Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The John Gauche House, New Orleans, LA

The John Gauche House, New Orleans, LA. 1856


The John Gauche house at 704 Esplanade is one of the finest homes on the street. It was built by John Gauche, a china dealer in 1856, and the design is anything but "gauche" (pun intended). Set on a spacious lot, the house has a five bay plan with a long ell in the back that connects two a two story service building with classical porches. The house's ornamentation is minimal, with a plain stuccoed facade with no window surrounds, suggestive of early Greek Revival and early Italianate design that was closer to English precedents. The only relief to the facade's plainness is the fine architectural door surround that reproduces the proportions of a Greek Doric temple facade, lending the entrance weight. The designer placed most of the rhythm of this house in the hands of its extensive and expensive ironwork that surrounds the building. On the second floor, there is a balcony that runs around the entire house with an elaborate ironwork balustrade that depicts figures in roundels dancing among vine leaves and grapes. The extremely broad eave provides a cover for the second floor balcony. This is supported by classical paired iron brackets, one of the most significant examples of non-wooden brackets in an Italianate. The cornice at the end of the eave has not only a fringe cresting or Roman tendrils and vines hanging down, but also a creating of anthemia and palmettes that stands above the cornice. Thus, the straight cornice edge is completely hidden behind the lively ironwork that gives it more weight and prominence. That all this has survived the years unscathed is a miracle. Further weight is added by the thick cornice that surmounts the eave, balancing the broad facade with a vertical thrust. These two forces acting together create architectural harmony of proportion.

The house retains its iron fence with the stone newel posts that hold the composition together. The courtyard even contains an impressive 19th century iron fountain. The outbuildings are much simpler by comparison to the house, with a plastered facade and simple wooden Doric/Tuscan porch, reflecting the humbler function of their contents. Old photos from a 1937 architectural survey show a fantastically painted trompe l'oeil interior with rococo paneling and floral designs expressed entirely in paint. Treatments like this were once relatively common in wealthier homes, but frequently disappeared as fashions changed and were wallpapered over. I'd love to see color images of the interior, if it survives. 







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