Edgewood Park Historic District
The Edgewood Park Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
The Edgewood Park Historic District, located northeast of downtown New Orleans, was platted in 1909 as a middle class suburban neighborhood planned around a streetcar line. It is situated in the "Gentilly" area, so called because it abuts the Gentilly Ridge, geographically one of the highest points in this low-lying, flood-prone city. Edgewood Park was primarily developed in the early to mid-twentieth century and is mostly residential with some institutional and commercial buildings scattered throughout the district. Located along the district's main thoroughfares are several community institutions including Capdau Elementary School (currently vacant), St. James Major Catholic Church and Elementary School, and Bethel Lutheran Church. The neighborhood's residential architecture represents the popular trends of the period combined with local, traditional housing types. The Craftsman style is the most prominent in the district, with strong concentrations of Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival. Many houses feature a mixture of two or more styles for a decidedly eclectic fusion of styles. Traditional housing types, uniquely adapted to New Orleans, are also represented in the district. Shotgun houses and bungalows dominate the neighborhood and are often combined with raised basements. The houses are typically one to one-and-one-half stories and feature wood weatherboard or stucco siding, brick or rusticated concrete piers, and asphalt or Spanish tile roofs. Brick veneer denotes many houses built in the 1940s and later. The streets in the district are characterized by long, narrow lots with uniform setbacks, which influenced the design and massing of the houses. It is not uncommon to see ranches sited perpendicular to the street or camelbacks built to accommodate additional living space.
The original plan of Edgewood Park is broadly triangular; however, most of the lots are laid out in a rectilinear pattern off of the streetcar line, which ran down the center of Franklin Avenue, the district's main north-south thoroughfare. The streetcar line is no longer extant but a narrow portion of the original median, locally referred to as the "neutral ground," remains intact. Sidewalks exist on all streets, originally promoted by the developers as providing residents easy access to the streetcar stops along Franklin Avenue. Two-tracked driveways leading to integral or detached garages set to the rear of the lots are also characteristic of the neighborhood and represent the growing popularity of the automobile during the early years of the development.
Despite its name, Edgewood Park was not built with a community park or dedicated open space. With the exception of the houses along Gentilly Boulevard, the neighborhood is densely developed. The parcels in the district are laid out on a tight grid with long, narrow lots in the traditional New Orleans fashion. Except for lots in the northern end of the district, nearest to Gentilly Boulevard, the houses are sited at street level with uniform setbacks. Mature live oaks line both Gentilly Boulevard and Franklin Avenue. Many lots are landscaped by their owners and a few streets have rows of crepe myrtles between the street and the sidewalk. Historic photographs show some planted trees along side streets. However, most of the streets in Edgewood Park do not feature shade trees, hedges, shrubbery, or dense ground cover.
The original Edgewood Park plat ended at Clematis Street on the west; however, there are three diagonally laid streets (Clermont Drive, Piedmont Drive, and Fairmont Drive) west of Clematis Street that feature buildings of similar construction date, massing, scale, type, and style. This contiguous tract of land is included in the district.
The Peoples Avenue Canal, running north-south from Gentilly Boulevard to I-610/I-10, lies just beyond the eastern edge of the district. This functional, concrete drainage canal predates the subdivision and was not incorporated into the original plat. The elevated interstate and interchanges, developed in the mid-1960s through the 1970s, lie just beyond the southern and southeastern edges of the district.
Edgewood Park, located centrally between downtown New Orleans and Lake Ponchartrain, is an early twentieth century New Orleans Streetcar Suburb, associated with the development of suburban housing in New Orleans throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the outward growth of the city, and the iconic streetcar system. Many neighborhoods in New Orleans may be considered early suburbs: Carrollton and Broadmoor are most certainly streetcar suburbs, while Pontchartrain Park and Lake Vista are clearly commuter suburbs with curvilinear roadways and post-war ranches. However, Edgewood Park is a unique example that represents all three eras of suburban development, essentially encapsulating early twentieth-century architectural features that embody the history of residential suburban development in New Orleans. While the Edgewood Park plat is not in keeping with the more traditional layouts of later suburban types, its eclectic architectural styles provide evidence of its continued popularity. The construction of two-tract driveways, detached garages, and the adaptation of traditional housing types to incorporate ground floor garages demonstrate Edgewood's Park association with the automobile era of suburban development. The later development of Piedmont, Clermont and Fairmont Drives, and the proliferation of mid-twentieth century architectural styles, as well as the reorientation of these avenues away from a walking oriented neighborhood exhibits Edgewood Park's continuing significance as a post-war commuter suburb in New Orleans. Edgewood Park's period of significance, from 1909 to 1963, encompasses the full range of development of the neighborhood—from the date of the original plat and the introduction of the streetcar into the Gentilly area, to the beginning of construction of I-10 through the southeastern edge of the neighborhood.
Edgewood Park illustrates how New Orleanian architectural housing forms such as Shotguns, Raised Basement Houses, and Camelbacks, were adapted to the prevailing housing types and styles throughout the period of significance. This synthesis of traditional New Orleans housing types, commuter living, and the stylistic trends of the twentieth century resulted in an eclectic character that sets this suburban neighborhood apart from its city counterparts.
Edgewood Park exemplifies the development of suburbs in the United States. At the turn of the twentieth century a new pattern of suburbanization was emerging throughout the country. Though it had started in the middle of the previous century, advances in transportation, financing and housing construction would greatly increase the speed at which suburbs expanded. The development of American suburbs occurred in stages, directly related to, and defined by, the development of modes of transportation.
Streetcar developments allowed the middle class to escape the crowded city center by offering more spacious lots outside of the city at a low cost. The streetcars were relatively inexpensive transportation and interconnected lines allowed people to travel to and from the city center. "Concentrated along radial streetcar lines, streetcar suburbs extended outward from the city." Houses were built within walking distance of the streetcar line and sidewalks provided easy access to the stops.
New Orleans is typical of most American cities in regards to the development of its suburbs, mainly via the expansion of the streetcar lines, which in New Orleans have become an iconic representation of its nineteenth century heritage. The replacement of mule-drawn cars with electric streetcars made it possible to extend transportation lines away from the city's center, thereby greatly expanding the availability of land for residential development. In 1835, New Orleans became the second city in the United States to offer streetcar service. By 1861, most of the street railway lines operating in New Orleans were using mule-drawn streetcars. The Carrollton Line (later St. Charles Line) utilized steam locomotives to transport passengers from the Vieux Carre to the American Quarter and then mule-drawn cars travelled up Napoleon and Louisiana Avenues. These lines and the steam line to Milneburg, a small port and resort town on Lake Pontchartrain, were the first street railways in New Orleans. Development along the Carrollton Line constituted New Orleans first suburban neighborhoods in what are now the Uptown, Garden District, and Irish Channel neighborhoods.
Subsequently, in 1890, the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad began the process of electrifying its Uptown lines, and the first test runs were made in 1893. The Carrollton Line was the first converted; re-named the St. Charles Line in concert with its transition. Soon after, electric operations were the standard across the city. The New Orleans City and Lake Railroad Company (NOC & L), which operated streetcars in the newer sections of the city, acquired 226 cars in 1894. The Canal Street Line began electric operations that year, along with five other lines operated by the NOC & L and Crescent City Railroad companies. By 1899, the entire New Orleans streetcar system was electrified. In 1922, operation of all New Orleans streetcar lines was taken over by New Orleans Public Service Inc., a corporation chartered by the State to unify the transit system in New Orleans. They were empowered to purchase existing lines and absorb the companies that serviced them. The electric system's all-time peak was in 1924 when nearly 225 route miles were in operation. By 1930, the streetcar service in New Orleans followed the national trend of gradually diminishing service, due in large part to the growing popularity and affordability of the automobile.
The construction of a city-wide drainage system in the opening years of the twentieth century made it possible to develop land that had previously been too wet for development. The automobile's popularity also motivated infrastructure improvements such as the paving of streets and the installation of traffic devices. While some improvements were made during the Depression, as Federal Works Administration projects, much of the modern development of New Orleans occurred in the post-war period. Many improvements were funded by the individual developers in newly established neighborhoods like Lake Vista, Lake Terrace, Gentilly Woods, and Pontchartrain Park. The construction of I-10, Highway 90 and I-610, using mostly federal funds, spurred meteoric development that connected downtown New Orleans to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain as well as the developing communities of Metairie, Kenner, and Slidell.
Edgewood Park originated in 1909 when several businessmen from New Orleans and Baton Rouge including Hunter C. Leake (a leading attorney practicing in New Orleans), George H. Dunbar, James P. Butler, Jr., W.W. Wall, Thomas J. Kernan (of Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Johnson Armstrong, and J. L. Oronato, formed the Edgewood Park Improvement Association with a fully subscribed capital of $100,000. Dennis Sheen, listed as one of the Edgewood Park Improvement Association's stockholders, originally purchased the rural tract of land that is now Edgewood Park in 1886 from "the Hopkins Plantation owners" for $3,800. Sheen rented the property as pasture land before selling it to the Edgewood Park Improvement Association for $125,000 in March, 1909. The Daily Picayune heralded the purchase and its forthcoming development as "a big improvement in that part of the city." Two weeks later, an article in The Daily Picayune followed up on some of the plans being made by the Edgewood Park Improvement Association — "The company has arranged for the extension of the electric line into the tract, insuring good car service. It is apparent from examination of the map that the line could easily be extended almost on a direct line through the Gentilly Terrace tract..."
The Edgewood Park Improvement Association then proceeded to draw up the plat, which was roughly triangular in shape with Franklin Avenue running north-south through the center of the subdivision. Approximately half of the lots were sited on either side of this main thoroughfare. Because the stops were in the center of the neighborhood, every property stood within comfortable walking distance from public transportation. The northern end of the plat reached to Gentilly Boulevard, and the western edge ended at Clematis Street. The east and south boundaries were restricted by a pre-existing canal on the east and L & N Railroad tracks that marked the southeastern edge of the neighborhood.
Parcels were sold to the Association's own members, as well as the general public. The Edgewood Park Improvement Association offered installment plans for individuals purchasing lots. J. L. Oronato's real estate advertisements in The Daily Picayune took full advantage of the tract's bucolic reputation touting that "everyone in New Orleans knows that the Sheen property is the highest and most beautiful tract of land in this community."
They marketed the subdivision as a streetcar suburb, promoting the "short" distance from the Central Business District of New Orleans. A typical advertisement from 1909 stated — "Buy a high, dry lot for fifty cents a week with cement sidewalks and rolled streets, between Gentilly Boulevard and the L & N railroad, with electric car line almost completed through center of plat, placing every lot within twenty-seven minutes of Canal Street... Prices only $300 to $550. One dollar down payment on any lot, then 50 cents, 75 cents and $1 a week depending on price of lot...take Broad Street or Bayou St. John Car to Gentilly Avenue Car barn. Our free automobiles and tallyhos will take you to Edgewood and return quickly."
Edgewood Park lots were sold by J. L. Oronato and C.G. Hollifield, with offices at 910 Gravier Street. By November, 1909, Oronato declared in a newspaper advertisement that "Edgewood lots are going like peanuts at a circus." The lots were pitched as "the cheapest good property ever sold in New Orleans." Another ad that ran in December, 1909 boasted—"Edgewood Park is a natural terrace. We are building an electric streetcar line, grading our streets, and treating them with Asphaltum Oil, which means dustless roadways like they have in California, laying cement sidewalks, and installing drainage."
The company's intent was to create a residential development, in a suburban location along Gentilly Boulevard. Edgewood Park was situated just south of the development of Gentilly Terrace, itself modeled by its developers on California suburban planning. Photographs in the May, 1912 publication of Architectural Art and Its Allies depict the virtually treeless Edgewood Park and the neighboring Gentilly Terrace subdivisions. While similar in a number of ways, Edgewood Park was differentiated by slightly smaller lots and more modest housing. A Daily Picayune article from the period emphasized the similarity of Edgewood Park and Gentilly Terrace—"These two tracts are so closely connected in everything but ownership that it is hard to speak of them separately in all respects... This will give the first touch of real suburban life with all the comforts of the city.
By the end of 1909, more than 200 lots had been sold with plans for house construction to begin in the spring of 1910. Most of the early lot sales were concentrated along Franklin Avenue, described as "the wide street in the middle of the tract on which the electric cars will run." In the first year of development, some lots were sold on streets intersecting Franklin Avenue but also in more remote parts of what was called the "suburban park."
While this early suburban style of development may not seem out of the ordinary today, New Orleanians were impressed by this new form of planning. In the May, 1912 Architectural Art and Its Allies, New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman—who served as mayor from 1904 to 1920— explained that—"[i]n the early plan of New Orleans all the peculiar requirements which owe their development to the congregation of the masses of people had apparently been overlooked ... work was done without consideration for any principal [sic.], social, sanitary, or architectural ... now however, all this is being rapidly changed. With the advent of the up to date systems of Sewerage, Water and Drainage, an improved lighting system, modern street paving the old order of things is disappearing, and beautiful suburban communities are fast becoming the attraction."
Later developments in New Orleans, such as Pontchartrain Park, incorporated housing construction and financing, but the Edgewood Park Improvement Association's process of minimal involvement was very typical in the pre-Depression and Depression era before passage of the Federal Housing Act and the development of the long-term mortgage program. Covenants addressed setbacks but little else; there were no restrictions on style or types of houses to be constructed.
Racial considerations were another matter. In Edgewood Park, home ownership was not extended to African-Americans. One Daily Picayune advertisement included in small text, "We Sell to White People Only." Segregation was a firmly institutionalized reality for New Orleans, which extended throughout Edgewood Park's period of significance. In 1922, the opening of a public elementary school on Franklin Avenue was a welcomed addition; however, in keeping with the racial segregation of the times, the school served white students only.
The 1920s brought a number of commercial and institutional buildings to Edgewood Park. Corner stores opened up throughout the neighborhood, and schools and churches were constructed along Franklin Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard. St. Matthews Evangelical Lutheran Church (later Bethel Lutheran Church) was built in the mid-1920s along Franklin Avenue. In addition to the public school, a new parochial school building was constructed in 1928 at the St. James Major Catholic Church.
Despite the aggressive advertising and liberal financing terms, Edgewood Park was slow to develop. While many of the lots were sold quickly, limited financing for the actual construction of the houses meant that many of the lots remained empty. The streetcar continued to provide the lifeline to the Gentilly area and in 1926, the Villere Line was renamed to reflect the area that it served. Newly minted as the Gentilly Line, the streetcar maintained the same route through the area—up Franklin Avenue through Edgewood Park, over Gentilly Boulevard and into Gentilly Terrace. It ended at Dreux Avenue.
Although streetcar service remained a popular mode of transportation, the independence afforded by the automobile was increasingly attractive to suburban dwellers. As early as the 1910s, the automobile was becoming influential in housing design. Developers and builders in Edgewood Park responded by constructing concrete two-track driveways and detached garages with the new houses, many of which still survive. By the 1920s and 1930, this new emphasis on the automobile is evident in the introduction of garages and carports into traditional housing types. Garages were built into the ground level of Raised Basement Houses and the traditional Camelback was modified to include rear garages. The popularity of the "Hi-Lo House" (forerunner of the Split- Level), incorporated an integral garage on the ground floor and was a popular housing type, appearing within the district in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Despite the dedication of several additional churches in Edgewood Park during the 1930s, the construction of housing was further aggravated by the Great Depression. Many homeowners within the neighborhood faced foreclosure and lots were re-sold at auction. By 1937, the original plat of Edgewood Park was largely built out, as reflected in the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of that year but only about half of the lots along Piedmont, Clermont, and Fairmont Streets had been developed by this date. The streetcar continued to run through the 1930s and 1940s, but the automobile quickly outpaced the mass transit system and by 1948, the Gentilly Line was discontinued.
Following World War II, a second period of growth occurred within Edgewood Park in keeping with the national post-war housing boom. The post-war period marks the second phase of development in Edgewood Park that was heavily reliant on the automobile, a trend that is represented by the architecture of the period. By 1951, the majority of lots within the entire district had been built out and almost all of the newer construction included garages or carports as indicated by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of that year.
While Edgewood Park is not a standard example of a post-war commuter suburb, lacking both the more curvilinear streets and broader lots found in New Orleans subdivisions of the period, such as Pontchartrain Park and Lake Vista, it continued to be a popular neighborhood well into the 1950s and 1960s, while adapting to the changing tastes in style and mode of transit. Ranch houses and Mid-Century Modern institutional buildings were constructed along major thoroughfares. Many of the more modern housing styles were constructed along Piedmont, Clermont, and Fairmont Drives. Unlike the streets developed in the earlier period that were oriented off the streetcar line (east-west), Piedmont, Clermont and Fairmont Drives were oriented north-south and were more easily accessible from the larger feeder streets such as Gentilly Boulevard. These new thoroughfares were more in keeping with the use of automobiles, synonymous with these later periods of development. To facilitate traffic through the area, the inconvenient at-grade railroad tracks that ran diagonally across Franklin Avenue, just outside the neighborhood, were elevated and an underpass was constructed in 1955. It is likely that Franklin Avenue was also expanded to four lanes during this period, necessitating the removal of most of the "neutral ground"—the median upon which the streetcar traveled.
Edgewood Park was completely developed by 1963, as depicted on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map published the following year. In 1964, demolitions of buildings in the southeastern portion of Edgewood Park were underway to accommodate the construction of I-10 through the Gentilly area. More than 70 buildings were demolished to make way for this interstate that eventually opened in 1968. In the early 1970s, I-610 was constructed just to the south of Edgewood Park, necessitating additional demolitions of buildings that had been adjacent to but just outside the original Edgewood Park plat.
During the latter half of the twentieth century Edgewood Park became more diverse. The whites only covenant was lifted following a series of Civil Rights victories in the national courts, and today the neighborhood is racially diverse. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August, 2005 it caused catastrophic damage throughout the city and many neighborhoods were completely inundated with water. Extensive flooding occurred in the southern area of Edgewood Park where some one-story houses received floodwater up to the gutter lines or eaves. Many other houses in the neighborhood were damaged by the high winds and torrential rain. Today, Edgewood Park remains a middle class neighborhood within minutes of downtown New Orleans, though transport is by car and bus rather than streetcar. The Edgewood Park Neighborhood Association, the modern version of the Edgewood Park Improvement Association, remains active and is dedicated to ensuring a high quality of life for all the residents of the community.
Early twentieth-century suburban architecture was influenced by changing cultural mores regarding family life; an increased level of standardization; federal regulation; and mass production in housing construction. At the turn of the century, the hierarchical society of the nineteenth century was evolving to a more informal way of life. Housing was shifting away from formal architecture to simple homes designed for an individual middle class family without servants. The increased prevalence and importance of the automobile also influenced architecture and the planning and development of neighborhoods. While variations in forms and materials continued at the local level, the national trend of standardization and the need for economical homes spurred the growth of mass produced housing. The uniform suburban landscape quickly dominated residential design.
The first era of suburban development, the Practical Suburban House (1890 to 1920), was driven by the expansion of streetcar transportation, availability of mass produced houses, and technological advances improving domestic life such as indoor plumbing, electricity, and hot water. The Small House Movement (1919 to 1945) promoted economical but well-designed houses. This national campaign burgeoned after the Great Depression when mortgage financing was revolutionized by federal regulation to facilitate home ownership for most Americans. The mid-century, Post-War Suburban House (1945 to 1960) era was influenced by the high demand for housing by returning veterans and their families and the development of prefabricated materials and methods of construction.
Bungalows were one of the first mass produced housing types of the suburb age and represents the Practical Suburban House era of suburban development. A simplified version of the high-style Prairie style and "Arts and Crafts" movement of the Mid-West and California, the Bungalow's open floor plan and simplified style was in keeping with the cultural transitions in the United States. Additionally, the Bungalow was well suited to the emerging mass production housing market. The Bungalow's simplified form and largely applied architectural features made it easy for small house builders and mail-order companies to quickly produce large numbers of the houses. Nationwide newspapers and magazines, like Western Architect and the Ladies' Home Journal, also contributed to the popularity of the bungalow. Bungalows proliferated in streetcar and early automobile suburbs, and were available in a wide variety of styles but are most closely associated with the Craftsman style. The influence of the automobile is represented in the construction of small detached garages.
In the years following World War I, a national campaign focused on improving the quality of domestic life. Private organizations, design and development professionals, public officials, and social reformers took part in a national campaign to educate the public about quality design and construction. One outcome of this conversation was the American Small House. Early houses of this type were simply defined as a house containing no more than six rooms that took a variety of forms and styles, though period Revival styles (e.g. Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival) are most commonly associated with this housing type. However, after the start of the Great Depression, and the foundation of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), the Small House became increasingly standardized. The FHA released approved floorplans and sizes for Small Houses that could be used to ensure that the home met the standard for FHA financing. While the materials and styles of Small Houses were not dictated by these regulations, the FHA nonetheless had a huge influence on the American housing market.
Ranch Houses are the quintessential suburban house of the mid-twentieth century. The Ranch style drew its inspiration from the nineteenth-century Californian ranch houses characterized by single story floor plans, native materials, low and simple roof shapes with wide eaves, and interior courtyards. While the early forms of Ranch houses were stylistically similar to the nineteenth century ranches, by mid-century the Ranch house had become a type of its own, and like Bungalows and Small Houses, could be found in a wide variety of styles. The Ranch house grew in popularity for a number of reasons, but largely due to its compatibility with an informal family environment, which provided more space and privacy. Ranch houses were purchased by all social classes and could be either architect designed or constructed in accordance with FHA standards. Key features of the Ranch house include a long-low horizontal emphasis that runs parallel to the street; an asymmetrical form with zoned interiors; expansive windows; the use of natural materials on the exterior and chimneys; and integral carports or garages. Ranch houses increased in popularity during the 1940s and 1950s and remained the dominant national type through the early years of the 1970s.
† Adapted from: Richard Silverman, Amber Martinez, Catherine Dluzak, Mary Shanks, Gwen Jones and Sherry Anderson, FEMA Louisiana Recovery Office, Edgewood Park Historic District, Orleans Parish, LA, nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.