Back in the 1950s, when machine technology and modern architecture were still going to save the world, a curious thing happened. Public and academic disgust with the "dour" and "frightful" buildings of the Victorian age began to abate. As interest grew, people were perplexed, for they did not know what to make of these curious relics with their wild skylines, decoratively shingled walls, curlicue brackets and knobby columns. But now, after a generation or so of study, the popular styles that graced the American buildingscape during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are fairly well known to preservationists. Much of this was set forth in 1969 in Marcus Whiffen's pioneering work, American Architecture Since 1780: A Guide to the Style.

Whiffen, as it is known, has become a major handbook for field preservationists, and since that time, other guides have appeared. But these have not always been very useful in Louisiana, simply because our state is so different from the national norm. There are some American styles that virtually never appeared in Louisiana. Gothic and Tuscan villas and cottages of the likes of Andrew Jackson Downing come to mind. They were a national craze of the early Victorian era, but in Louisiana one can count the examples literally on one hand. Add to this the Parisian Second Empire style, with its generous and often bulbous mansard roofs. This gouty scion of the great "Gilded Age" made little impact here despite its French provenance. Then, too, styles that did become popular in our state often had Louisiana permutations quite unlike the national norms. Then there is that glory of our heritage, the French Creole tradition, which, with minor exceptions, appears in no other state.

The need for a clear statement on Louisiana styles has long been recognized. The essays that follow first appeared as a series in Preservation In Print which ran in 1993 and 1994. This publication is a joint project of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans and the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. The authors, as members of the Division's staff, have at present a total of 45 man-years experience in examining Louisiana's historic buildings. Many of the observations contained in these essays uniquely reflect that experience. In this they have come to know and savor the richness of our architectural heritage. All in all, one could hardly spend a career in a more delightful pursuit.

Continue to The French Creole Style

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