Where I’m walking: The 5100 block of Painters Street between Dreux Avenue and Selma Street in Gentilly Terrace and Gardens (bounded roughly by Filmore Avenue on the north, Gentilly Boulevard on the south, Peoples Avenue on the east and Elysian Fields on the west). The neighborhood is home to Brother Martin High School and not far from Dillard University. A portion was named to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its early 20th-century architecture.
Why I’m here: Like so many other neighborhoods, Gentilly flooded after the levees failed in Hurricane Katrina. Some neighborhoods in this vast section of the city fared better than others, depending on how close they were to the London Avenue Canal breach or the high ground along the Gentilly Ridge.
But parts of Gentilly Terrace and Gardens, Edgewood Park, Milneburg, Voscoville, Filmore, Sugar Hill and Pontchartrain Park suffered just as much flooding as did their counterparts in Lakeview, the Lower 9th Ward, eastern New Orleans and Broadmoor. I want to know how Gentilly has fared in the past decade, so I hit the street to discover for myself.
Seen on the street: I choose the 5100 block of Painters Street for my walk because of its consistently tidy houses with their green lawns and inviting front porches. There are no vacant lots on this side of the street (the two opposite are well-maintained) and it appears as though all of the original houses have been renovated and reoccupied. I’m delighted to encounter several groups of dog walkers, even on a boiling hot day.
I begin my walk about midway down the row of ten houses, skipping the first three in part because shade makes it difficult to photograph them well. I stop at the fourth house, a modest blue bungalow occupying a wide and deep lot, with a garage (color coordinated) at the rear.
I am reminded of the fact that Gentilly Terrace and Gardens was the city’s first automobile suburb, designed to accommodate residents and their vehicles.
The house’s asymmetrical façade features a porch on the right under a front facing gable, balanced by a pair of windows on the left. I don’t find here the sort of high-style Craftsman or Mediterranean Revival flourishes I noticed closer to Gentilly Boulevard, but I find the simplicity of the design both honest and ingratiating.
The fifth house — white with orange accents — is almost identical to the blue one save for the rooflines. Here, the front facing gable over the porch intersects a hipped roof, rather than a side-gabled roof as it did on the blue hose. It’s a minor difference but one that adds dynamism to the streetscape.
I should not play favorites, I know, but I am enchanted by the white cottage that I find next door. Maybe it’s the two steeply pitched gables that attract me, or the screened porch.
Maybe I like the criss-cross pattern of the railing and frieze, or else I’m taken by how the shrubbery frames the cottage. Let’s just say it’s a combination of all of the above and enjoy it.
I could almost imagine the next two houses as being totally new, given their stucco exteriors and solar panels on the roofs. But the frilly cast iron porch columns on the first one and curlicue wrought iron railings on the second give them away as extreme makeovers.
The roofline on the first consists of two intersecting hipped roofs, while there is a single hipped roof on the second, a continuation of the strategy of adding interest by varying roof lines.
The green shotgun I encounter as I continue displays the most straightforward Craftsman features of any house on the block: Deep eaves with exposed rafter tails, battered (flared) wood columns, post brackets and a vent in the gable. Because it is raised off the ground about three feet, it towers over the low-slung ranch house to its right, the last house on the block.
Heard on the Street:
Pastor Dilton Robinson of the Second Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church walks down his driveway toward me, magnificent in his dark suit and sunglasses.
“What’s with all the pictures?” he asks, smiling as he introduces himself. “You’ll have to excuse me if I am a little hoarse — I just finished my second sermon.”
He tells me that he and his wife, Sherlene, bought their home on Painters Street in 2007.
“It flooded here, but not bad like it did in the Lower 9th Ward,” he said. “When we bought the house, all I needed to do was rewire around the baseboards — the water didn’t get much higher than that.”
The pastor used to live in the Lower 9th Ward, before the storm and its devastating impact on his family.
“The water picked up Sherlene’s father’s house at Reynes and North Derbigny and floated it five blocks away to Forstall and North Claiborne. My father-in-law died in the house,” the pastor says. “Sherlene’s sister and baby niece died in a car accident trying to get away from the storm. After all that, there were just too many sad memories for us to go back to live in the Lower 9th Ward.”
But the memories don’t keep the pastor from preaching to his flock there in a remade church in the 2400 block of Flood Street, or planning to gather with neighbors at an upcoming Katrina commemoration event.
“I bought the lot where my father-in-law’s house landed and I put up a big tent for events,” he says. “Come find me, or better yet, come to church on Sunday!”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org