Home News Row houses to flop houses and back again: How the ’13 Sisters’ on Julia Street came back from the brink | Entertainment/Life

Row houses to flop houses and back again: How the ’13 Sisters’ on Julia Street came back from the brink | Entertainment/Life

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It was 1976 and the sisters were slack.

In their heyday they were beautiful, fashionable and attractive. But now they are old and cracked, and their glory days long faded from memory to rumor.

That’s what happened 144 years later, if we didn’t pay attention, to the so-called Thirteen Sisters, aka “The Thirteen Buildings,” on Julia Street, a row of American redbrick houses then growing. sector.

Once upon a time they were the center of attention. By 1976, however, it was Skid Row, often called “Julia Row”.

But luckily, this is no rich-to-rags story. It’s a story of riches to rags to riches again.

The Julia Street tenements at 604 and 610 were shown in 2005.

from the beggining to the end

It begins in April 1832, just 20 years after Louisiana became a state. As the American sector of the city, today his CBD and Warehouse District were in growth mode. To provide all American newcomers with the fashionable living space they need, a group of local businessmen founded a speculative real estate firm, the New Orleans Building Company.

Among the company’s more ambitious projects was 13 Sisters, which together occupy the Uptown side of the entire Julia block from Camp to St. Charles Street. Built of Federal-style redbrick, with some Greek His Revival elements added, these Sidehall townhouses look more like Philadelphia and perhaps the eastern part of Baltimore than Old World-influenced New Orleans. It is reminiscent of what is possible.

But at that point, New Orleans was an American city, if only for a few years, and the Thirteen Sisters were among the many American-style buildings built in the city at that time, among the many tenements. did. .

The land for the Julia Row building was acquired in the spring of 1832. Within a year, 13 Sisters were nearing completion, each selling from $13,000 to $14,000.

It is unknown who designed them, but local architect James Dakin (who also designed St. Patrick’s Church, the Old State House, and other notable local buildings) designed TA Wood’s There is evidence that they may have received assistance. Builder Daniel H. Twogood was hired to take on the sweaty job.

Their final product was impressive.


By the 20th century, many of the 13 identical tenements that make up Julia Row had been converted into budget lodgings, but the original fan at the entrance of 610 Julia offers a hint of the elegance that once existed. was

for the social elite

“The ’13 Buildings’ between Camp Street and St. Charles Street have an aristocratic past and were once occupied by the principal social elements of the American colonies that resided above Canal Street in the early 1840s. I used to be,” writes Eliza Ripley in her book The Social Life. in Old New Orleans.

“Ten years later, each was rented by a prominent New Orleans citizen who lived there and entertained many delightful guests.”

Among them was Samuel Livermore, president of the New Orleans Building Company. Noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson owned another. Ripley’s father, Richard Henry Chin, also lived in Julia Row, and she remembers visiting American politician Henry Clay whenever he was in town.

Each building in the line is 3.5 stories high and is separated from adjacent buildings by a brick fire wall. All boast an oval footprint with a three-storey service wing surrounding a private courtyard accessed through a narrow service alley.

business room

It is believed that the first floor of each building was originally intended to house businesses, with living spaces above it. In fact, an advertisement in The Daily Picayune in the 1840s advertised a dry goods store in the building on the corner of Camp and Julia. Next door, J. Burton ran “Bonnets, Ribbons and Flowers Depot.” Next door, a school was established at the current number 610 Julia. Near the other end of the block, French classes were being offered.


An article published on May 22, 1845 describes Julia Rowe’s “fine residence”. A little over a decade old at the time, a similar row of townhouses was already known as ’13 Buildings’.

However, many ground floors are believed to have been converted to living spaces earlier in the column’s history.

Outside, each ground floor had three arched entrances. Two of them were narrower than the third and connected to the ground floor space.

Unlike French Quarter townhouses, where a driveway leads from the street to the courtyard, the larger of the three ground-floor openings of the Julia Row building is surrounded by Ionic columns, with an upper Highlighted by a distinctive fan light. Side hall with stairs leading upstairs to double parlor.

Full length windows leading from parlor to wrought iron balcony.

The third floor contained two bedrooms, each with fixed wooden paneling underneath, and three double-paned windows overlooking Via Giulia. A closet and bathroom completed his third floor floor plan.

The upper ground floor was a similarly laid out half-story, but with sloping ceilings and small slitted windows that squeezed just below the roofline.

a little greek

It is near its roofline that Federal Architecture has given way to Greek Revival-influenced moldings and a massive wooden Greek Doric entablature.

Inside, Federal-style decor dominates, giving each unit an air of distinct elegance, from the door casings, cornices and medallions to the black marble parlor fireplaces.

As swanky as the 13 Sisters was when it was completed, it fell into disrepair over the years as workers moved into the neighborhood and wealthy residents headed uptown for a more fashionable climate. did. By the mid-20th century, many of the 13 houses were cheap lodgings, and even barrooms and auto repair shops were populating street level.

In the process, the ground floor façades were demolished, fire escapes were installed on the upper floors of many buildings, and the interiors were neglected. The 13 sisters were shadows of their former selves.

good news

That’s the riches-to-rags part of the story. But there is another, happier chapter in the history of the 13 Sisters, which began around 1976.

That’s when the Conservation Resource Center acquired 604 Julia St. and began her bow-to-stern restoration, helping kickstart the block length regeneration. Others will follow suit.

Today, fire escapes have been removed, bars and garages have been closed and replaced by art galleries and more.

Not all of the 13 sisters have been restored to their original state, but all have received some degree of TLC and offer a glimpse into the city’s history and former elegance.

Do you know of a New Orleans building worth profiling in this column, or are you just curious? Contact Mike Scott [email protected].

sauce: Times-Picayune archive. National Register of Historic Places; Association of Architectural Historians.

Do you know of a New Orleans building worth profiling in this column, or are you just curious? Contact Mike Scott [email protected].

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