While the Garden District is full of beautiful old mansions, and the French Quarter offers plenty of charming architecture, two of the most interesting buildings in New Orleans are located in the Lower Ninth Ward. The famous “steamboat houses” were built in the early 20th century by the Doullut family, and stand at 400 and 503 Egania Street in the Holy Cross neighborhood.
The first house was built in 1905 by riverboat pilot Captain Milton P. Doullut. The second house was built in 1913 as a home for his son, Paul Doullut. The architecture of these two buildings is unique in that they were inspired by the steamboats that the Doulluts piloted down the Mississippi River, but they were also partially inspired by the Japanese exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. You can see the Japanese influence in the pagoda-style roofing.
In 1977, both houses were designated as historic landmarks. The houses, which were built on the highest land in this neighborhood, close to the river, survived the flooding in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. In addition to being on high ground, these structures were uniquely prepared for rising waters. Flooding was a common concern when the homes were built, so the entire ground floor of each building is coated inside and out in ceramic tile. Each house can literally be hosed down after such a disaster.
The houses are now privately owned and not open for tours, but you can take a peek at their exteriors. Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tours offers guided bicycle tours through the Lower 9th Ward, or you get there by car or cab.