Looking for something cheap and authentically New Orleans? Head to the Longue Vue House and Gardens for a visual lesson on southern history and architecture.
I was invited to visit the Longue Vue House and Gardens on the precept that it would be a worthwhile field trip for my fourth grade class. Located on 7 Bamboo Road, smack in the middle of Orleans and Jefferson Parish (or for the locals, New Orleans and Old Metairie), stood a regal mansion that was reminiscent of the house from Steel Magnolias. The two-story building was once a lively abode owned by Edgar and Edith Stein, the latter whom was a descendant of the Rosenwalds. After inheriting a generous equity from the Sears and Roebuck Company, Edith did what any affluent woman would do: convince her husband to design the home of her dreams.
Walking up to the aptly named mansion (the name “longue vue” means telescope in French), the walkway reminded me a bit of those scenes in The Color Purple where Celie would see Shug or other characters trudge up in the distance in horse and carriage or some other archaic form of transportation.
Our tour guide mentioned that, with the exception of the White House, the Longue Vue house was the first house in the south with working central air conditioning. Edith herself had requested the accommodation, which proved to be essential in the deep south.
Another feature was recessed lighting throughout the house; the ceiling height varied throughout, but each featured “tray ceilings”, a popular architectural design in both New Orleans that we’ve borrowed from Europe.
Murals and wallpaper, such as the one featured in the parlor as shown above, were rampant in the house; the tour guide explained that Edith had hand-picked her favorite designs from small boutiques in New York City’s Upper East Side and shipped them to New Orleans. The couple had remolded some rooms to fit the wallpaper; in fact, Edith had loved one particular pattern so much, that despite the fact it didn’t fit in the dining room, Edgar had lowered the ceilings in that particular room to accommodate her choice in wallpaper.
The most beautiful part of the property, however, was nowhere in the house. The gardens that surrounded the mansion are world renowned, and the inspiration for the layout and design of the house itself. The entire property was built with the gardens in mind; each room featured large floor-to-ceiling windows with clear views of the gardens from every angle. Edith had the plan to model the Longue Vue mansion this way after the couple’s honeymoon in Spain, thus, the gardens are built in Spanish-style with rosebud walkways up to each door and exit. The only room in the house that did not rely on natural light and large windows was Edgar’s study (I suppose he cared more about keeping his wife content than the beautiful view).
The couple were world-known philanthropists; they donated the house as a museum keeping every room intact. The youngest daughter’s doll collection was still on display, Edgar’s Harvard yearbooks still in the parlor bookcase. One thing changed, interestingly, was the kitchen. It had been completely gutted and remolded as an “art gallery” of sorts, displaying stencils of famous politicians the Steins had accrued over the years. As a lover of architecture, I was perplexed by this; “What kind of countertops did they have – granite? Marble? Do you have any pictures of the oven, the breakfast nook, was there an island?” I asked the tour guide. She responded that, to her dismay as well as the tour groups’, the Steins didn’t know that our generation would be “such fascinated foodies”, as she put it, and that “only the servants spent time in the kitchen back then”.