Nostalgia for New Orleans

931-933 St. Philip Street.

I’ve been thinking a lot about New Orleans and its special style since we were finally able to watch season one of the HBO series, Treme, in December and January.  We lived in an Uptown neighborhood briefly many years ago, and I think the Crescent City is like Paris or Rome: any time passed there stays with you deeply.

It was that way for Walt Whitman, who was editor of the New Orleans newspaper The Crescent for few months in 1846.

Once I pass’d through a populous city, imprinting my brain, for future use, with its shows, architecture, customs, and traditions. . .
— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I tracked down a column by Dave Walker of The Times-Picayune on its website,, called Treme Explained,” which explicates all the local references in each episode.  I’m trying not to read ahead, because we’ll eventually get season two here.

More recently, I found these beautiful photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston of courtyards and gardens in New Orleans in the late 1930s.

Broussard’s patio, 815 Conti Street. All photos on this post are of New Orleans, La., in the late 1930’s, via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Gaillard Cottage, 915-917 St. Ann Street. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

They are all from the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South of the Library of Congress.

Spanish Customs House, 1300 Moss Street.

From 1933 to 1940, Johnston photographed buildings and gardens in nine southern states, funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation.  She was one of the first to photograph and record southern vernacular architecture.

Her entire collection is fascinating. It contains 7,100 images of 1,700 structures and sites.

818 Bourbon Street.
Beauregard House, 1113 Chartres Street.
Plantation House, 3939 Chartres Street.
837 Gov. Nicholls Street.
806 Royal Street.
Olivier Plantation, 4111 Chartres Street.

There are more Johnston photos of New Orleans in the gallery after ‘Continue reading’ below. Click on any thumbnail to scroll through all the pictures in full size.

In 1945, Johnston moved to New Orleans, where she enjoyed the lively bohemian atmosphere. She lived in her house on Bourbon Street until her death in 1952 at the age of 88. These two photos are from the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection of the LoC.

Johnston’s cats, Hermin and Vermin, seated on the brick railing of her New Orleans house.
Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), ca. 1950, in New Orleans.

You can buy prints of Johnston’s photos at here.

If you’re thinking of visiting the Big Easy, you can read “36 Hours in New Orleans” in The New York Times travel section. has a list of New Orleans blogs here.

Tulane University’s Southeastern Architectural Archive maintains the Garden Library, a collection of over 1,000 titles, including published materials associated with women’s garden culture. Currently, the Archive is showing an online exhibit of vintage Reuter’s Seed Company catalog covers (here).

6 thoughts on “Nostalgia for New Orleans

  1. I lived uptown, too when I went to college in a ramshackle shotgun duplex. But it was on the river bend and I loved it. I have red beans and rice cooking for a Mardi Gras party tonight. I’ve been missing New Orleans a lot the last few days seeing all of the Mardi Gras posts from my friends and family on Facebook.

    1. I used to cook red beans quite a lot when we lived there (for one thing, they are cheap), but I haven’t in years. It sounds good. I’d also like to have a roast beef po’boy that drips from gravy, tomato, and mayonnaise.

  2. New Orleans is an unforgettable place. I grew up in Mississippi and still remember a trip there when I was about 5. Taking the train from Jackson, blowing the powdered sugar off the be beignets at the French Market. It’s certainly like no other city in the U.S. I still love the place and imagine I’d love to live there, except for the unbelievably hot, humid summers.

    1. I’m from tidewater Virginia and later the Washington-Baltimore area, all of which have their share of heat and humidity. So when we moved there during the summer months, I wasn’t too bothered at first. But when November came and I still didn’t need even a light sweater, I started to become a little unwound. It was my first introduction to a place without four distinct seasons. Now, of course, I’m used to it (we’re just now beginning the long rainy season here). February in NOLA is great, however!

  3. Impeccable timing. I just finished reading “When the Water Came,” Cynthia Hogue’s book of oral history poems about the evacuees of Katrina. I highly recommend it; I’ve never been to New Orleans but the beautiful poems and photos in this book all came around to one thing– people’s incredible love for the city. Now I’m feeling it rise higher and higher on my list of places to visit.

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