Where I’m walking: The 2900 block of Lepage Street in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood, on the north or odd-numbered side of the block. On the east is North Dupre Street; on the west, Esplanade Avenue. I’m near Fortier Park and Terranova’s Market on Esplanade and within a few blocks of Bayou St. John and City Park. Liuzza’s by the Track is a favorite place for oyster po-boys and gumbo on a Friday.
Why I’m here: The neighborhood is great for strolling anytime because of its mature trees and architectural mix, complemented by historic cemeteries, coffee houses, restaurants and bars. But this weekend (and last) it offers something no other New Orleans community can claim: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.
It’s tricky to find a legal parking spot, but stowing your car eight or 10 blocks from the Fair Grounds entry gates on Fortin means you’ll have a terrific opportunity to check out the 19th and early 20th century houses that fill block after block. And who knows? It’s not unlikely a complete stranger will invite you in to their open house.
Seen on the street: I chose the 2900 block of Lepage for its architectural variety, which includes houses exhibiting elements of the Mediterranean Revival, Craftsman, Eastlake, Neo-Classical Revival and Eclectic styles. All but one of the six houses on the block are two stories tall, and two feature front gardens filled with blooms.
Homing in: I begin my walk at the west end of the block, where Lepage swoops at an acute angle to intersect Esplanade. A two-story Craftsman (with hints of Mediterranean Revival) home greets me, its red terracotta porch roof reflecting sunlight upwards onto the second-floor siding, making it glow a pale pinkish hue. A deep porch extends the full width of the house and I discern white wicker chairs arranged comfortably next to a table. The roof overhangs are deep, the better to shade the porch on the first floor and the banks of double windows on the second. The porch roof is supported by clusters of flared wood columns set atop pedestals, a feature that is a hallmark of the Craftsman style. The dormer — its proportions low and wide — is another. I notice diamond-shaped panes of glass in the dormer windows and in the casement windows on the first floor. An arc of vivid pink roses leads my eye to the American and Jazz Fest flags attached to the center columns and flapping in the breeze.
I pass a grassy lot before I arrive at the second house, a two-story sidehall with a bay extending into the yard on the right side. Simple Doric columns on the first-floor gallery, turned columns on the bay, simple piers on the second-floor porch, and open frieze work on the bay all attest to the eclecticism of the architectural features. But the proportions of door and floor-to-ceiling windows, the cornices above the openings and the operable louvered shutters harmonize and knit the elements together.
I pass two houses before I get to the Eastlake house and its bounty of blooming jasmine. So here is the origin of the intoxicating fragrance that has accompanied me on my walk. The house features every element I can think of that establishes its Eastlake bona fides: turned columns (instead of square or rectangular), an open frieze between the tops of the columns, turned spindles and piercework panels in the frieze, shapely spandrels that fill the space between the bottom of the frieze and the top of the columns, running trim (like a ribbon cut into shapes) strung between the tops of the spandrels, drop-lap siding, quoins (raised squares of wood) on the façade’s edgeboards, and on and on. Add in the tall windows, louvered shutters and turned balusters in the porch railing and the house scores 100 on the Eastlake chart.
A large two-story home with features in a variety of styles occupies the last lot on the block at the corner of North Dupre Street. I’ve noted many of its elements elsewhere on the block: Diamond-paned windows (in a bay on the left half of the façade), floor-to-ceiling windows, louvered shutters, turned balusters and cornices over windows and doors. New to the list are fluted columns with simplified Scamozzi-style Ionic capitals at the top. But what puzzles me is the placement of the front door. I’d expect it to align with the peak of the central gable, but it’s just a few feet left of center instead. I stand there and try to figure out a reason for its asymmetry, then resign myself to the mystery.
Heard on the street: I hear a voice calling my name and look up. It’s Jeannette Hardy, out on the porch with her beagle, Elwood (short for Elwood Kirkman, a banker friend of her father’s).
Hardy has watched parades of Jazz Festgoers pass her home for the past 35 years, some commenting on her fragrant jasmine and others marching purposefully toward the Fortin Street entrance to the Fair Grounds.
But for Hardy, Jazz Fest is not what makes the Faubourg St. John neighborhood a great place to live.
“It’s neighborhood events, like the celebration of the 90th anniversary of Terranova’s Market a few weeks ago,” she says. “It was charged with the goodwill of people who know what a treasure we have right down the street.”