Thursday, May 28, 2015

House of Tomorrow (1957)

Fifty-eight years ago, the New Orleans Home Show focused on the theme  "Operation Home Improvement" (OHI). Staged in the Municipal Auditorium, OHI included a model home designed by Curtis & Davis  (shown above).

Walter J. Rooney, Jr. represented the firm in a related article for The Times-Picayune:

"The display house is erected in a landscaped patio enclosed in a woven bamboo fence and providing the ultimate in outdoor living facilities. To one side of the kitchen is a barbecue terrace, on the other side the children's play terrace, both connected to the kitchen by sliding glass walls, between the dining and living room likes the living terrace. All terraces have flagstone floors and are set in a bower of tropical plants.

"The main entrance to the display is by way of a ramp which rises from the auditorium floor on the exterior of the landscaped court. As one climbs the ramp the various elements come into view: The living room unit hovers lightly a few feet above the garden terrace on slim metal supports which rise through the floor slab to a brightly colored plastic roof above--a tremendous skylight."


"A backward glance at the building makes the structure and construction readily apparent. Light steel columns and beams frame the building and support the flat planes of floor and roof. The steel panels which form the floor and roof are corrugated to achieve maximum strength with a minimum of material and provide an exciting ceiling finish in all the rooms."(1)

(1)"Architect Describes 'Trip' Through Show's House of Tomorrow." The Times-Picayune 18 May 1957.

Images above: Frank Lotz Miller, photographer. Curtis and Davis, architects. House of Tomorrow, Operation Home Improvement, Home Show, Municipal Auditorium, New Orleans, LA. May 1957. Curtis and Davis Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Steel Vogue House (1954)

New Orleans. 21 March 1954.

A NEW APPROACH IN HOME BUILDING, the "Steel Vogue House" at 325 Sena in Metairie will be open for inspection Sunday, M.C. Baker Jr., builder, describes the home as having all structural steel wall studding, floor and ceiling joists, roof rafters and decking. Designed to be reproduced on an owner's lot for $35,000 it also claims to be all-time termite proof. Steel windows and steel doors, a glass sliding wall for full view are among its features. The three bedrooms have built-in beds, chests, vanities, etc. The two bathrooms have built-in dressing tables. The dining room has a photographic mural wall. In addition there is an extra family room. The kitchen has a skylight, automatic dishwasher and garbage disposal. A patio and carport are included.

The Times-Picayune

Color image above:  Google Street View. May 2014.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Upcycle Pioneer (1944)

In 1941, Hazel Dell Brown (c. 1892-1982), the chief interior designer for Armstrong Cork Company, penned her first Album of Room Ideas. She followed with subsequent albums, each time making creative suggestions to readers, and soliciting their written questions. For her 1944 "new approach to kitchen design," Brown developed an "all-in-one" scheme hidden behind a "home-painted" bird's eye view of the town (shown above).
Utilizing corner and wall cupboards to maximize storage space, Brown was able to combine storage bins, pan/utensil holders, shelving and additional counter space.

She harmonized linoleum colors with the painted elements, textiles and comestibles.

Brown collaborated with Sears-Feibleman's interior decorator Lucille Gray to create "Honeymoon Home," Armstrong Cork's New Orleans model residence. Built on the corner of Webster and Benjamin Streets near Audubon Park, the Honeymoon Home opened to the public in July 1937.

Images above:  Brown, Hazel Dell. Album of Room Ideas [Armstrong Linoleum]. N.p.: Armstrong Cork Company, 1944. TS 1779.L5 B76 1944. Architectural Trade Catalogs, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

"Honeymoon Home." Times-Picayune advertisement. 31 July 1937.

Friday, May 22, 2015


In our previous post we mentioned the Lustron residences constructed in New Orleans in 1949-1950. O.J. Farnsworth, who owned the city's franchise, primarily built Westchesters, the most popular of the Lustron models. 
The majority of the New Orleans Westchesters were assembled in "surf blue," one of the four pastel colors available. Early surf blue Westchesters could be purchased with yellow window surrounds (shown above).
Lustron advertisements promoted the standard 1,000 square foot Westchester as five-room "decay-proof" "basementless" "ranch-style architecture" (plan above). In New Orleans, Farnsworth promoted his Lustrons as "the house eternal," co-opting the language of the Southern Cypress Manufacturers, whose product motto was "the wood eternal."

Late in 1948, Massachusetts architect Carl Koch -- who had stewarded the steel construction of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth's Charity Hospital in 1938 -- presented the Lustron Corporation with a new model home. Koch advocated for a more versatile plan based on a 2' module set on a 50' lot. He recommended rectangular rooms over the Westchester's square configurations, larger window openings and roomier kitchens (shown below). His report featured dramatic black and white photographs of model subdivisions and interiors. Koch wanted the purchaser to be able to select the color scheme.
Koch's Lustron designs were never mass produced; the company's financial collapse doomed his 1950 model.

Images above:  Top Three:  "The Lustron Home: This is the house America is talking about." 1948. Advertisement.

Bottom Two:  Robert D. Harvey Studio, photographer. Lustron 1950 Model Homes: Second Stage Presentation. 1 November 1948. Belmont, MA: Carl Koch Architect and Associates, 1948. Architectural Trade Catalogs, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Concrete & Steel (1946-50)

After World War II, there was a considerable amount of experimentation with building materials. Industrial plants that had been mobilized for war were converted to fuel the high demands for affordable residential architecture. Various commercial enterprises sought to capitalize on federal incentive packages.

For example, Andrew J. Higgins built a Thermo-namel demonstration house at his Industrial Canal plant in 1946 (shown above). Utilizing a technique developed by Oakland, California architect Maury I. Diggs, Higgins boasted that his "package homes" could be customized for any floor plan or color scheme. As we have mentioned in previous posts, a national steel shortage forced Higgins to abandon Thermo-namel and to develop Thermo-Con. 
Higgins resided in one of two Thermo-Con demonstration homes (constructed 1947) located at the intersection of Havana Street and North Broad Avenue (Sanborn Atlas 1963 image shown above), until his grander cellular concrete home was completed in the Lake Vista neighborhood in 1949.
Gunnison Homes, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, developed porcelain-enameled steel prefabricated residences after the war. The Champion, shown above, was its low-cost model. Introduced in metropolitan New Orleans in 1949, the model was available in two sizes and multiple colors. Authorized dealer J. Burrows Johnson opened a demonstration home at 2811 Hamilton Street,situated in a neighborhood that came to feature a number of steel residences. The house is no longer extant.
Olin J. Farnsworth, who owned the Lustron franchise in New Orleans, opened his demonstration house in May 1949 at 3700 Cherry Street. The "surf blue" Westchester was outfitted with furnishings supplied by Kirschman's and was quickly joined by its De Luxe twin at number 3704 (Sanborn Atlas image above, 1961).
Between 1949 and 1950, Farnsworth built a number of Lustron Westchesters in the Crescent City.(1) He apparently utilized Lustron for a double bungalow, located at 9412-9414 Stroelitz (Sanborn Atlas image above, 1961). New Orleans architect and educator George A. Saunders briefly lived in the rear unit while teaching courses at Tulane University. Saunders worked for Bolt and Beranek, who served as acoustical consultants to Lustron.(2)
Baton Rouge also had its post-war neighborhoods. A large number of concrete block residences were built on Carleton Drive and North 39th Street between 1946 and 1947 (Sanborn Atlas image above, 1963). These typically included steel joists, flat roofs, curved facade elements and small carports. Many of these remain with minor modifications.

Historic Sanborn fire insurance atlases can help make the process of identifying new building materials easier. Lustrons, constructed of prefabricated steel frames and sheathing, appear as solid grey masses on historic Sanborns; Thermo-Cons, cast of cellular concrete on site, appear as gold masses marked "fire-proof." Concrete block structures are frequently indicated in blue with the abbreviation "C.B." and steel- and iron-clad frame structures typically have yellow centers with grey surrounds.

(1)These included:

Lustron Model Home, 3700 Cherry Street [Westchester model, surf blue, 1949]
3704 Cherry Street [Westchester model, 1949]
Joseph Gibson Residence, 3623 Livingston Street [Westchester model, 1949]
3629 Livingston Street [Westchester model, maize yellow, 1949]
3635 Livingston Street [Westchester model, 1949]
Julius Reese Residence, 4940 St. Roch Street [Westchester model, surf blue, c. 1949-50]
Merrill Ferrara Residence, 4969 St. Roch Street [Westchester model, c. 1949-50]
Stroelitz Double (?), 9412-9414 Stroelitz Street [Circa 1949-50]
John Warren Residence, 57 Egret Street [1950]
James T. Skelly Residence, 26 Bluebird Street [Westchester model, 1950]
Robert Smith Residence, 57 West Park Place [Westchester model, 1950]
128 Central Park Place [Westchester model, surf blue, 1950]

(2)Early Lustron owners complained about structure-borne and air-borne noise, and the company sought possible solutions from Bolt and Beranek.

Images above: "RFC Authorizes $9,000,000 Loan to Higgins for House Materials." The Times-Picayune 11 February 1947.

Square 1723. New Orleans. Sanborn Atlas. 1963.Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

"Champion Model." Gunnison Homes Catalog 1950.  As viewed 18 Mary 2015. URL:

Square 601. 1961 sheet. New Orleans. Sanborn Atlas. Corrected to 1963. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Square 567.  1961 sheet. New Orleans. Sanborn Atlas. Corrected to 1963. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Squares 11 & 17. Baton Rouge. Sanborn Atlas. Corrected to 1963. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Petrified Summer Residence

A few months ago, my colleague Kevin Williams found mention in a New Orleans publication about an unusual building material adopted in southwestern North Dakota:

"Perhaps the strangest material ever used in building a school is that found cheapest in the town of New England, N.D. The structure is built entirely of agates. Of course, we do not mean such agates as small boys use in playing marbles. It is wholly of petrified wood which is very plentiful upon the prairies. It is said that the material has been put together in the most artistic fashion, so as to bring out its beauty, and that 'when the sun shines the building glistens like crystal.'"(1)

New Orleans architects were attracted to the story, and reported on it in the local trade magazine, Architectural Art and Its Allies.

We wondered if the above-mentioned structure or other petrified wood structures were still extant, and so I contacted James Davis, head of reference services at the State Historical Society of North Dakota. He referred me to New England Centennial 1886-1986: Century of Change, which includes the image shown above.

The structure was originally the summer residence of Colonel Thomas W. Bicknell. It was mentioned in the 1928 book, Beauty Spots in North Dakota:

"Here on that east bank of the tributary known as the Cannon Ball, where it ambles leisurely just west of the city of New England in Hettinger County, stands this quaint building, 18 feet by 18 feet, with walls of rough-hewn rock, much of which is petrified wood. The windows are deep set in the walls which are over two feet in thickness. This small stone building is the only real monument left to a brave band of pioneers from the New England states who, displaying their spirit of their pilgrim ancestors, founded New England City, Dakota Territory, in 1886.

"The outbreak of the Indians, known as the Messiah Craze under the Prophet, Sitting Bull, in 1890, alarmed the settlers, who threw up earthen embankments around three sides of this stone house in case of need. The solidity of its walls and its position with the steep bank of the river just west of it, gave promise of safety in case of attack. The Indians did not reach New England City but a company of soldiers was stationed there during the winter. Besides being a residence (which it is today), a town hall, a school, and a fort, this building has also been used as a dentist's office, a blind pig (saloon), and a newspaper office."(2)

The residence is no longer standing, but you can still search for petrified wood in North Dakota, and visit a petrified wood park in nearby Lemmon, South Dakota.

The Society of Architectural Historians' Buildings of North Dakota has just been released, and you might want to pick it up before venturing on a summer road trip to America's least-visited state.

(1)Architectural Art and Its Allies II:6 (New Orleans, December 1906), p. 5.

(2)Account of Delta Rice Connolly, as it appeared in Bertha Rachael Palmer's Beauty Spots in North Dakota (1928). Reprinted in New England Centennial 1886-1986: Century of Change, cited below, p. 20.

Image above: Colonel Thomas W. Bicknell Summer Residence. Reproduced in Betty Gardner and Eleanor Olson's New England Centennial/1886-1986: Century of Change. Bismarck, ND: Richtman's, 1986. Courtesy State Archives, State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Final Week

If you haven't had a chance to visit the Southeastern Architectural Archive's Bungalows exhibit, you have one more week before it closes.

Image above: Bungalow. Residence Scene, Leesville, LA. Curteich-Chicago postcard. Undated. Visual Materials Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Terra Cotta

Architectural terracotta was very popular with New Orleans architects. After the Civil War, notices for the material proliferated in local publications. Earliest mentions largely related to roofing materials. In July 1873, B.J. West and Thomas S. Elder placed an advertisement for their Patent Roofing Tile Company in The Daily Picayune (shown above).
Frederic Codman Ford (1856-1922) became a local agent for the Chicago-based Northwestern Terra Cotta Company. His clients included Allison Owen, Collins C. Diboll, Thomas Sully, Emile Weil, Moise Goldstein, Rathbone DeBuys, Favrot & Livaudais, Andry & Bendernagel and Toledano & Wogan.  Architects requesting the company's red, brown and buff terracotta received shipments via the Illinois Central Railroad.

In the early twentieth century, terracotta designs by architects proliferated in the pages of The Brickbuilder, a trade journal founded in Boston.

Notable published designs by New Orleans architects are included below. See if you can find them on buildings in the Crescent City and Opelousas.

Records of the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company are located at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. 

In 1906, the Ludowici Roofing Tile Company (also based in Chicago) established an office and warehouse in New Orleans due to the large amount of material that it was shipping to Panama. Ludowici's traveling sales representative J.D. Duffy was reassigned to the permanent position.(1) The bunglow community at Derby Place (Third Municipal District) utilized the company's tiles. Architect-clients included Walter Cook Keenan (1881-1970), who specified the tiles for the Jones Residence at 20 Neron Place (1923) and his apartment building at Carrollton Avenue and Green Street. Ludowici roofing was adopted for the Hugh L. White residence in Columbia, Mississippi and the Charles Ledet residence in Houma, Louisiana.(2)

The Southeastern Architectural Archive maintains a number of Ludowici catalogs, now digitized via the Internet Archive's Building Technology Heritage Library

Other architectural terracotta suppliers who maintained a New Orleans presence include the following:

St. Louis Terra Cotta Co. (St. Louis), Frank Bethune, agent. 808 Perdido Street (1919).

Federal Terra Cotta Co. (New York), J.T. Mann & Company, agents. 909 Union Street (1919).

Atlantic Terra Cotta Co. (New York), Ole K. Olsen, agent. 822 Perdido Street (1920).

[See Building Review (1913-1922) for listings of local agents for various architectural trade concerns].

New Orleans structures with notable terracotta include:

Pere Marquette (817 Common Street)  -- American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Company 

Maison Blanche (901 Canal Street)  -- Atlantic Terra Cotta Company

American Bank & Trust Company (200 Carondelet Street) -- Federal Terra Cotta Company

Louisiana Supreme Court building (400 Royal Street) -- Atlantic Terra Cotta Company

Lyons building (224 Camp Street) -- Northwestern Terra Cotta Company

Morris building (600 Canal Street) -- Northwestern Terra Cotta Company

Tulane building (211 Camp Street) -- Northwestern Terra Cotta Company

Grunewald Caterers (926-28 Canal Street) -- Northwestern Terra Cotta Company

(1)"Another Northern Firm Establishing Offices." The Times-Picayune 1 January 1906. 

(2)"New Orleans Greatest Tile Center: Roofs May Rival Old World Cities." The Times-Picayune 23 May 1926.

Images above:

Top four:  Advertisements, The Daily Picayune. 23 July 1872; 30 March 1887; 19 September 1888; The Times-Picayune 1 September 1903.

Bottom seven:  All from The Brickbuilder (1901-1910). Architects, from top to bottom:  Andry & Bendernagel; Diboll, Owen & Goldstein; Favrot & Livaudais; Favrot & Livaudais; Toledano & Wogan; Toledano & Wogan; Toledano & Wogan.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A New American Architecture (1859)

We recently came across an interesting defense of William A. Freret's Merchants' Insurance Company building, erected in 1859. As the structure was being completed, it provoked the ire of local critics who considered its non-traditional "mixed styles" in negative terms. An anonymous Daily Picayune writer supported Freret's approach:

“This building is three stories and a half high; the iron pillars of each story being of a different style; the ornament in the blocking course represents the fit attributes of the insurance company: the centre is occupied by a fire plug, with hose and pipe attached, and an anchor resting against it; on either side are bales of cotton and barrels, the prow of a vessel, with spars and furled sails and roof of a house visible in the back ground. The “mixed style” of the building has been a subject for criticism, and we have heard remarks made, especially concerning the second story, which are made in the shape of a plain round column, with a rope twisted around it, giving the profile and undulating instead of straight appearance. It is difficult to judge of a building before it is completed; when the whole work is put up, the tout ensemble is more striking and we can form a correct opinion. We cannot see the reason which should bind an architect to follow strictly the rules of such or such an order of architecture, because it is established since times immemorial, more than that which would compel us to wear coats of a certain cut or hats of a certain shape, because our ancestors wore thus. What would have become of the thousands of improvements of every description, which have been bequeathed to us by modern invention, if such a reasoning had been adopted and why should the rule, inapplicable to any other art, be adapted to Architecture alone? We are a new people and there is scarcely an instrument invented in Europe, that we have not improved, or  better, in most instances we have had to create so as to supply our wants. And why should we not create a new order of architecture. Admitting that churches, public edifices, should be constructed according to the time-honored rules of the art, they cannot well be applied to the construction of stores, covering streets after streets. The five orders of architecture were not invented or adopted at the same time; even the first in date was an innovation and an improvement; they were successfully adopted because they pleased the eye; and such is the rule by which our American architects may safely be guided. Let fault finders sneer, and build according to your judgment and fancy; if you have taste, if you have genius, the public will find it out in spite of all sarcastic theorists. It is not by copying that great masters have become famous, invent and you will create a new school.”(1)

(1)"The City." The Daily Picayune 25 September 1859.

Image above:  Unidentified photographer. L & L Fur Shop [Formerly Merchants' Mutual Insurance Company]/622 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA. Circa 1940s. American Institute of Architects/New Orleans Chapter Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.