WHERE I AM: The 1000 block of Independence Street on the east or odd-numbered side of the street, between St. Claude Avenue and North Rampart Street. The block is in Bywater, and if I didn’t already know that, the sign on the Bywater Art Gallery would convince me. Besides, where else would I find the brazenly cheerful house colors that appear on the gallery building and the first two houses next to it?
Bounded roughly by Urquhart Street on the north, the Mississippi River on the south, the Industrial Canal on the east and Press Street on the west, Bywater was once called “Little Saxony” (according to the Historic District Landmarks Commission) for the concentration of German immigrants who crowded into it in the mid-19th century. Today, its avant-garde residents have earned it a rep as the ultimate hip place to live, dine, shop and explore.
WHY I’M HERE: There are a million reasons to visit Bywater but today mine is seasonal: With the Fourth of July coming up in a few days, I set out to find a street with an apt name. I considered Congress, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and a few more, but “Independence” won the day.
SEEN ON THE STREET: It’s a long block: 11 one-story shotguns plus the two story cornerstore/house at the St. Claude end. The shotguns are a mix of singles and doubles, but one is a sidehall house (not considered a shotgun by the diehards because of the interior hallway). With so many houses, I choose a sample of five to study.
HOMING IN: The Bywater Art Gallery building announces its presence to passers-by with a vivid color scheme, artfully applied to enhance it Neoclassical Revival features. Pink paint unabashedly covers the body with a deeper tone of rose reserved for the Tuscan-style columns on the second floor porch. Robin’s egg blue paint accents millwork, including the post brackets and rake boards on the gable and the flared trim around the gable window. Deep purple makes its appearance on the poles that support the building’s signature wraparound metal awning. There’s just no missing this building, whether you are an architecture geek or a color fanatic.
The single shotgun to its right seems tiny compared to its two-story neighbor, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in details.
Here again, color draws attention to fine architectural elements, such as the (blue) quoins on the edgeboards, the (purple) arched-top shutters over the Italianate openings, and the (dark green) recesses in the milled brackets that make the (yellow) ornamental scroll work more visible. Although in some neighborhoods the trend is to paint houses all white or all beige, heedless of architectural details, here the motto seems to be “If you’ve got, flaunt it.”
The saying fits the third house perfectly. It is a confection of lemonade and cotton-candy colors in the form of a shotgun double-turned-single, with Seaside blue covering the trim around the arched-top door and windows plus the cornices above them. Pink appears on the louvered shutters and quoins, and all elements contrast cheerily with the lemony hue of the body.
I pass up quite a few houses until I reach the sidehall house. A weathered white, it has all the right features to be every bit as lively as the first three: quoins, milled brackets, Italianate openings, rosettes in the plinth blocks and door trim, and handsome details carved into the wood base of the half-glass door. This house makes a fabulous renovation candidate and I resolve to return in six months to see what has become of it.
I skip more houses and stop at the corner of N. Rampart in front of a Craftsman-style double-turned-single. I choose this house for its butterscotch coloring, the little pink floral painting in the transom over the door, and the fact that it bookends the block. Both it and the Neoclassical Revival cornerstore/house at the St. Claude end hail from the early 20th century and together they bracket a collection of slightly earlier houses in the middle.
HEARD ON THE STREET: David Melerine is getting something out of his truck parked in front of a brilliantly painted Craftsman double across the street, next to the clever little pocket park that St. Claude Main Street and Tulane City Center installed. An electrician, Melerine tells me he does mostly commercial work but that the work on the double is different.
“It’s personal,” he says. “It’s mine. I bought it and now I’m renovating it for my son.”
Though Melerine is a veteran resident of St. Bernard Parish, his son (also David Melerine) lives “around the block” and works as a music promoter.
“He’ll probably move in here when it’s finished” Melerine said. “There are just no bargains to be had in this neighborhood anymore, so we have to work on it ourselves.”
Melerine invites me inside to see the wide, thick planks that make up some of the interior walls and the ancient wallpaper that still clings to them.
“Can you believe it?” he asks. “People stop by all day long when I’m working and ask me, ‘Could I please have just a little piece of the wall paper?’ I’d preserve it if I could.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her @rstephaniebruno on Twitter.