Lit by haunting gas lanterns, covered in trailing lantana and bright bougainvillea, resplendent with centuries-old ironwork—the balconies of New Orleans are physical pillars of the city’s charm. Grab your camera and hit the streets. A balcony photo hunt is a great way to enjoy a nice French Quarter day.
1100 Block of Chartres Street
The connected homes at the corner of Chartres and Gov. Nicholls streets are a stunning example of the difference between galleries and balconies, both iconic to the Crescent City. A balcony extends directly from a building’s wall, whereas a gallery is wider and necessitates support poles to the ground. Many galleries, such as those here, are covered, providing much-welcome shade during summer months.
716 St. Philip Street
This circa-1850, single-family home has a “Paris green,” ornate iron gallery that’s memorable and worth photographing for its rough, dreamy patina. “Spanish lace” ironwork was incredibly popular during the mid 1800s––a coveted and expensive item that represented wealth and prosperity. Skilled slaves and freed men of color forged the iron with patient hands to mimic Spanish lacework. This is a prime example of their incredible gifts to the city.
There are plenty of wooden balconies found in the French Quarter, but a favorite for photos is the white balcony at 1101 Royal Street. The corner-facing pharmacy has a bright-red, antique soda sign, and it’s worth popping in to admire the vintage trappings. The original tile floors and former soda-fountain stylings still remain, from the 45¢ facial soap signs to antique counter stools. It’s a working pharmacy too, should you need a Band-Aid, a cold cola or a bottle of shampoo.
The Sultan’s Palace
The enormous Gardette-LaPrete house at 716 Dauphine Street has a double deck of gleaming black iron wraparound galleries. The building also has one of the Quarter’s most disturbing histories. Jean Baptist LaPrete built the house in 1836 and rented it out shortly after the Civil War. A Turkish man claiming to be a sultan arrived with servants, a harem and an entourage. The parties were apparently wild, going into the wee hours, until one morning when neighbors discovered blood seeping from under the door, and the entire group was found dismembered inside. The site is featured on city ghost tours.
Taking a walk around the French Quarter is the best neck workout you’ll ever get. The spaces beneath the old galleries and balconies provide as much history as the overhangs themselves, from interesting stonework to painted gates to exquisite front doors. Gallier House (1132 Royal Street) was erected by architect James Gallier, Jr. in 1860, featuring the latest innovations—indoor plumbing, a double skylight and hot water. You can actually tour this historic home, where guides cover the centuries, from the ills of slavery to the fine European furnishings on display.
900 Block of Dumaine Street
Peek down the Vieux Carré’s side streets, beyond the gates and behind the trees, and you’ll spy another type of balcony. Interior side balconies act as narrow, covered porches to connect service-wing rooms to the main home, and to provide private, outdoor spaces. They often overlook courtyard gardens and pools, giving residents an alfresco reading nook and a birds-eye view of palm trees, too.
Muriel’s Jackson Square / Tableau
You don’t have to know someone with a balcony to access one. Many of the Quarter’s restaurants feature balcony seating. The building housing Muriel’s (801 Chartres, pictured below) dates to the 1760s, and served as a family home for Jean Baptiste Destrehan, a Royal Treasurer to the Colonies. Tableau (616 St. Peter) was once part of one of the nation’s oldest community playhouses. Both offer great views of Jackson Square. Call and reserve a balcony table 30 minutes prior to sunset. There is no better vantage to watch the St. Louis Cathedral steeple fade into a silhouette against the night sky.
The Pontalba Buildings frame either side of Jackson Square, with matching red brick and impressive galleries that stretch more than a city block. They were commissioned in 1840 by Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba, a dynamic businesswoman and Creole aristocrat (look for her initials incorporated into the ironwork). Originally designed as row houses, during the Great Depression the twin complexes were divided into apartments. Author Truman Capote wrote of the Pontalbas in his short story, “Hidden Gardens,” calling them “the oldest, in some ways most somberly elegant, apartment houses in America.”