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Arts & Culture

Iconic New Orleans Architecture: French Quarter Cast Iron

Ornate New Orleans iron is one of the cornerstones of New Orleans architecture, found on historic French Quarter balconies, gates and lanterns.

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Jackson Square: fleur-de-lis and coquille motifs on an ornate iron post dating from the 1850s.

It’s safe to say that, the lacy iron scrollwork of the New Orleans French Quarter is a hit with visitors. Every time my mother comes to town, the sight of a fern-filled iron balcony causes her to stop and raise a hand to her heart, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Utterly romantic and decidedly feminine, filigree ironwork is one of the most iconic features of New Orleans architecture. While there are gorgeous examples to be found on the mansion facades of several New Orleans neighborhoods like the Garden District and Saint Charles Avenue, the Quarter is chock full of postcard picture examples, all within an easy walk of each other. In addition to balconies, visitors can spot ironwork used in fencing, gates, door insets and even downspouts.

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At the corner of Dauphine and Orleans

Ironwork is so associated with New Orleans that it may come as a surprise to some that wrought iron (worked by hand) and later cast iron are Victorian additions and not original to the oldest masonry townhouses. Previous to the mid-1800s in New Orleans history, balconies and porches were bounded by tall wooden columns. Decorative ironwork, derived from Spanish architecture, mimicked another famous Spanish product: lace, and offered an ornate visual contrast to otherwise sober, handsome fronts. The more ornate work is often floral or leafy, adorned with French fleur-de-lis and coquilles, or shells (associated with Saint Jacques and religious pilgrims), also abound.

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A hanging garden on an iron balcony in the French Quarter.

French Quarter Ironwork Trail

While this list only scratches the surface of New Orleans architectural iron landmarks, this little ironwork trail focuses on the half of the French Quarter from Saint Louis Street to Esplanade Avenue, so it is easily walkable. Before you embark – a disclaimer: you may get carried away with your camera.

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A gorgeous lantern amidst the antique shops on the 300 block of Royal.

1. Jackson Square – The iron fence and gorgeous posts date from the 1850s. Also noteworthy are iron scrollwork on the highly coveted Pontalba Apartments; the mirror buildings date from the 1840s.

2. Chartres Street from Esplanade to Jackson Square – Supremely proportional, leafy and tasteful.

3. 900-1000 block of Royal Street – Straight from the postcards. Really any place along Royal Street offers ironwork eye candy.

4. 700 block of Saint Ann Street – Stop on the corner of Bourbon and Saint Ann, look towards the river, and take a picture. No need to put down your go cup.

5. Corner of Dauphine and Orleans Streets – Worth exploring most notably for the Gardette-LePretre House, built in 1836 (for a dentist!); the ironwork was added six years later. This 7,000+ square foot mansion, recently listed for $2.3 million, went under contract within a matter of days.

6. Quiet, more residential blocks – The 500 block of Dumaine Street or the 800 block of Saint Louis Street both offer more beautiful ironwork sites.

All photos by Allison Alsup.

-Allison Alsup, co-author of The French Quarter Drinking Companion, published by Pelican Press and available September 2013.

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