Walking Tour 3: Esplanade Ridge & Bayou St. John

Start:                     Esplanade Avenue and Johnson Street.

Finish:                   City Park.

Time:                     Allow approximately 2 hours, not including museum, cemetery, and lunch stops.

Best Times:           Monday through Saturday, early or late morning.

Worst Times:        Sunday, when attractions are closed, or after dark. If you decide to stay in City Park or in the upper Esplanade area until early evening, plan to return on the bus or by taxi.

If you’re heading to City Park, the New Orleans Museum of Art, or the Jazz & Heritage Festival, consider some sightseeing in this overlooked region. We particularly enjoy the quiet, meandering stretch along St. John’s Bayou. Historically, the Esplanade Ridge area was Creole society’s answer to St. Charles Avenue—it’s an equally lush boulevard with stately homes and seemingly ancient trees stretching overhead. The lots are not quite as expansive as along St. Charles, so the grand front lawns are not in evidence. Originally home to the descendants of the earliest settlers, the avenue had its finest days toward the end of the 19th century, and some of the neighborhoods along its path have seen better days. Still, it’s closer to the soul of the city than St. Charles Avenue (read: regular people live here, whereas St. Charles always was and still is for the well-heeled).

You can catch a bus on Esplanade Avenue at the French Quarter, headed toward the park and your starting point. Otherwise, stroll (about 15 min.) up Esplanade Avenue to:

1. 2023 Esplanade Ave., Charpentier House
Originally a plantation home, this house was designed in 1861 for A. B. Charpentier and now operates as Ashton’s Bed & Breakfast.

2. 2033–2035 Esplanade Ave., Widow Castanedo’s House
Juan Rodriguez purchased this land in the 1780s, and his granddaughter, Widow Castanedo, lived here until her death in 1861 (when it was a smaller, Spanish colonial–style plantation home). Before Esplanade Avenue extended this far from the river, the house was located in what is now the middle of the street. The widow tried and failed to block the extension of the street. The late-Italianate house was moved to its present site and enlarged sometime around the 1890s. It’s been split down the middle and is inhabited today by two sisters.

3. 2139 Esplanade Ave.
A great example of the typical Esplanade Ridge style. Note the Ionic columns on the upper level.

After you cross North Miro Street, Esplanade Avenue crosses the diagonal Bayou Road, which was the route to the French-Canadian settlements at St. John’s Bayou in the late 17th century. Veer left at the fork to stay on Esplanade Avenue and look for:

4. Goddess of History—Genius of Peace Statue
In 1886, this triangular plot, called Gayarre Place, was given to the city by Charles Gayarre. George H. Dunbar donated the terra-cotta statue, a victory monument. It was destroyed in 1938 and replaced with the present cement and marble model.

5. 2306 Esplanade Ave., Degas House
The Musson family rented this house for many years. Estelle Musson married René Degas, brother of Edgar Degas, the French Impressionist artist. (She and her descendants dropped his last name after he ran off with a neighbor’s wife.) Degas is said to have painted the portrait of Estelle, now in the New Orleans Museum of Art, during his brief time living here. The house was built in 1854, and the Italianate decorations were added later when it was split into two buildings. It’s a B&B now. 

6. 2212, 2216, 2222 Esplanade Ave.
Originally built as spec townhomes in 1883, these three Candy Crush–colored Italianate houses now comprise Le Belle Esplanade B&B inn. Although they look like triplets now, they each have their own architectural identities, and their intricate millwork and detailing surely stood on their own stead long before the eye-catching paint job was applied.

7. 2326 Esplanade Ave., Reuther House
Check out the collection of metal and cinder-block sculptures in this front yard. The current resident of this house is a founder of the Contemporary Arts Center and a major figure in the city’s arts community. 

In passing, take a look at nos. 2325, 2329, and 2331—all are interesting examples of Creole cottages. Then, continue to:

8. 2337 & 2341 Esplanade Ave.
These houses were identical structures when they were built in 1862 for John Budd Slawson, owner of a horse-drawn-streetcar company that operated along Bayou Road in the 19th century. Back then, they were both single-story shotgun-style houses. Notice the unusual ironwork underneath the front roof overhang.

Cross North Dorgenois Street to:

9. 2453 Esplanade Ave.
This house was one of a pair of matching homes at the corner of Dorgenois Street; the other was demolished. Though its architecture has been changed extensively, it’s one of the few remaining mansard-roofed homes on Esplanade Ridge.

Cross North Broad Street to:

10. 2623 Esplanade Ave.
The Corinthian columns denote the home’s classical revival style. Built in 1896 by Louis A. Jung, the Jungs donated the triangular piece of land at Esplanade Avenue, Broad Street, and Crete Street to the city on the condition that it remain public property. Now called DeSoto Park, it is graced by an Art Nouveau fence.

11. 2809 Esplanade Ave.
This is one of the more decorative Queen Anne–style center-hall Victorian houses on Esplanade Ridge.

12. 2936 Esplanade Ave.
A nice example of what’s known as a Gothic villa.

Take a Break at Café Degas, Terranova’s, or Fair Grinds [cup]

The shops and restaurants at the intersection of Mystery Street and Esplanade Avenue offer fine lunchtime options. If the weather is nice, the semi-outdoor setting is exceedingly pleasant at Café Degas. For snacks or picnic food for City Park, try the family-run Terranova’s Italian Grocery, 3308 Esplanade Ave. (tel. 504/482-4131), across the street. Or opt for the quirky Fair Grinds coffeehouse behind Café Degas at 3133 Ponce De Leon St. (tel. 504/913-9072).

Continue to:

13. 3330 Esplanade Ave.
A galleried frame home built in the Creole-cottage style. Also note the orientation of this stretch (and many of the houses along Esplanade Avenue). The lots are on a diagonal, so houses face Esplanade at a slight angle.

Continue along Esplanade until Leda Street, and turn right for a  1/2-block detour off Esplanade to:

14. Luling Mansion, 1438 Leda St.
Florence Luling, a German sugar and cotton baron, purchased 80 acres and commissioned famed architect James Gallier, Jr., to build this elaborate, three-story Italianate mansion in 1865. Built with a full moat, its ornate formal gardens once stretched all the way to Esplanade Avenue. Later it served as the Louisiana Jockey Club (it backs up to the Fair Grounds Race Track). Although unfortunate modern adjustments have taken a toll, its original magnificence is still apparent.

Return to Esplanade Ave. and turn right. On your right is:

15. 3421 Esplanade Ave., St. Louis Cemetery No. 3
The public Bayou Cemetery, established in 1835, was purchased and expanded by the St. Louis diocese in 1856. It contains the burial monuments of many of the diocese’s priests and religious orders. It might be called “Restaurateurs’ Rest”: the tombs for the Galatoire, Tujague, and Prudhomme families are here. If you’ve been squeamish about going into the cemeteries because of safety concerns, you can explore this one on your own—though as always, you should still be alert.

From the cemetery, head back out to Esplanade Avenue and continue walking toward City Park. When you get to the bridge, go left, following the signs, along Bayou St. John (one of the nicest and least touristy areas of the city), to:

16. 1440 Moss St., Pitot House
This Creole country house overlooking the historic Bayou was home to the city’s first mayor. Open to the public, knowledgeable docents offer a window onto life in the day when Bayou St. John was the city’s main trade route.

Head back to Esplanade Avenue, turn left, cross the bridge, and walk straight into:

17. Esplanade & City Park Aves., City Park
Explore the sculpture garden, amphitheater, museum, botanical gardens, lakes, and much more in this glorious, expansive park.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.