Architecture / History / Louisiana / Travel

The Garden District vs. The French Quarter: A Clash of Cultures Preserved in Architecture

“Jean Claude, I am fed up! Our families have been in La Nouvelle-Orléans for generations.

We’ve survived floods, fire, and  years of merciless diseases.  And just when things are improving, les Americains, think they can waltz into the Vieux Carré and take our homes and businesses. I, for one, will not allow it. I will do everything in my power to keep them out!”

And in an expensive hotel dining room a few blocks away, a recently arrived American businessman from Massachusetts tells his wife,

“I don’t understand these snobbish Creoles. Who do they think they are? We’ve done nothing to them, and yet, they’re dead set on preventing us from living in the French Quarter. Well honestly, that’s fine with me. I heard that not too far upriver, a large plantation is being subdivided into building lots. If we bought one of these sites, we could build a large comfortable home with a lovely garden for you and the children.”

It’s not a battle that dominates history books, but in the early 1800’s, tensions between resident Creoles and johnny-come-lately Americans had far-reaching effects on the development of New Orleans.

President Thomas Jefferson and the United States had just scored big at the Napoleonic fire sale and had sewn up the Louisiana Purchase. And thanks to its position on the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans was booming. From all across the country, Americans were flocking to the river city for their piece of the economic pie, and the Creole residents deeply resented these latecomers to the party. As retribution, they wouldn’t allow Americans to live in the French Quarter. Out of this conflict, the Garden District was born.

The Garden District
From an architectural standpoint, the two areas look like totally different cities, and in fact, they were. The Garden District was part of the city of Lafayette, until it was incorporated into New Orleans in 1852.

Garden District Tan House

For the incoming Americans, the Garden District was essentially a clean slate. It enabled them to import popular new architectural styles, and to build the type of homes they preferred. Greek Revival was trendy …

Raised Cottage

… and in a nod to the climate, the raised cottage was also in vogue. Grand entrances were all the rage.

Grand Entrance

Attractive, meticulously maintained English-style gardens surrounded by intricate, wrought iron fences and gates were de rigueur.

Gray Gate

The French Quarter
The Vieux Carré, on the other hand, had generations of influence from French and Spanish Colonial architects, who cut their teeth in the hot, steamy tropics.

French Quarter House

Houses were built next to the banquette (sidewalk). The wealthy preferred thick-walled villas surrounding small, private Mediterranean-style courtyards with a cooling fountain.

French Quarter Cottages

Creoles from the Caribbean Islands, built raised cottages, while Africans influenced the design of the shotgun houses. The builders of each architectural style knew heat and humidity, and how best to address it.

Yellow cottage

The disparate experiences and preferences of these two groups produced radically different architecture. And the clash between these two cultures survives today, in the elegant townhouses in the French Quarter, and the lovely Victorian mansions in the Garden District.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

34 thoughts on “The Garden District vs. The French Quarter: A Clash of Cultures Preserved in Architecture

  1. Thanks for your comment and for visiting our blog. No, there isn’t a bar on the bottom floor now, but my experience with the French Quarter is that it definitely could have been a bar at one time, not sure about 1957. It’s on the corner of Royal and St. Peter, so it’s a desirable location for sure.

  2. Pingback: The Garden District vs. The French Quarter: A Clash of Cultures Preserved in Architecture | Love That France

    • Lynn, I admit to a bit of prejudice when it comes to New Orleans, but truly, you should add it to your must-see list. It’s combination of history, architecture, food, and distinctive party vibe make it the most unique city in the US. I promise that you won’t be sorry. ~James

    • Thanks Danni. Terri and I were lucky enough to get our first jobs in New Orleans, and we lived there for two exciting years. Since then, it’s had a special place in our hearts, and we get back whenever we can. ~James

  3. As always I have learned something new in visiting today. Although we have been to New Orleans I had no idea about this piece of history.
    Hope you are both doing well and continuing to enjoy your new location. Hugs form our home to yours. 🙂

    • And since you know NOLA Sue, you might find it interesting to know that Canal Street was the border (and DMZ) between the two groups. I’m sure there are other cities with similar cultural/architectural divisions, but these two areas are so distinct and the architecture is so different that it’s amazing. It’s just another ingredient in the gumbo that makes New Orleans unique. BTW, thanks for your well wishes, and keep an eye on your email. ~James

    • Definitely add NOLA to your list. One of the fun things about New Orleans is that a trip can be as high-brow or as low-brow as you want. There’s the history, architecture, and art museums, or on the other end is music, food, booze and party time. Of course, a combination of each is also fun. 🙂 ~James

  4. Hey…just a really marvelous read, great new info to fathom. I tried to visit New Orleans decades ago, but no one could tell me where Bourbon Street was.

    • It truly must have been a party weekend if people couldn’t direct you to Bourbon Street. Actually, everyone should see Bourbon Street once, but the French Quarter has so much more to offer. There’s interesting architecture, history, bars and restaurants around every corner. Next time you go, ask a cop – who will undoubtedly know where Bourbon Street is. 🙂 ~James

    • Thanks Sylvia. Gracious living and dealing with hot, humid weather developed into a fine art in early New Orleans. Terri and I were lucky enough to start our careers there, and we developed an appreciation for old buildings that has stayed with us all our lives. ~James

  5. I have never been to New Orleans and would love to visit. I think it is great to preserve the authenticity of an area, but also allowing innovation can be refreshing. It is sad when an area looses its character because of thoughtless developers. But in the case of New Orleans it looks like the different architecture styles are a winning combination.

    • Gilda, the folks in San Francisco might argue with me on this, but I think that New Orleans has the finest collection of Victorian architecture in America. And the French Quarter has a considerable collection of 17-19th Century buildings as well. Given the weather conditions in Louisiana, it amazes me that many of these fine, old buildings have survived the floods, damp, termites, and rot. But there it is for all to see. When you get to the states, it should be on your list. ~James

    • Marie, when it comes to New Orleans I must admit to a certain bias. It’s one of my favorite cities anywhere. And after all, with its French and Spanish influences, the French Quarter feels a much like Europe. ~James

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. There are few places where a city’s history is more evident in its architecture than New Orleans. It’s one of America’s oldest cities and its long history and harsh climate have been large factors in the city’s architectural styles. It’s one of our favorite cities in America. ~James

  6. Pingback: The Garden District vs. The French Quarter: A Clash of Cultures Preserved in Architecture | Chef Ceaser

    • Thanks for reblogging our post Chef Ceaser. We lived in New Orleans, and obviously, are a bit biased, but I agree with your opinion about this unique city. With its long, rich history, architecture, and culinary culture, there really isn’t anywhere like it in the world. For an international chef like you, it must be a veritable mine for new food ideas. ~James

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