St. Charles Avenue
St. Charles Avenue has been described most aptly as “The Jewel of America’s Grand Avenues.” It is, indisputably, the most superb collection of great mansions of the South. The Avenue offers to all an open opportunity to enjoy the lofty magnificence of true, gracious living from 19th century New Orleans.
Visitors to our City are able to tour the Avenue by foot, car or streetcar. A ride on the infamous Saint Charles streetcar provides a unique way to enjoy the splendor of the Avenue, from the statuesque monument at Lee Circle to its end point in the old town of Carrollton upriver.
The Avenue is also in glorious state as the place of residence for historic Audubon Park, for the City’s renowned centers of higher education – Loyola and Tulane – and a score of churches and Synagogues that are our City’s major centers of worship.
But above all, it is the place of residential grandeur where the wealthiest, the more powerful of those who built this great City once lived. Join us now as we take you on our own guided tour of the Avenue.
Self-Guided Tour of St. Charles Homes
Proceed upriver from Lee’s perspective to 2265 St. Charles where you will see ‘The Diocesan House,’ designed by the famous James Gallier, Jr., and was completed in 1857. The Greek-revival design of the home marks Gallier’s transition from the Italianate style popular in many Garden District homes at that time. The first owner, Lavania G. Dabney, was one to the first women to sign a contract on a Garden District house. The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana purchased the home in 1952 from the Rosenthal Family, who owned the home from 1893 to 1952.
Continue to 2524 and see “The Marigny,” a center-hall Greek Revival home built in 1857 by John Vittie for Sophronie Claiborne-Marigny, the daughter of Louisiana’s first mayor. Sophronie was also a lady of French Queen Amelie’s Court. The society of Redemptorists purchased the home in 1923, and it served as a grammar and high school, as well as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy.
Directly across at 2525, you will see the Morris-Downman Home. Henry Howard first built the home in 1860; architect Thomas Sulley oversaw further renovations, which were completed in 1888. The home was purchased by the Downman Family in 1906, and has remained in the family since then. Rex has stopped at the home every year since 1908 to toast Robert Downman, Rex of 1907. The home was damaged when lightening struck the roof during a June 2007 thunderstorm; a portion of the roof caught fire, leading to significant water damage to the historic home.
At 2714, view the Monlezun House. Travel three blocks further to 3029 where sits the fabulous Elms Mansion, which was built in 1869 by Lewis D. Reynolds. The home was originally owned by Captain Watson Van Benthuysen, II, President of the Streetcar Company. Van Benthuysen, nicknamed the “Yankee in Grey,” was also Q’master of the Presidential convoy that fled Richmond in April 1865. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a frequent guest at the home. The building later served as the German Consulate General from 1931-1941. Tours of the house are given weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
At 3811, you’ll surely gaze at ‘The Columns,’ which dates back to 1883. The home originally belonged to Simon Hernsheim, owner of the largest manufacturer of cigars in the country at the time. The Feld family purchased the home in 1917 and ran an exlcusive boarding house until 1953, when it was sold and converted into a hotel. The building was used in the 1978 Brooke Shield’s movie “Pretty Baby.” Thomas Sulley, who is considered one of the city’s most important architects, built the home; it is the only remaining example of Sulley’s Italianate period, which lasted from 1883 – 1885. For those who need a short break from the day’s walk, the Columns Bar, with both its exquisite interior and stunning porch, offers an excellent venue for sitting back and taking in the beauty of the Avenue.
At 4534 sits the Smith house, a Mediterranean-style villa of stone veneer. The home was built in 1906 for William Smith, president of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange.
At 4631 you’ll see the ‘ANTHEMION,’ an excellent example of the Colonial style, the more simplistic building style that became popular in response to the elaborate and excessive period of Greek Revival architecture. The building served as the headquarters Japanese Consulate from 1938 to 1941.
Do not miss The Brown Mansion in the next block, at 4717. The home was built in 1904 for W.P. Brown, a local cotton mogul. The house, which is the largest on Saint Charles Avenue, is a classic example of Romanesque Revival. This particular style grew in popularity at the turn of the century, reflecting the financial prosperity of the city’s industry tycoons.
The 4900 block of the Avenue is home to three wonderful examples of architectural genius here. At 4905 is the Coe House of Eastlake/Italianate Style, which became very popular in the city during the mid-nineteenth century. The Rosenberg House at 4920 is Colonial-Revival with its red brick façade dominated by Corinthian columns. The interior, however, is a more modern in design and said to reflect the progressive tastes of the Rosenberg Family, for whom it was built in 1911. At 4930 is the Stirling House of 1912 vintage. It is interesting to note the contrast between the two buildings, as the Stirling House exhibits traits of Classical Revival with its white exterior, and simple Doric columns.
An absolute ‘must see’ is the Latter Library at 5120. This neo-Italianate mansion was built in 1907 for Mark Isaacs, a wealthy merchant who founded one of the city’s largest merchandising firms, Maison Blanche. The Isaacs’ Home was known for its grandiose social happenings, often held in the third-floor ballroom. Frank B. Williams purchased the home following Issacs death. Williams’ wife, Marguerite Clark, was considered among the most famous silent movie actresses and lived in the home until her husband’s death.
It would eventually be purchased by a Real Estate mogul and his wife, then gifted to the City as a Library in memory of their son who was killed in WWII. The building, which is open to the public, includes many beautiful interior features; in the formal library and parlors, there are a series of large canvas paintings glued to the ceilings that had originally been in a home on Royal street, but were installed in the library when it was constructed. There were also stained-glass windows originally adorning the grand staircase, but they were later removed and stored for both protection, and to allow more light into the staircase.
Two others on our ‘must see’ list are the ‘Wedding Cake House’ at 5807, a Victorian colonial-revival home dating back to l896, and the Tulane President’s House at 7000 St. Charles.This colonial revival structure was originally commissioned in 1907 by William T. Jay, a Cotton broker, and was later sold to Samuel Zemurray, the Rumanian immigrant who rose from selling bananas to creating the United Fruit Company empire. His widow would gift this magnificent home to Tulane University.
These are but a few examples of the greatness that is St. Charles Avenue. Truly a jewel along our nation’s more splendid of thoroughfares.