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The entrance-door is usually of oak or mahogany, paneled in strong, simple lines and crowned by fan-lights, and the long rows of windows, often slightly arched, are set deep within the thick walls. Usually the original batten shutters have been pierced by diamond or heart-shaped apertures, or have been replaced by the lighter Venetian blinds; but the old window-spacings, with their quiet dignity, and the old window-guards of heavy wooden or wrought-iron balustrades remain; and sometimes the window-course all across the wall is marked by a plaster frieze or simple brick relief.

Such are the old homes that remain in the hands of those who love them, and still have the means of carrying on the ideal of their dead builders. But many of these old dwellings have been swept away by the tide of American enterprise, and many more are wearing out their old age in poverty and degradation. Glancing into these courts as we pass — the door is open, there is now no sensitive soul within to shrink from the stranger's gaze — we see no cool paradise of green, but a noisome camping-ground for the riff-raff of a seaport city.


Here is a group of "Dago" children romping over the crumbling stairs; here a Chinaman dozing over his opium-pipe; and there a donkey tangled in a clothes-line. Everywhere filth, disorder, evil smells — the old aristocrats are now squalid tenements; and from the rotting balconies, with their precious old iron railings, long clothes-lines stretch.

As the years have passed, many have so sunk that their floor is below the street level, and the line of the roof-cone is bowed like the back of an over-weary man; but they are constructed with a beautiful honesty that time only emphasizes. The skeleton of the wall is of massive, rough-hewn timber, the irregular spaces between being filled with brick — as it were, paneled with brick — over which, within and without, stucco has been plastered on.

Originally these humble homes were roofed with split cypress, and the more pretentious ones with red tiles. The main plan of the Creole homes was brought from over the sea — the central court, the corridor, the pillar, the arch — but set in new conditions, reared amid unwonted limitations, this European plant developed strong local characteristics, becoming identified with the river soil to which it had been transplanted.

From lack of stone in this alluvial section, the round pillar was constructed of brick and covered with plaster; from the neighboring swamp came the rough-split cypress for floors and roofing; and from the river side came the sand for the plaster — not fine and white, but giving a soft, gray-white tone to the stucco.

The brick for the early home of the Ursuline nuns was imported; but for their simpler dwellings we find the colonists making their own bricks, and coating the soft, under-baked ware with plaster for protection against the weather. Thus these little stucco cottages came into existence. Again, dread of disease from the swamp led the colonists to close their windows at night with the close batten blinds; and from local necessity, once more, arose the most homely of our architectural features — the clumsy wooden cistern, like an over-grown water-cooler. Thrown thus upon their own resources, the colonists developed freedom of invention and a happy spontaneity in design, a charm that clings yet to the homes they builded.

Upon the inner walls that faced the court they spaced and clustered the windows irregularly, tucking sun-bursts beneath the gables, and breaking the sheer height of their walls by light hanging balconies. Even the dormer windows upon one steep roof differ from those upon its neighbor; and the iron balconies are set at irregular heights.

This joyous freedom in design is seen in the grotesque old water-spouts, now so rare, and in the cornices; here a dado of iron wreaths set beneath projecting eaves, there a quaint brick pattern, and again a lace-like cornice of red tiles laid one above another.

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In the tracery of the transoms this spontaneity in design flowers forth again, and in the hinges of the doors; the evolution of this primitive, wrought-iron hinge, nailed across the door, in itself forming a fascinating study of design that has arisen from the simple form dictated by the first need. Where the home is too humble to express it otherwise one sometimes finds the heavy batten blinds slightly arched.

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- The House in New Orleans Black Lace by Fleur Reynolds - AbeBooks

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