By R. Stephanie Bruno, Gentilly Messenger
It was a scorching summer day as I set out to explore the architectural offerings of the Fairgrounds Triangle. The thermometer may read 98 degrees, but the “like” temperature is 112. Such is the physical misery we have to endure during the New Orleans summer.
I curb my wandering because of the heat and find myself in the 2800 block of rue Castiglione, between North Gayoso and North Dupre. Castiglione is not a long street. It begins at Avenue Saint-Bernard and ends at Boulevard Gentilly and the Fair Grounds racecourse.
The six houses in the block date from the turn of the 20th century and represent one style or another of the arts and crafts movement.
On the first house, I see fish scale shingles in the wide front-facing gable. Here, the most distinctive features may be the columns supporting the roof above the porch. The columns themselves adhere to a pattern seen in arts and crafts homes (especially Craftsman-style ones): wooden columns on a masonry plinth.
Here, the columns are square and slender. They are grouped in double on the two central columns and in triplicate on the columns at each end of the porch. The plinths are painted the same color as the house – like a cool mango gel (you can see where my head is…) with a single strip of red brick on top.
That’s not all – each has a semi-elliptical insert between the two forward-facing columns. Painted the same color as the body of the house, they stand out against the bright white woodwork. Are they purely decorative? Or are they used as a trellis to trellis the vines? Only the owner would be sure, but not a soul moves on this bestial day.
I note while advancing that this house is the only one of the block surrounded by a fence! To others, the front lawns flow freely over the sidewalk, like a welcome mat. The fence makes the property less accessible, no doubt fulfilling its intent.
I find the neighboring house enchanting. This may be because each half of the double has an entirely different facade: a trio of arches on the left half whispers of Mediterranean revival, while the gable-facing facade and mitered corners on the columns on the right say Craftsman loud and clear.
Or maybe it’s because the left half is painted a bold blue while the right half is a soft yellow? Could it be because of the scalloped board under the gable on the right?
No, I guess it’s the vegetation that completes the whole composition, not the least of which is the lazy vine that has been driven to spread across the porch opening to the right, continuing on a telephone line, beyond the walls of the lodging. Then there’s the pair of crepe myrtles with deep burgundy leaves between the sidewalk and the street, and a patch of purple ground cover in front. Can I be honest? I’m crazy about unusual gardens.
I continue down the street, my energy starting to wane under the scorching sun, my clothes already soaked. I realize I have to hurry if I want to finish before I succumb to the heat.
Houses three and four on the block are prime examples of Craftsman-style double-shotguns. Each has a doorway (a front door flanked by sidelights), battered or splayed wooden columns on masonry plinths, exposed rafter tails, and gabled windows.
The house on the left features sago palms flanking two sets of red steps that lead up to the porch, and a giant white bird of paradise between the steps (that’s what I think it is, anyway). I see a small square gabled window divided into four panes each of stained glass.
The house on the right is a little more sophisticated than the one on the left: it has three gabled windows – tall and rectangular – a transom above the door and side windows, as well as a double front door. Here the dented columns are quite robust and I see brackets in the gable.
The gabled windows are distinctly craftsman style – each has six small square panes at the top and two long panes at the bottom, a reminder that asymmetry was the battle cry of the arts and crafts movement.
Like every house on the block, this one has one or two driveways for off-street parking. In the early decades of the 20th century, developers were building “automotive suburbs” in the far reaches of New Orleans, architecturally inspired by the work of Greene and Greene in Pasadena.
By this time cars were becoming more common and it was difficult to park in the crowded heart of the old town. So developers traveled to Gentilly and nearby neighborhoods to design communities that promised spacious modern homes, wider and deeper lots, and driveways and garages for cars.
The gleaming white house (number five on the block) is also a double shotgun, but in what the late New Orleans architect Lloyd Vogt called the “neoclassical revival” style. Here, the full-length columns are round and extend from the roof of the porch to its decking (in other words, they are not on pedestals).
The front gable has a slight projection at the base, forming a pediment, and the glazed doors are doubled. I notice the distinctive windows, having an upper sash divided into multiple shards of stained glass in an elongated diamond pattern, and the lower having a single pane. In the gable appears a small square window filled with a fleur-de-lis in milk glass.
Just one more house to report before I turn into a puddle on the sidewalk.
The house on the corner of Castiglione and North Dupre looks very little like any of the others on the block.
With its fan arched transoms, asymmetrical massing and hipped roof in all directions, it reminds me of homes with raised basements (except without the basement). It falls into the category of fine crafts although I cannot say precisely where.
As I walk away, I reflect on the mystery that has obsessed me since I chose this block. Why was the street called Castiglione? I learn online that Baldassare Castiglione was the quintessential gentleman of the Renaissance era and that his portrayal of Raphael is held in high esteem. I also discover that there are some cities that bear his name in Italy.
These are clues, but they don’t answer my question about the origin of the name of this street near the fairgrounds. I ask a few respected sources about the history of New Orleans, but they can’t tell me either. So I ask you the question: whoever comes up first with a verifiable answer gets a big free snowball – any flavor, any stand – with my compliments.
Originally from New Orleans, R. Stephanie Bruno is a writer, architectural historian and real estate consultant. She is the author of “Streets of New Orleans: A Walker’s Guide to Neighborhood Architectureand sits on the City District Historic Monuments Commission. His StreetWalker column appeared in the Times-Picayune’s InsideOut section. She can be attached to [email protected].