Thursday, January 8, 2015

Roof Gardens

Roulhac Toledano has been researching French and Spanish influences on Louisiana gardens for her forthcoming book with Mary Lou Christovich. She recently mentioned the fact that the flat-roofed dwellings that once proliferated in the Vieux Carré accommodated roof top gardens. Grace Dunn's 1895 New Orleans: The Place and the People featured Frances E. Jones' illustration of two such adjacent houses on Dumaine Street (shown above). Only one of the two flat-roofed structures is extant.
In the early twentieth century, roof gardens were largely associated with hotels. In 1918, the Grunewald Caterers of the Roosevelt Hotel established its roof garden on West End Boulevard. When it opened, the venue was geared towards autoists, with the caterers advertising that they would deliver sodas, ice cream and sandwiches to customers' automobiles. Early motorists could then board the West End-Mandeville ferry for touring wooded areas on the north shore. By 1919, the West End Branch Roof Garden (as it was called) was a popular dining and dancing venue during the hot summer months. The elevated space accommodated refreshing lake breezes. Various New Orleans jazz musicians recollected performing at the "West End Roof," and some of these accounts are now available online through Music Rising.

Architect and early auto enthusiast Leon Weiss was a patron at the West End Roof, where he took his future bride, Caroline Dreyfous. When the Jung Hotel was considering a roof garden in 1927, Weiss accompanied clients Peter Jung, Jr. and Leon Jacobs to the newly constructed Markham Hotel in Gulfport, Mississippi. The Markham -- designed by the Chicago firm of Marshall and Fox -- featured a roof garden, and Jung and Jacobs sought first-hand assurances that the band noise would not prove objectionable to hotel guests desiring sleep. Writing to Caroline in July 1927, Weiss conveyed that he and his clients had dined on the roof, listened to music and watched couples dance, while cooled by Gulf breezes. Jung and Jacobs slept soundly, their fears assuaged.(1)

When Weiss drafted his specifications for the Jung Annex's 16th-story roof garden, he required a terrazzo floor on concrete insulated with two thicknesses of Celotex. The space had a movable skylight, so that whatever the weather conditions, dancers would be able to enjoy themselves. The large arched windows -- modeled after those at Versailles -- were designed to "disappear" during mild weather, providing a plein-aire view of the city. For its grand opening in late November 1928, musicians John Hyman (aka Johnny Wiggs) and Joe Loyocano (amongst others) performed from the mezzanine. Weiss's roof garden scheme was somewhat reminiscent of the one erected on the Pythian Temple. Other nearby venues with roof gardens included the St. Charles Hotel (New Orleans), the Eola Hotel (Natchez), the Bienville Hotel (Mobile), the Grunewald Hotel (New Orleans, below), the Young Men's Gymnastic Club (New Orleans), and the Murdock Restaurant (Galveston).

In 1928, Kansas City architect Alonzo H. Gentry renovated and expanded Joplin, Missouri's Connor Hotel. The Bal Moderne, its remodeled roof garden, could seat 500 and provided a "high-ceilinged" dance floor illuminated through amber-tinted glass.(2)

During World War II, Gretna was home to Nelson's Roof Terrace and Rhumba Room, at the corners of Kepler and Monroe Streets.(3)

In 1901, The Daily Picayune reported on the growing popularity of roof gardens in New York City.(4)  Hoteliers in the Gulf South touted roof gardens as a means to entice tourists during the steamy season.(5)

(1) Leon Weiss. Letter to Caroline Dreyfous.   19 July 1927. Writings of Leon Weiss, Vol. IV. Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

(2)"Lighting System a Big Part of Annex Decoration Plan." Joplin Globe 3 February 1929.

(3)Nelson's Roof Terrace. Advertisement. Jefferson Parish Yearly Review. 1942, p. 144. URL:

(4)"Growing Popularity of Roof Gardens." The Daily Picayune 21 July 1901.

(5)"Hotel Business a Good Barometer." The Times Picayune 1 September 1901.

Images above:  Frances E. Jones. "Spanish Houses on Rue Du Maine." In Samuel Wilson, Jr.'s copy of Grace King's New Orleans: The Place and the People. New York: Macmillan, 1895. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

"The West End Branch Roof Garden." The Times Picayune 23 September 1919.

"The Jung Roof Garden." The Times Picayune 24 November 1928.

"The Grunewald Hotel Roof Garden." The Lumber Trade Journal 58 (15 October 1910).

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