New Orleans Streets: A Walker’ Guide to Neighborhood Architecture
R. Stephanie Bruno
Pelican Publishing (2011)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (3/11)
Stephanie Bruno’s “New Orleans Streets: A Walker’s Guide to Neighborhood Architecture” is a book that has long been missing from the plethora of guidebooks about the not-so-easy “Big Easy.” If one wants to truly see a place, one should put on some good, sturdy shoes and start walking. There is no better way to see any city and Stephanie Bruno is definitely an erudite and pleasant companion for such a journey in New Orleans.
Ms. Bruno has been writing about New Orleans for the New Orleans Times Picayune for quite a while, and “New Orleans Streets: A Walker’s Guide to Neighborhood Architecture” is a great compendium of her “StreetWalker” weekly columns. Neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, house by house… the reader will discover the amazing variety of housing styles with their characteristics, learn about twenty-two distinctly different neighborhoods and, in case of a local reader, very probably realize how many details he or she missed walking by those houses.
I “road-tested” the book the week before Mardi Gras, taking it to some of the areas that I know really well and using it as a companion on my walks. It pointed out quite a few details that have escaped me in the past, and I definitely liked Ms. Bruno’s eye for detail, pleasantly chatty, yet informative writing style and the “block-by-block” concept of the book. But such practical application also made me aware of a couple of issues which probably would have gone undetected if I did not take it on the walks with me, but simply read it in an armchair. First and foremost is the size of the volume. While I definitely love the high quality, glossy paper, the size of the book does not make it easy to carry it around and the glossy paper with the tiny print could be tricky to read in bright sunshine. I think some kind of a smaller format, maybe one that folds in three sections and would fit in a pocket, would be more user-friendly. On the other hand I found the pictures really tiny, and I am afraid once the houses might be repainted, it would be tough to identify them from those tiny pictures. While descriptions are detailed enough, I also wished for some sort of a glossary explaining some of the architectural terms that one could refer to for clarifications. Chamfered columns and oversized spandrels, anyone? The introductory guide lists those typical details, but without any explanation as to which is which.
I highly recommend “New Orleans Streets: A Walker’s Guide to Neighborhood Architecture” to anybody who’s interested in New Orleans neighborhoods and the variety of house styles found there. It will open your eyes to the truly indelible character of my favorite city. If you’ve never been to New Orleans, it will make you want to visit. If you have visited before, it will make you want to come back. And if you are lucky enough to live here, it will hopefully add one more dimension to your appreciation of her unique beauty.