Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Spanish Quarter?

Drop a blindfolded person into the heart of any major American city, and I wonder how long it would take that person to identify the city once the blindfold was removed.

In the case of New Orleans, if the blindfold were to be removed while in the French Quarter, I would bet the identifica-tion would be instantaneously. Not because the person would recognize a major building or structure, but because the sight of the wrought iron railings on many of the buildings would be a clear giveaway.

On a recent visit, this architectural detail was the focus of our time in the Quarter. It was one of the rare times that we have come into the Quarter with a plan that was quickly abandoned. We had drawn a map of the historic buildings that would serve as our guide for a walk around the well-known streets.

After spending several moments checking addresses and the zig zag route we had drawn up, we decided to just walk and look. And it was the wrought iron work that was the focus of our looking.

The LaBranche Building (above, right, and below) is probably the most photo-graphed building in the Quarter--and no wonder. The lacy cast-iron grillwork, with its delicate oak leaf and acorn design, "flows" from all three floors.

From a distance, the ironwork looks like lacework as it graces the second and third stories of this building. Because of the detail in much of the ironwork, I have chosen to highlight the work through close-up photographs.

While admiring the work on our walk along Royal Street, we recalled the question that is sometimes asked: "Why isn't it called the Spanish Quarter instead of the French Quarter?"

"Possession of Louisiana changed from French to Spanish then back to French control before being sold to the United States. Although Spanish rule was relatively short — 1762 to 1800 — it was during this period when two fires virtually destroyed the French Quarter. The first in 1788 burned over 850 structures and then another 200 were lost in 1794. Rebuilding was done in the Spanish style with wrought iron balconies and central courtyards" (

Then I learned that the majority of French Quarter balcony railings are actually made of cast iron not wrought iron. When I read about this difference and came across descriptions of charcoal iron, puddled wrought iron, and mild steel, I believed I was, instead of increasing my appreciation for the beauty of the product, becoming further removed from any concept of beauty.

While it's certainly possible to admire the elaborate, intricate designs from a distance, moving from the big picture to the close-up details reveals an entirely different level of complexity.

The change in plans for the walk through the French Quarter resulted in missing the history of some buildings and homes, but we were rewarded with a "tour" of the ironwork details of many historic buildings and homes.

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