Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Luling Mansion


The Luling Mansion (or the old Jockey Club as my mother always called it) has always greatly intrigued me.  It sits perched up on a small hill just off a Esplanade, tucked away down a one way street.  You can see it from Esplanade, but only if you know what you're looking for.  It's a shadow of it's former self, but honestly I'm just glad this beaut survived the demo-happy 1950's.  This thing is right up there with the Belle Grove Plantation in my opinion.  

One hundred and forty seven years later it's in pretty rough shape.  It almost looks abandoned, and you'd be forgiven if you thought it was.  Most of the windows look boarded up, and you can clearly see that some of the rooms are being used for nothing more than to store junk.  Lord knows the last time this place saw a fresh coat of paint.  

The Luling Mansion in all it's glory.  Noticed the wings on the sides, now long gone.

You can trace it's history back to 1864 when Florence Luling, a rich fellow from Germany, bought 80 pristine acres of property between Esplanade Avenue and the bayou. Obviously, he needed a grand estate to go with it.  Bring in famed architect James Gallier and bam!, two years later you have the most beautiful example of Italianate architecture in all the south, if not the entire country.  The property was beautifully landscaped and even included a private lake.  It's sculptures and decorations were shipped in from Italy.  The building of this mansion generated a lot of buzz in its day, but like most grand estates, it wouldn't last long.

The grand total to design and build the estate?  Twenty four thousand dollars.  That's $24,000.  That buys you a Honda Civic these days.  Luling's fortune was a testament to the days when cotton was king and New Orleans was on top of the world.  But if you've paid attention to your dates, you'll realize that all that was about to change.


After the Civil War and the abolishing of that whole slavery thing, the business model for how cotton fortunes were made had somewhat changed.  But it was about to get even worse for ole Florence.  Not long after moving in the house the Luling's two sons drowned in nearby Bayou St. John.  Devastated, they packed up and headed for England.  Years later Luling would later return to the south, but settle in Mobile.  I've read he never returned to New Orleans.  


In 1871 the mansion, along with a nice chunk of land, was sold to the Louisiana Jockey Club, a new club who had also recently acquired the nearby Creole Race track.  They built and grandstand around the track and the next year the Fairgrounds opened.  The Jockey Club used the mansion to host huge and extravagant parties, balls, concerts, receptions...you name it.  I can only imagine the atmosphere of that place during that time.  Imagine the dinner parties!  You know the kind- black tie only, strange butler, even stranger host, someone ends up dead, face down in their soup at the dinner table...  If only those walls could talk.

The Historic Society was strangely absent when they decided to covert the house into apartments, blatantly ripping off the back side of the balconies (which used to wrap around the entire house).  Nothing that couldn't be fixed though...


Fast forward to present day.  I'm riding my bike in the area with my camera so I decide to go check up on it.  I stared for a good 10 minutes, it is such a fascinating place.  It just looks like a mystery.  I heard some noises coming from the back, so I peeked my head over the fence to see if I could see anyone.  I just wanted to ask them a few questions.  Who owns the place?  What kind of condition is it in?  What's it like on the inside?  Can I invite myself in for a moment?  You know, stuff like that.


Could you imagine if this was your front porch?

After waiting for a few minutes and not seeing anyone, I spot a little old lady walking down the street.

"Excuse me, do you live around here?"

"Yes, right across the street...been here for 40 years."

Fantastic.  In a nutshell this is what I got:  The house (like so many other grand mansions in New Orleans) had been split up into something like 8 apartments, most of which are currently empty because of the shape they're in.  To her knowledge, only three of the apartments were actually being rented.  It has a single owner, but apparently they're completely satisfied with collecting a measly rent check every month and continuing to let this rare beauty slip into disrepair.  They've filmed a bunch of movies there and continue to film there from time to time.  They've made some changes over the years that do not mix well with the historic context of the place (i.e. the weird glass triangle looking thing below), but apparently that's the next owner's responsibility to fix.  Why not the current owner's?  I don't know.

[I don't claim that any of this information is 100% accurate, I'm just going on what I was told.  So don't get mad at me if I'm way off...]

In a city with countless beautiful and timeless mansions, this is my dream home.  I'm madly in love with the architecture and the property.  If I ever had the money I would buy this place in a second and fix it up.  I'm not kidding.  Talk about dream project.  If only...


Please, if you have any info, or better yet, live there, drop me a line and give me some info!  If I could come photograph some interiors that'd be even better, so please just let me know if anyone has the hookup!  I'm really counting on this being my future residence, so I need to know what kind of renovation we're lookin' at!

Seriously, let me know.


4 comments:

  1. don't know how to save it either, but relatives owned it after the lulings and I would love to see it restored too! Good luck

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  2. James-

    I am a professor at Tulane and am writing an article (gratis) on the mansion for the Preservation Resource Center here in New Orleans. We are trying to generate some interest in the building on the belief that the current owner may not be too happy about the latest real estate tax increase. The PRC does good work in this area and actually occupy another of James Gallier Jr.s buildings, the old Leeds Iron foundry. I have been able to track down a fair amount of information about the house as well as the name of the current owner listed on the tax rolls. Do you think it would be possible for me to utilze a couple of your pictures in their publication? I can send you their archive link if that would help. I can be reached at esmith11@tulane.edu.

    Eric

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  3. http://www.latter-blum.com/property/1436-leda--new-orleans-louisiana-70119_790620

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  4. I just discovered this building myself during the Bastille Day Festival. It's so interesting! It's a shame the owner is such a slumlord.

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