WHERE AM I? The 2600 block of Onzaga Street on the edge of Faubourg St. John, just two blocks from the front gates of the Fair Grounds Race Track. I’m visiting the odd-numbered, or east, side of the street between Paul Morphy on the north and N. Broad Street on the south.
Boundaries of the neighborhood vary depending on whether you go by the Esplanade Ridge national register district, the local historic district or the neighborhood association. But rough boundaries of Faubourg St. John are either N. Carrollton Avenue or Bayou St. John on the north, North Broad Street on the south, the north edge of the Race Track on the east and Orleans Avenue on the west.
WHY HERE? Why else? I am heading to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, passing through one of the historic areas surrounding the Fair Grounds. Just last weekend, a few hundred thousand locals and visitors crowded in to listen to music, eat food, dance and shop. Many — like me — parked in a nearby neighborhood, where enterprising residents operated their own Fest-related businesses: ice cold water for a buck, sunglasses for a few dollars apiece, hats of all shapes and sizes. Bargains? Maybe not, but the back-and-forth banter was worth every penny,
Today, as you make your way to Jazz Fest, keep an eye out for New Orleans’ distinctive brand of architecture and see if you can’t spot some unassuming treasures like the ones I discovered in the 2600 block of Onzaga.
HOMING IN: Seven houses line the block, four of them resembling each other in era and style. All but one appear to have been built originally as double shotguns, though several have been converted to singles (at least, that’s my interpretation when I seen one front door instead of two). The Neoclassical Revival style of the four houses closest to the Paul Morphy end suggests an early 20th century build date, but the two houses closer to N. Broad may have been built a decade or two earlier.
SEEN ON THE STREET: I begin my walk at the corner of Paul Morphy Street with a cheerful yellow double with vivid blue doors. No question about it — the owners chose the door color to bring out the blue shades of the stained glass in the gable widows. Wide and narrow, the diamond-patterned windows signal the home’s Neoclassical revival style, as does the jerkinhead (or clipped gable) roofline. A late 19th century house might have a brick foundation wall, but here I see cast concrete meant to resemble stone.
I pass up the second house — it’s been altered a bit too much to serve as a suitable architectural study — and stop instead in front of the third. The one-time double has become a single, having a hipped roof punctuated by a low, wide dormer. The dormer showcases stained glass attic windows in cobalt and green, set in a diamond pattern. Even though there is no front yard, the residents have started a small garden in the narrow strip between the house and the sidewalk, an uplifting complement to the home’s blue walls, crisp white trim, and dark green batten shutters.
As I continue my walk, I encounter a pink house with purple accents and note how cleverly the purple cornices and window frames set off the lavender and white milk glass in the top window sash. The windows in the front-facing gable are covered by plywood, but my bet is that they originally held the same kind of stained glass as the window sash does. I had no idea when I started my walk that the block would be a jewel box of colors, because the subtle shades of the stained glass aren’t easy to detect from a distance, What a find!
The next house differs from the first four in that it has a front yard and is set back from the sidewalk. Though its style is altogether different — more Mediterranean Revival than Neoclassical — it’s still in the same early 20th century range as the previous four houses and I am certain I spot stained glass in the transom over one of the doors. The house has good bones and great features, including the wide but graceful stucco arch framing the porch and the mitered weatherboards. A fresh coat of paint would work wonders.
I reach the second to last house on the block — a white double with green and white striped awnings down one side — and fall in love with it. It isn’t grand and it isn’t even the fanciest house on the block, but there is something about the way the owners have personalized it that tells me how proud they are of their home.
The exterior is an immaculate white with dark green doors and shutters. Sparkling white lattice has been applied to the windows and the bottom of the screen door on the left, presumably to regulate light and privacy. There’s a little garden in front with an enthusiastic tropical plant (I bet they covered it during last winter’s freeze) and a few more plants. A “Welcome” mat on the sidewalk at the foot of the steps on the right says it all.
The block is quiet, as if sleeping off the first weekend of Jazz Fest, and not a soul is outside. Without anyone to talk to, I head home.
R. Stephanie Bruno is a contributing writer. Contact her at email@example.com.