By R. Stephanie Bruno http://www.nola.com/homegarden/index.ssf/2011/02/a_harmonious_quartet_of_houses.html
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Carrollton, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, bounded roughly by Earhart Expressway on the north, the Mississippi River on the south, Broadway on the east (technically, Lowerline Street), and the Orleans-Jefferson Parish line on the west.
Spurred by the advent in 1836 of the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad (today’s streetcar), development of the area blossomed in the mid-19th century and continued after being annexed by the city of New Orleans in 1874.
Carrollton’s residential blocks and oak-lined streets convey its small-town feel, and monthly arts markets at Palmer Park and festivals on Oak Street add vitality to the experience.
THE BLOCK: The 7700 block of Burthe Street on the odd-numbered, or north, side, between Adams Street on the east and Burdette Street on the west.
Maple Street’s restaurants and shops are a block to the south, and the Tulane University campus a few blocks to the east.
Burthe is one of those New Orleans streets that has an unpredictable pronunciation. Instead of “Berth,”, according to Tim Lyons’ “A Lexicon of New Orleans Terminology and Speech,” it is “pronounced <BYOOTH> … sounds like ‘youth’ with a B in front of it. … Apparently mail addressed to ‘Buth’ or ‘Buthe’ Street gets delivered just fine.”
Lyman says the street was named for a Frenchman of the same name (perhaps Dominique François Burthe, whose subdivided plantation became Burtheville).
THE HOUSES: Four handsome homes built sometime between 1896 and 1909.
If their styles aren’t enough to convince me of their build dates (they are primarily Neoclassical Revival), the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps do.
Published periodically and showing the footprints of structures in the city, the maps for this block are blank in 1896 but show four houses in 1909.
Visiting the Tulane University campus on a Monday morning means parking far, far away. But that’s just fine with me — the sun is shining, and the weather, though brisk, is comfortable for walking.
When it’s time to return to my car, I don’t, and stray instead until I land on the 7700 block of Burthe Street.
Anatomy of the block
What strikes me first is that not one of the four houses on the block looks remotely like the others, even though most share at least a few stylistic elements typical of the period in which they were built.
On the corner of Burdette, there’s a gracious blue house on a huge lot, followed by a fanciful pink house on an equally large lot. Then I spot an olive-hued sidehall shotgun and a blue centerhall house with an inviting screened-in front porch.
The forms are all different, as are the positions of the houses on their lots, some centered, some on the property line.
To take a closer look, I start at the corner of Burdette and walk toward Adams. The first house is a blue centerhall with a front porch that extends across the left side and past the front door. But instead of continuing the full width of the house, as it would on a typical centerhall cottage, the porch ends in a decorative bay that extends forward on the right-hand side.
Tuscan columns (round and tapered so that they are smaller at the top than at the bottom) support the ceiling of the deep front porch and bolster my Neoclassical Revival theory (for they are emblematic of the style). So do the delicately rendered swags and laurels of flowers applied to flat surfaces of the façade, especially above the column tops, over the bay windows and above the front steps.
But my very favorite feature here is the gable: A crisp triangle of fish-scale shingles forms the top third, then a wide band of straight-edged shingles curves inward from the plane of the triangle to showcase the gable window.
I move on, past a carport with a round stained-glass window set near the peak of its gable, and then I reach a pink house set amid a well-tended garden and front yard. The sounds of a fountain attract my curiosity, and I look until I spot it over on the right-hand corner.
Even with bare limbs this time of year, the trees make it difficult to see the house. There is a porch on the left side and a forward-extending bay on the right. The porch roof is supported by stout box columns, and a mini-gable marks the location of the front steps, similar to what is above the front steps on the blue house.
The bay on the right contains a pair of windows, crowned by a simple flourish of decorative millwork. Where the porch and the bay join the main body of the house, a forward-facing gable appears, distinguished by a round, stained-glass gable window.
The pink house occupies a large lot that includes the carport, plus what looks like an expanse of garden beyond. It snuggles up against its eastern property line.
The olive-colored sidehall house next to it sits close to its western property line, so that the two houses together look like they’re cozying up to one another.
Proximate or not, the olive house couldn’t look more different from the pink house. The olive-colored sidehall has a well-used front porch (judging from the bounty of rocking and other chairs) that extends the full width of the house.
Its prominent gable, detailed in shingles and displaying a millwork flourish above the gable windows, makes a strong impression. Tuscan columns reappear, their slender forms exaggerating the apparent height of the floor-to-ceiling windows and their louvered shutters.
A bookend to the very different centerhall house at the Burdette corner, the house at Burthe and Adams represents an interesting evolution of the genre.
Generally, centerhall houses built in the era when Greek Revival and then Italianate styles were most popular have side-gabled roofs, meaning the roof ridge is parallel to the street. But the centerhall has a front-gabled roof and a roof ridge that’s perpendicular to the street.
The variation means that the volume of the second story moves forward, closer to the street, making the house appear taller than its ancestors — with their side-gabled roofs — would. The prominent gable also presents an opportunity or even a requirement of embellishment, a challenge that the builder of this house responded to by inserting fish-scale shingles, double windows and an idiosyncratic hood and spandrel over the windows.
The same device appears in a smaller gable on the right-hand side of the house. Combined with the metal roof and the screened-in porch, the individualization of the roof components gives the house the personality of a home in the country.
Life on the street
Christian Dawalder is having a perfectly peaceful morning, sipping coffee on the front porch of the pink house, when I stick a camera through the fence. Oops!
“I’m sorry, sir! I didn’t see you sitting there,” I say to him.
Despite the intrusion, he is incredibly gracious and offers to retrieve his wife, Ninette Brierre Dawalder, from inside while I follow his instructions to go take a look at their back garden.
When Ninette arrives, I learn that the two have known each other since 1968 but married just four years ago. Only fairly recently did Christian Dawalder move his possessions lock, stock and barrel from Colorado to Burthe Street.
I thank the Dawalders for their hospitality and comment on the beauty of their garden.
“You should see it in spring!” Christian says, and I promise to come back.