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Beauty Beyond Bourbon Street: A NOLA Garden District Walking Tour

In New Orleans, it's not uncommon for an impromptu jazz performance to break out on the street with music and dancing echoing around the block. The city hosts festivals every month of the year highlighting the food, culture, and music that make New Orleans great. There's no question that it's a social city where a festivity is always welcome. However a short ride on the Saint Charles Avenue Streetcar uptown reveals a different side of the city. Everything quiets down, homes quadruple in size, and greenery grows over every surface like a scene from Jumanji. Welcome to the Garden District.

First developed in the early 19th century by wealthy merchants and plantation owners, the Garden District is now an inviting and walkable neighborhood known for its Antebellum masterpieces — a well-preserved living museum of quintessential New Orleans architecture. The opulent homes lining these idyllic streets reflect both the economic boom that followed the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent establishment by the newly-rich American elite of an exclusive enclave. The neighborhood remains posh, and many of its residents are just as famous as the houses they inhabit.

Each new structure opens a window into the city's rich and varied history. Spanish courtyards hide inside Italianate facades, while ornate iron gates surround Greek Revival mansions — every block holds its share of architectural triumphs and insights into a bygone era. Best of all, it's easy to walk from landmark to landmark.

Here are ten of our favorite buildings in the neighborhood:

1. Coliseum Street Row "The Seven Sisters" in the 2300s of Coliseum Street


Hidden among the stately mansions in the Garden District is a row of cozy one-story side-hall "shotgun" style townhouses. Despite their small stature, their Henry Howard pedigree gives them enough cred to make our tour. Their floor plans are narrow, and designed to keep air circulating. Likely identical when they were built by John Hall in 1869, they've each assumed their own individual style over time.

2. Joseph Carroll House at 1315 First Street


Bold, extravagant, and — most noticeably — pink, it's no wonder the namesake of this Italianate villa was known for throwing elaborate parties. Visitors like Mark Twain entered through the center hall and sipped cocktails on the double-galleries laced with iron filigree. Don't miss the well-preserved carriage house around the corner.

3. Brevard House at 1239 First Street


This Greek Revival home was built in 1847 and is known as "Anne's house" for its previous occupant, gothic novelist Anne Rice, who made it the setting for her novel "The Witching Hour." An iron fence with casted rosettes inspired another nickname: "Rosegate." Some visitors believe the original owner, Albert Brevard, haunts the expansive double galleries on moonless nights; we can vouch for its well-preserved charm in the daylight.

4. Payne­-Strachan House at 1134 First Street


This Greek Revival center-hall-design stands proudly on the corner just as it did in 1849 for Judge Jacob Payne. It's best known as the home where Jefferson Davis, a friend of Payne's, died. A plaque sits outside to commemorate the event. Peek at the blue painted gallery ceilings; the color is believed to keep winged insects and evil spirits at bay.

5. Montgomery-Hero House at 1213 Third Street


Originally built in the 1860s for a railroad magnate, this two-story Gothic Italianate home is something of a Garden District fixture for locals. Just three prominent New Orleans families occupied the grand structure before its current residents moved in. The grandeur of high society is still alive and well in the soaring parlor ceilings and leisurely atmosphere of the sprawling front porch. Inside, the home has been subtly adapted to stay true to its roots while modernizing in both style and functionality.

6. Commander's Palace at 1403 Washington Avenue


Yelp can serve you up a slew of artisanal five star restaurants to sate your walking-induced hunger, but none hold the iconic weight of this historic landmark. In 1890 Emile Commander turned this turreted Victorian structure into a saloon for the families who occupied the surrounding mansions. In 1974 the Brennan family gave it its bold aqua color and mixed a bright blue martini to match. To this day, it remains the city's most famous restaurant.

7. Colonel Short's Villa at 1448 Fourth Street


Another Henry Howard-designed gem, this Italianate villa was built around 1860 for Colonel Short and is credited with establishing the wrought iron tradition in the area. The fence's corn stalk design was chosen by the Colonel to soothe his homesick wife who missed Iowa, her native state. Less romantic historians say that he simply chose the design from a catalogue. We like a good story so we're going to stick with the romantic Colonel on this one.

8. Briggs-Staub House at 2605 Prytania Street


It seems odd that any architectural style would be "off-limits" in the varied Garden District, but such was the case when this Neo-Gothic cottage was constructed in 1849. Protestant neighbors complained that its steeply pitched roof and pointed arch windows recalled Catholic traditions they had hoped to leave behind in the French Quarter. Despite their grumbles, this distinctive home has stood its ground and has aged considerably well over time.

9. Our Mother of Perpetual Help at 2582 Prytania Street


Designed by famed New Orleans architect Henry Howard, this mansion's intricate cast iron gallery and marble entrance exudes European elegance, though its most distinctive characteristic might be its lineage of owners. After the Civil War the Catholic Church converted it into a chapel, adorning it with its most iconic feature: an intricate cast iron pavilion bearing its name in gold. Anne Rice dipped her quill here, and Nicolas Cage once held the deed.

10. Louise S. McGehee School at 2343 Prytania Street


Of the nine buildings that comprise the campus of this all-girls prep school, the most impressive is the main house. Inspired by the neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style, the building was designed by the famous New Orleans architect James Freret. Currently a library and office, it was once the home of sugar baron Bradish Johnson. Built for $100,000 in 1872, the current per student cost averages $15,735/year. Sure, that might sound pricy — but we'd like to go to school in a landmark, too.