Monday, April 30, 2007

Who Kill-A Da Chief?

Come on in, the insane world of Louisiana politics, crime, punishment, lynching, looting, graciousness, rumor, and just plain interestingness is just fine.
It's the Beauregard- Keyes House on Chartres Street. Still there to this day. Fancy garden now. A museum to Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard and author Frances Parkinson Keyes. Here's the interior courtyard side:
The place is fascinating, and very New Orleans.

In 1826, wealthy auctioneer Joseph Le Carpentier hired James Lambert to build him an elaborate home. I don't want to know what or who exactly he got wealthy auctioning in New Orleans. It's not really straight up French; the building has been banged on and added to and changed quite a bit. The Greek Revival theme for the front is not French. But then again, like many things of that time and place, things change.

The house was built reversed from the original plan, for starters. All the outbuildings in the back, plus the back of the house was added later. The Greek portico and one of the flights of stairs in the front was a later addition. It's everything, like a place that washed back and forth in the wake of empires would be. But the bones of the wide center-halled house are still in there.
The little paired doors of the French style are everywhere.

And there's blood and sweat and refinement and conundrum all over the place.

Beauregard only lived there for two years, and never owned it. He was a big deal in New Orleans, and always was, so it's natural they'd play up the link. He took it over from a family of famous chess players, of all things, who had purchased it from Le Carpentier. The world's first chess champion, Paul Morphy, was born here. He was of Portuguese, Irish, Creole, and Spanish descent. Now that's New Orleans. He was a sensation, then he lost his mind. The coroner's report said Morphy died from taking a bath, after a long spell of wandering around the city talking to imaginary voices. That's pretty New Orleans, too.

So after the Civil War, Beauregard moves in, moves out, and a Sicilian family buys the place- the Giaconas. Wine merchants. Gangsters?

People thought they were. But people think everybody Italian is a gangster. There were all sorts of rumors about people being murdered in the house. But that's the essence of all secret crime societies. They don't announce themselves. Well, not exactly. They use barrels as a kind of semaphore.

There were a lot of Sicilians in New Orleans in the late 1800s, and the Black Hand followed them. What people never seemed to understand about the Black Hand, and other maffiyeh organizations, is that they existed mostly by preying upon honest Italian businessman. But many times the victims of the mobsters are simply assumed to be their compatriots by association, and end up on the wrong end of the backlash against the criminals. That's if they don' t end up stuffed in a barrel first.

In 1890, the Police Chief of New Orleans, David Hennessy, was murdered after he got to wondering why his men kept finding Italian-Americans strangled or shot or stabbed and stuffed into barrels, then left on the streetcorner. He was the first American to take on the association of mafiosi and their corrupt accomplices in the government. He paid for it with his life. His (likely apocryphal) last words were: "The Dagos did it."

They rounded up hundreds of people with a vowel at the end of their name, and indicted about a dozen for the murder. There was a riot, and a mob lynched the suspects, along with ten other Italians who were unlucky enough to be handy. For years after that, the local Italian-American children were taunted with: "Who kill-a da chief?"

After the Giaconas, the property was owned by a politician and his wife, Frances Parkinson Keyes, who wrote about Paul Morphy and the history of the house, among many other things.

The elegant home of a man with a triple barrelled name that fought like a tiger for the confederacy and then fought for the rights of blacks to vote; a lunatic genius chess player who died from taking a bath; a southern belle author that once occupied the Governor's mansion in New Hampshire; a wine merchant probably afraid of the Mob and the mob at the same time. Yup, that's one address in New Orleans.

And now it's a museum of sorts. But perhaps not of the the things they think it is.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Clouds On The Horizon

Today is very challenging.

I've listened to this piece of music for thirty years or so. It has a very calming effect on me. I like the pictures that this mashup has assembled to accompany the music. The music is elegant and simple, sorta; but then again sophisticated doesn't really mean "busy," does it?

Satie was a interesting weirdo. He didn't even want to be called a musician. He called himself a "phonometrician." I liked that he called some of his later musical sketches "furniture music." (d’ameublement) The term really doesn't translate well. In French, furniture is called meubles --the movables. I think the term furniture music is more to mean furnishings, or wallpaper. The setting for other things. Perhaps he is the world's first composer of movie scores. He'd have to be first. They didn't have movies then as anything but a sort of laboratory oddity.

Erik Satie. Gymnopedie Number 1.

The music has a strange resonance. It was written before WWI, and it reminds me of being out of doors on a pleasant afternoon, and seeing a cloud forming way off on the horizon. There were a lot of clouds for a long time in France.

Put your own sunshine or clouds in it. It's lovely musical furniture for your life.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons

When I was wee, Saturday was for cartoons.

Our parents would sleep late, a little, and we'd get up an fashion our own breakfast, after a fashion. Toast with butter and sugar mixed with cinnamon, and a glass of milk.

There were 3 VHF channels, on a little black and white TV. Channel 2 was there, the PBS station, but it was kinda sketchy. All it had was MisterRogers anyway, and even when I was 5 that was too lame for me. I saw it in the TV listings and it was printed as one word: Misterrogers. I didn't realize it was a man's name. I thought it was some sort of mystery story by by an orthographically challenged pirate or something. That would have been a lot more interesting, now that I consider it.

There were 2 UHF channels after a while. They were the equivalent of a lemonade stand. They'd get their hands on whatever they could for next to no money and broadcast it. The TV for UHF required you to tune it like a radio. You'd sit there like a Kinchloe and try to hit the dial just right to banish half the broadcast snow and stop the sizzling on the audio. And we'd watch drivel.

Speed Racer and Jonnny Quest and The Three Stooges and Clutch Cargo and Thunderbirds are Go! and whatever else the management could use to sell a few used car dealer ads and keep the lights on. Much, much, later, the people that produced entertainment noticed that the audience actually liked crap more than they liked anything serious, and TV became all crap all the time, endlessly subreferencing itself until you wondered if there ever was any onion to start with, or peeling the onion was the exercise itself.

My little son's favorite thing is an advertisement in a language he doesn't speak for a product he is unaware of that we can't buy and wouldn't if we could from a country he's never been to: Pat et Stanley. And like his old man, he wanted to see it on Saturday morning. He's pushing on my elbow right now. Let's hear a few bars of that old Saturday morning polyglot non- sequitur pop-culture flotsam homesick jetsam blues, maestro. And look! A fresh Pat et Stanley today!


And Crazy Frog!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Is it On Fire, Or Underwater This Week?

The Orleans Ballroom. It's very New Orleans. Bad luck and mojo are my only friends, as they say.

Henry Latrobe started building it in 1816 for a fellow named John Davis, to go along with Davis' theater next door. It burned to the ground, along with the theater and half the neighborhood, before he was finished building it. Very New Orleans, that.

Davis got busy right away and a year later he had it built. Um, rebuilt. Well, done, anyway. He rebuilt the theater next door, too. It was in that empty lot in the picture, attached to the ballroom. The theater burned down again in 1866, but the ballroom was saved. This grows monotonous, in an exciting kind of way. "Monotonous in an exciting kind of way" should be the town motto, if you ask me.

Like lots of things now considered authentic French New Orleans, the wooden balcony and screen are much later additions. Much of that ironwork you associate with the oldest part of New Orleans is not original equipment on the buildings.

They held grand balls in there, including one in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette, we are here! And not on fire for a change. Drop by.

Hey! In 1828, the ballroom was used as a meeting place for the State Legislature, when the government house --three guesses! --burned down. It's a good thing that New Orleans floods from time to time, if for no other reason than to give the fire company a breather every now and then.

For about a decade in the late 1800s, the place was used as the District Court, too. Lot of arson cases were heard there, I suspect.

There's a cryptic reference to a "sale" of the furnishings and fabrics of the place in 1836, which sounds like someone paid a few bucks for a few things and ripped out everything worth looking at on the interior of the building, so looting has a long history thereabouts too, I gather.

There are conflicting accounts of the use of the ballroom for what were called "quadroon balls." A quadroon was a description of someone who was of one quarter black ancestry. There was a dizzying assortment of social rankings in New Orleans based on ancestry, and the quadroon balls were one of a number of ways for a sort of common-law marriage to be arranged between white men, and women of African, Indian, and Creole ancestry. The arrangement was called "Placage." I much prefer the term free blacks used for it: "Left-handed marriage." That's wry.

In a marvelous turn of events, a young lady that had been destined for a left handed marriage rebelled against the idea, and became a nun instead. Henriette DeLille saw Placage as an affront to the Catholic sacrament of marriage. She spent her life in opposition to the practice, and in the aid and education of the poor of New Orleans. In 1837 the Vatican formally recognized her organization as what would later become The Sisters of The Holy Family.

The Sisters of the Holy Family, all African-American nuns, bought that ballroom in the 1880s and used it for a school for poor children until the 1960s, when they sold the property to a hotel.

There's a fad for advertising ghostly happenings in lodgings to get a kind of vibe going in the hospitality business. The ballroom is part of a hotel now, and they're trying to play up some supposedly ghostly happenings there. In New Orleans, that's superfluous. The whole town is a layer cake of haunts.

When it's not on fire, or sublime, anyway.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Down The New Orleans Rabbit Hole Again

The internet will make you a lot of friends you don't know.

Our friends we never met over at Maggies Farm have linked to my little riffs on American architecture. We like their boats, so we're going to put them in our blogroll. Anyway, they seem to like the odd and unusual building styles we've dredged up. And they had a question about the provenance of a building in New Orleans. I don't care if they were fooling; I'm going to answer it anyway.

We've lost our minds about New Orleans before here on this page.

Good Morning America, How Are You

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?

Crescent City Fais Do Do

At any rate, the picture of the building in the Vieux Carre in New Orleans on Maggies Farm is an example of another pre-Victorian style we need to cover: French Colonial. And if you're talking about French Colonial, you're basically talking about New Orleans. So let's. It's such an ancient and wonderful cock-up of a place. It's nasty and marvelous and sedate and wild and eternal and ephemeral and every other damn thing. And right from the get-go, it was French.

For the most part, French Colonial doesn't exist anymore. It's like New Orleans. Ancient, but burned, flooded, looted, neglected, and occasionally so overrun by attention that there's next to nothing of it left, unless you look for ghosts. I do.

New Orleans is full of the ghosts of French Colonial architecture.

The real thing doesn't look all that much like Bourbon Street: It looked like this:

That's the Olivier House. Its original owner was born in Lyon, France. That's French. It's being demolished when these pictures were taken 60 years ago. it was built in 1820, but the style was even older. It's a French Colonial Plantation house. You could probably find something similar in Vietnam or Africa somewhere.

The real estate under it was too valuable to keep it standing inside the city limits. Its ghost is underneath numerous houses over a number of city blocks now. Here's how the French did it differently than their English counterparts up north:
  • Lots of doorways leading outside
  • Stairways outside, not in interior stairwells
  • Rooms enfilade, opening one into another without hallways linking them
  • Double doors and windows and shutters
  • Big gallery porches under a roof
  • Interior courtyards
  • Slave quarters and kitchens in outbuildings
They had a sort of urban version of it, too:

That's the Gaillard House. 1820s. Has that continental medieval look to it . Fronts right on the street. Skinny, paired doors and windows with shutters for privacy. Attached to its neighbors. It turns its back on the street and shelters a courtyard in the back, like many city properties do to this very day:
D'Artagnan, is that you? Not shabby inside:

The stories that come out of the mists for these buildings boggle the mind. We're running long, and late today. Tune in again and read about:

Friday: The ballroom that burned down before it was built.
Monday: The Confederate general and the mafia
Tuesday: Judge Wisdom, and Master Builder, Contractor, and Undertaker Charles Pride.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Now, Listen To A Story...

You think we're going backward in time, but we aren't. We showed you Dutch Colonial on the Hudson River, a style going well back into the 1600s, and over and done with except revivals by 1840 or so. Why go back one step short of Fred and Wilma and show me houses made from hewn logs?

Because someone was living in that log house when my own father was standing on the street corner in Boston selling newspapers as a boy, living in a 1920s style triple decker. And they didn't even build that log house until about 1876.

It's the Ehpraim Bales house near Gatlinsburg Tennessee. Ephraim bought the property and lived there from 1887 until 1930. Here's the plan:
I love the term for the open area under the roof between the two structures: The dog trot. I've heard people use this term right to this very day for what many people now call a "breezeway." The log home has a problem, and this shows it. You can't really expand it, because you need the four corners of any room to hold it together. All you can do is add more rectangles, called pens, and join them up as best you can.

They were smart, those sons of nature that built log homes, and made the sills from rot-proof oak timbers. The rest of the boles and poles are all sorts of stuff: poplar, pine, chestnut. The frames around the doors and window openings are held onto the fabric of the place with oak pegs pounded home. Two rooms; the kitchen, and everything else.

This one is from North Carolina:
Here's the chimney end. It's what's generally called wattle and daub construction. Sticks are woven together and smeared with clay. I bet that chimney caught on fire as often as whatever they burned on the hearth. That's why it's exposed on the end, so you could go outside and put it out. The roof shelters it a bit, to keep the rain from washing all the clay away.
Here's one near South Union Township, Pennsylvania; the Gaddis House:

The tires and the plaque are a nice touch. Not entirely inhospitable inside, even though it's falling to pieces while being photographed:

The joinery's pretty good, too, for such rough work with rudimentary tools. It's not really a log cabin. A log cabin is just notched logs, with the boles left round. It's devilishly hard to fill the interstices. A log house has the treetrunks hewn square:You can seal it up pretty well that way. People still build them. One of the most incongruous sights in my neighboring town is a three story seaside snouthouse log home, built less than a decade ago. Some people will settle for nothing else than treetrunks for horizontal wallpaper to this very day.

Here's the corner of the Gaddis House.
Here's my favorite log house, just for the story of it:

If you were an NCO in the Cavalry in 1877, at Fort Missoula, Montana, here's where you'd be living. President Grant sent the cavalry to annoy the local Indian tribe, and be annoyed in their turn. That's not the good part. In 1896, a certain Lieutenant James Ross decided that the cavalry would be much improved if it was on bicycles instead of horses. He started the 25th Infantry Bicycle Troop, which encompassed him and 23 African-American soldiers, and they rode bicycles through the grass and mud all the way to St Louis.

When he got there, someone pointed out to him that Gottlieb Daimler had invented a four wheel horseless carriage in 1887.

I can imagine Lt. Ross reading Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and being captivated by Twain's depiction of the Knights of the Round Table going into battle on the bicycles supplied to them by the time traveling hero of the book, Hank Morgan. It was published in 1889, so the dates make sense. I guess it didn't dawn on Lt. Ross that Twain was making fun of the knights, not the horses.

If there is a God, someone will contact me and give me an advance to write the book, play, television series and three motion pictures I could get out of the story of 23 African-American cavalrymen, and the Lieutenant that loved bicycles, riding all the way from Missoula, Montana to Saint Louis, Missouri in 1896.

They didn't have to fight the plains Indians. I imagine they all died laughing when the spectacle rolled by.
How I love America. How can you not?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Close The Window. Hansel Ain't Coming.

We need to go back before we move on to Victorians. We forgot some people. The Dutch, for instance.

It's intensely regional, of course. New York, New Jersey, a little bit of Connecticut, Delaware, and a sliver of Pennsylvania. The crowning achievement of Dutch Colonial architecture, the Gambrel roof, is everywhere now, of course, but that's about it. And that's Dutch Colonial Revival, not Dutch Colonial.

New Amsterdam is the original name of New York. Dutch Colonial was its urban style. It was very like what a medieval European city would have, but most of that's gone now. The real estate was too valuable in what's now Manhattan and surroundings to have anything too ancient. But up and down the Hudson River, out in the sticks, you can still find plenty of Dutch inspired farm houses. The whole style was gone before the Civil War started.

We used to call the style "stone enders." Like the house in the first photo, the ends of the house were of stone or masonry of some sort, usually with wood infill walls between them. The end walls were parapeted --project higher than the roof. Unlike the postmedieval British house, instead of a big center chimney with lots of flues, the end walls had chimneys in them, usually in both ends. The roofs would be very steep, as a rule. That goes back to when roofs were not very waterproof, sometimes thatched, and so the steeper the roof, the more likely you'd be dry inside.

Here's a signature item that's entered the lexicon: A Dutch Door. Open just the top, and let the fragrance from the garden, but not the livestock from the garden into the house. It's still makes a great secondary entrance door.
Here's a gambrel roofline. Multistory Dutch Colonials are pretty rare. They were most often 1-1/2 stories, and you'd live right under the roof. British colonial houses maximized space under the roof with dormers. The knee in the roofline in the gambrel pushed the stand up space in on the second floor out towards the exterior walls all along the eave, not just in the footprint of the dormers. This one needs painting or dynamite or something:
They'd flare the roofline at the first floor eave and kick the rain away from the sidewalls and add to the picturesque look of the thing:
Steep roof? Check:

The farmhouse version. Lower roofline, rambling a bit, flared eaves, gambrel roof:

The urban version. Masonry ends, parapets, wooden infill walls. Neat as a pin is another Dutch tradition. This one in Schenectady is:

Hey look, another term for the lingua franca: The Dutch Oven. It has a secondary, ribald definition now, but people used to call a brick oven using the preheated walls to cook things slowly a Dutch Oven. A lidded cast iron slow cooking pot is the most common word usage now, but here's what a Dutch Oven used to mean:And of all the common details of the Dutch colonial style, the one I like best is the benches flanking an entry door. What a pleasant place to shell peas or shuck corn and smell the flowers in the beds.
If you're going to steal anything from the Dutch, steal that. And sweep it ten times a day for the whole effect.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The League Of Nations Freakshow Deluxe

Come on in, the sepulchre's fine.

Between the period from just before the Civil War up until the"Gay Nineties," there was a bunch of what are termed exotic revivals. They were lesser known than the other Romantic Revival house styles we mentioned earlier like Greek, Italianate, and Gothic, but they were even more odd and exuberant and weird and strange and fantastic. I call them the League Of Nations Freakshow Deluxe.

Egyptian had a little flurry. The front door on the business shown at the top of the page is in Philadelphia. The style was suited mostly to public buildings, and since most of the buildings it's patterned after were tombs and toys for Tuts, it has a strange sort of funereal vibe. It had a bit of reignited interest around WW2, as well, when many public building in America integrated the motifs. Here's a VA hospital in Marion, Illinois in the style. I'm sure you've seen some Post Offices that look like this too:
Never really caught on. Hey, how about"Oriental:"

That's a store in Butte, Montana. Oriental in this instance basically encompasses anything east of Crete. It had lots of polychrome stuff and odd shapes all mish-mashed together. Sometimes the only vestiges of this sort of thing will be little touches like this reverse ogee window over this doorway in Pennsylvania. It's based on the "Onion" shaped roof of the east:

Oh heck, let's get a real onion shaped roof. Here's one from 1891, in St Louis:

They probably would have called that "Turkish" It was a mess, and became a mess of a mess in the picture. Of course you could go Swiss:

The Swiss Chalet had a big re-revival later on in the twentieth century, too, as the preferred crummy second house in the mountains. You'd find them often at the seashore, too, which is as visually disturbing as licking stamps in a sort of Imhotep's Post Office Tomb ever was.

These places could get plenty palatial. Look at this magnificent dustcatcher, Painter Frederic Church's house on the Hudson. He called it Olana:

He referred to it as "Persian," but that doesn't really do it justice. The vernacular of the period would have termed it "Moorish." It's everything thrown at the Oriental wall, and it all seemed to stick. The carpets don't fly, but they look like they ought to.

The same Architect that did a lot of the Marble Palaces for magnates in Newport, Rhode Island, Richard Morris Hunt, signed the plans, but it's really Church's doodling and tinkering writ large. The decoration is so dense as to look borderline insane to the modern eye. How would you like to eat in the dining room, made "cozy" with a fire in this fireplace:

Church was born rich, made a lot of money from his art, and still almost bankrupted himself building his house. How very American the Moorish style cottage is.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Sippican Hot Club

It's Sunday. Birds are singing. Sun's shining. No architecture today. Something light, please.

Let's have music. Something pleasant, but not puerile. Hey, how about some hot jazz from Django Reinhardt, everybody's favorite zingari, and probably your favorite Belgian, too:

Django's left hand was burned badly when he was a young man, and he can only use the last two fingers as a sort of blunt instrument for barre chords. It's enough, ain't it?

Django is a rare thing in any walk of life. He was an originator of his own style. It's like Hemingway sort of making up his own method of writing. There's innovation there, and originality.

Like most people that do original things, it is possible for other people to lovingly imitate them, and you can notice right away the resemblance. It doesn't detract from it that it's an homage.Besides, no man makes up his entire persona from whole cloth. The truly original among us just seem to distill all the things that catch their fancy down to such a fine elixir that you can't really recognize it as an aggregation any more.

Is there any doubt who Joscho Stephan is playing like? I didn't think so. And it doesn't make it any less jawdropping a performance for being an imitation, does it?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

American Gothic

The Bowen House in Woodstock Connecticut, could be the supreme example of American Gothic Revival Architecture.

I don't know; I'm like a little kid, or a crow, and can easily be distracted by something shiny. If day after tomorrow you discover me writing
Fred McGillicuddy's pigsty in West Treestump Vermont is the supreme example of American Gothic Revival Architecture
just smile and acknowledge it for what it is -- a form of enthusiasm conjoined to a disorderly mind.

But it's awesome, ain't it?
Hey look, there's Patsy's port cochere. Please note that the roof shields only the persons riding in the carriage. The man driving would have to get off his perch and get rained on to walk around the coach and open the door for the swells that were visiting Mr. Bowen. My own relatives were coachman and cook for a similarly wealthy family from Boston in the 1800s. These houses are museums for the amusement of the descendants of the servants now. I love America.

It's awesome inside, too:
Is that a Sippican Cottage Furniture catalog I see on the hall table there? Nice place to look it over. I imagine the internet connection's a little slow. It really was a series of tubes back then, and only went from the bridge to the engine room. The stairwell is handsome too:
The furniture is appropriate for the house, which is rare. Usually the last occupants of any notable house strip the place bare before they turn the place over to some foundation or another to get out of paying taxes and painting these places. You can visit the mansions in Newport, and half of them look like Minnie Pearl was the decorator.

The heavy oak furniture and the densely printed wallpapers are perfect. The white marble tops on some of the tables were very common.

This is one of the best things in the house. That's an oriel window. An oriel window is a window on an upper story that is built into its own projecting bay. What a lovely place to sit. And look on the right there. That dresser is the real item: Cottage Furniture:
In a way, I'm a terrible fraud. I have a business with Cottage Furniture right in the name, and I really technically don't make cottage furniture. The original term referred to a kind of inexpensive furniture, which was painted, or painted to look like a sort of stylized woodgrain. That dresser is the real thing. Real cottage furniture is fairly rare now because it mostly fell all to pieces. I capture the essence of the concept if not the precise details of it, I hope. The falling to pieces part we can all do without.

Don't look at this doorknob:I told you not to look at the doorknob, but you couldn't help yourself, could you? It's interesting, but it's the door that's really interesting. It's fake.

Faux, actually. It's painted to mimic the look of oak. Really well done too. Faux Bois, it's called. I used to do that for a living, and it's hard to do convincingly. It's not really considered ersatz. The interior millwork was made of pine (they'd call it deal, back then) or poplar or some other inexpensive, easily worked wood. They'd prime it, (sugar of lead, anyone?) then paint it a sort of dull, yellow color. A slow-drying glaze would be applied, and a series of unusual brushes and combs would be dragged through the glaze to give the appearance of the desired wood. Those silvering grains were probably done with a finger wrapped in a rag, nothing more. The whole thing would get a sort of varnish stain to get the right color overall. Intact, such painted millwork is often more valuable than if it was real. Hollywood set painters are about the last place on earth where anyone's any good at this. Everybody I've seen try it out in the general population makes a dog's breakfast of it.

And of course, as promised, ladies and gentlemen, your typical Gothic Revival bowling alley. Don't laugh, Playstations were hard to come by back then.

The place is open to the public, and you can rent it out if you're feeling like feeling like a Gatsby for an afternoon. They don't call it the Bowen House though, it's called Roseland Cottage.

And by the way, it isn't in black and white, either: