw influence from the Japanese exhibit at the 1904 World Fair in St Louis which can be seen in the pagoda style roof. Both houses were built especially to withstand flooding as the ground floors are covered in ceramic tiles, inside and out so can just be washed down following a disaster. That, coupled with the fact that they’re built on the highest ground in the neighbourhood made them true steamboat houses – able to survive the flooding. In 1977 the two houses were designated historic landmarks.
If you wander from the Lower Ninth along through the Upper Ninth and to Marigny and the Bywater you’ll walk past a rainbow of colours painted on the walls of the homes. There’s something about brightly coloured houses that just makes you feel so happy, and when you combine that with the charming design of these wooden houses, you can’t help but fall in love. I can’t think of anything I would want more than a house like these, with a big wooden porch outside and a rocking chair to laze away the day in, shouting out to my friends across the way.
I couldn’t quite believe my luck when we stumbled upon the most amazing gas station in the world, although it had a sign on the door saying they were ‘out of gas today’, they also had a sign stating there’s ‘always time for levee tea’. What is levee tea I wondered and how do I get some?!
Each of the houses and districts in New Orleans has a completely different feel, from the Creole cottages to the little wooden houses and then the more grand town houses in the French Quarter with elaborate metalwork.
The above isn’t technically a photo of a home, but I couldn’t resist including this snap of a detail of a home we walked past – two giant metal crawfish hanging from the entrance – Louisiana folk really love their crawfish and who can blame them, it’s one of the best little seafood critters, especially when boiled with chilli, allspice berries, cloves and everything else they throw in the pot.
New Orleans is perhaps most famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations which take place in the two weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday and are characterised by music, parades, masquerade balls, and my favourite part – the Mardi Gras Indians. One local in New Orleans must love Mardi Gras so much that he decorated his home in the traditional Mardi Gras colours! Purple for Justice, Gold for Power and Green for Faith. Many of the houses along the Bywater and Marigny are decorated with the infamous Mardi Gras beads that have been thrown from the floats to parade goers since the late 19th century. In the last few years a tradition has arisen for tourists at Mardi Gras baring their breasts in exchange for trinkets and beads! So think twice before wearing some beads, you never know how people might think you obtained them!
So if you are as blown away by the beauty and imagination of the homes in New Orleans, help support the people who live there by donating to rebuild their homes at lowernine.org or any of the other charities that are helping with Lafayette, Baton Rouge and the areas that have been affected by the flooding. That way Louisiana can bring a house that was damaged like the one below back to its full glory.