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New Orleans: Not Like Other Cities

In A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams captures the subtle mystery of one of his favorite cities when he observes, “Don't you just love these long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour—but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands—and who knows what to do with it?”  In the newly published SAH/BUS City Guide, Buildings of New Orleans, Karen Kingsley and Lake Douglas offer countless possibilities, from a quiet stroll through the Vieux Carré to an afternoon’s drive upriver.

Comprehensive in scope and detail, yet concise enough to carry along as you explore the city and its surroundings, this handy insider’s guide is conveniently organized into thirteen neighborhood tours, two road trips into nearby parishes, and three excursions up and down the Mississippi River along the historic Great River Road, with brief essays highlighting everything from renowned authors, cuisine, and jazz to public markets, green spaces, and historic preservation.

Here’s a small sampling of the nearly 300 significant structures, open spaces, and lesser-known places—enlivened by 175 photographs and 23 maps—included in the book:

Napoleon House (Girod House)
1814, attributed to Jean-Hyacinthe Laclotte. 500-506 Chartes St.
J.-H. Laclotte (1766-c. 1829), from Bordeaux, studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before arriving in New Orleans in 1806. He built this three-story residence for Nicholas Girod, mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815. The ground story of the plastered brick building was used for business purposes and, in typical French fashion, opened directly onto the street by means of casement doors; the principal living spaces, with higher ceilings, occupied the second floor. The house was innovative in New Orleans, however, for its use of tall proportions. Curved-arched dormers and an octagonal cupola mark the hipped roof. A carriageway led from St. Louis Street into a two-story wing, dating from 1795. It is believed that Girod, one of the leaders in the plot to rescue Napoleon, wanted his house to serve as a refuge for the emperor after his escape from Elba, but Napoleon was subsequently sent to St. Helena, where he died in 1821, thus dashing Girod's hopes. However, it is claimed that Napoleon's physician, Dr. Francesco Antommarchi, maintained an office here about 1838, where he treated the poor without charge. By 1860, the building was an auction house, and in 1914 it became a bar. Today it is a popular bar and restaurant. The original courtyard has long been divided by a masonry wall.

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
2003, Lee Ledbetter and Associates and Sawyer/Berson. Collins Diboll Cir.
New Orleans-based Lee Ledbetter and Associates and Sawyer/Berson of New York City designed this sculpture garden, which opened in 2003 adjacent to the art museum. Covering five acres, the garden has more than sixty works set picturesquely among groves of trees, native plantings, a lagoon, and three bridges. Among the many internationally renowned artists whose works enhance the oak and pine setting are Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, and Louise Bourgeois. With the collection continually growing, garden expansion is being planned on an opposite site behind the museum.

The Eiffel Society (Eiffel Tower Restaurant)
1986, Concordia Architects. 2040 St. Charles Ave.
At the core of this peculiar steel-frame structure is the restaurant that was located until 1980 on the first level of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, 562 feet above the ground. Because the structure's weight was causing the tower to sag, it was dismantled and sold to New Orleans investors. The 11,000 pieces were shipped to New Orleans and reassembled as a new restaurant. The polygonal metal and glass space is enshrined within an 88-foot-high superstructure that the architects hoped would recapture the feeling of the Parisian venue, yet not imitate it. In fact, it does neither. Raised 12 feet above the ground, with parking underneath, the building is entered by way of a 105-foot-long ramp. Despite its name, the restaurant was not a success and was subsequently reincarnated as a nightclub and event venue. Rust stains give the structure a precarious air, perhaps suitable for its primarily nocturnal use.

For those who are visiting or who call the city home, join the authors at the upcoming events in New Orleans and Baton Rouge to celebrate the book’s publication.  For those who dream from afar of that long rainy afternoon, savor the city’s flavor as they recount some of its stories on Susan Larson’s program,“The Reading Life,” on New Orleans Public Radio, and on the Times-Picayune web site NOLA.com.

Buildings of New Orleans is available now.

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