As part of our House of Details series, we visit Longue Vue House & Gardens in New Orleans. We are privileged to have the insights of the Assistant Curator of Longue Vue, Lenora Costa. The house and garden is a marvelous example of the remarkable domestic architecture and landscape design created in America in the first half of the twentieth century— with a southern and uniquely New Orleans point of view. Here we leave you to Lenora’s insight on Longue Vue and its gardens.
Longue Vue House and Gardens was designed and built between 1939-1942 for Mr. and Mrs. Edgar B. Stern and their three children by landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman and architects William and Geoffrey Platt. Both architects and landscape architect worked together to create a masterpiece of utility and beauty. Mr. Stern was a cotton-broker with business interests in real estate, banking, lumber, oil, publishing, and communication. Mrs. Stern was the daughter of Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, whose interests included education, the arts and politics, most notably voters’ rights.
Consisting of a main house, eight dependencies, five structures, 15 garden areas, and 22 fountains & ponds located on an eight-acre site, Longue Vue House and Gardens is one of the last Country Place Era homes built in the United States and the most complete and continually maintained Shipman garden for which we have been granted National Historic Landmark status.
Edgar Bloom Stern was born in New Orleans in 1886, the son of Maurice Stern and Hanna Bloom Stern. He enjoyed an incredibly active career that spanned over forty years and included a range of diversified business interests. Mr. Stern along with his son, Edgar Jr., started the first television franchise in Louisiana, WDSU-TV.
Edith Rosenwald Stern was born in Chicago in 1895, the third child of Julius Rosenwald and Augusta Nusbaum Rosenwald. In the year of her birth, her father joined the Sears, Roebuck & Company board and by 1909 became chief executive and principal shareholder. It was under his direction that Sears became one of the largest merchandising organizations in the world. Mrs. Stern was raised with philanthropic ideals which she channeled into many areas including education, visual and performing arts, landscape, and political advocacy. After the death of Mr. Stern in 1959, Mrs. Stern lived at Longue Vue until 1978 when she opened the home for tours.
In 1935, the Sterns employed the nationally renowned landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman to work on their garden. House and Garden magazine described her as the “Dean of American Women Landscape Architects” in 1933. Shipman worked with the Sterns for 15 years, until her death in 1950, designing the gardens and the interiors of the home. Her other clients included Fords, Astors, duPonts, and Seiberlings.
Completed in 1942, the home is full of wonderful “gadgets” and various surprises that make the typical unique. Please step onto Longue Vue with me and enjoy just a few of these now.
All facades of the house are based on different classical design aesthetics. The West Façade is Palladian with its matching dependencies connected by colonnades.
The South Façade is based off of the Beauregard-Keyes home in the French Quarter, New Orleans and the East Façade is from the Shadows on the Teche Plantation in New Iberia, LA.
The first of many curved doors, you enter the vestibule through a pair of curved sliding iron doors.
Unheard of in New Orleans due to our high water table, we have a below grade basement which is reached by going through another curved door to a wonderful set of spiral stairs. The stairs lead you to the wine tasting room, wine cellar, photographic dark room, laundry room, two work rooms, kitchen, full bath, elevator equipment, boiler and chiller spaces for the HVAC and sump pumps that keep the basement dry.
In order to bring the beloved gardens inside, the Flower Arranging Room was designed to accommodate the special needs of arranging the flowers that the Sterns placed throughout the home. Unique features include the multi-level sinks and the full length mirror to help see all sides of table centerpieces. Decorative features of the room include a series of wildflower watercolors by Louisiana naturalist Caroline Dormon.
As each room in the home is oriented to allow egress to a different garden space, the rooms at corners can be particularly interesting. The dining room bay window allows access to the Pan Garden on the North at the push of a button. The center portion of the bay can descend into the basement and if desired a screen can be brought up once the window is down. The buttons are accessed by a panel in the wall to the left of the window.
Originally constructed as a porch when the house was built in 1942 and enclosed in 1950, the Art Gallery was re-designed in the 1960’s by William and Geoffrey Platt as a venue to accommodate Mrs. Stern’s growing modern art collection. Among the artists represented are Jaacov Agam, Lillian Florsheim, Naum Gabo, Pablo Picasso, and Victor Vasarely. The Op and Kinetic works are most representative of the time when Mrs. Stern began collecting.
This commemorative chimney piece is made of pine with applied cast composition ornament and would have been painted when it was made circa 1800. It is now stripped and waxed to complement the pickled wood paneling in the rest of the room.
Made by Robert Wellford, the tablet in the frieze of this mantelpiece honors George Washington. The central tablet bears two seated female mourning figures leaning on a Neoclassical urn surmounted by an eagle set with weeping willows at each side. The frieze is flanked by applied reliefs of classical Muses. The urn is inscribed “R. Wellford / OB Dec 14 1799 Age 63 years / GW”
Ellen Shipman found this piece while traveling through the Carolinas. She had car trouble and stopped at a mechanic who, after discovering she designed gardens and houses, suggested she look in his barn to see if there anything of interest. She purchased the mantlepiece only due to its height thinking it would be proportional to the drawing room’s 14’ 6” ceiling. It was only after the piece was stripped of its paint that the wording was identifiable. The Sterns felt they were very lucky in this particular find as they were both avidly interested in American History.
The Upper Hall on the second floor is the only entirely interior main room of the house. In order to allow a feel for the outside there is a beautiful panoramic wallpaper, Les Vues de Lyon (1823) by Felix Sauvinet, France, and a skylight. Due to World War II blackouts, shortly after completion the skylight was covered and sixty light bulbs placed around the interior skylight to help light the hall.
Edgar’s Study is part of the five room master suite. Oak paneling of the French Regency period was adapted for this room by turning casement windows into display cabinets for a collection of pastille burners, nightlights, money banks and flat-back mantel decorations.
Scales are built into all five of the family bathrooms. You stand upon the cork in the floor and the workings move within the wall and connect to the face of the scale on the wall at eye level. Shown is Edgar Stern’s bathroom with faux marbleized walls and a Fornasetti magazine rack.
Designed with three Murphy beds suitable for napping, The Sleeping Porch was painted with stencil decoration from Ward and Rome, New York, by Mrs. Shipman’s employee, Euphane Mallison.
We are able to maintain the home the way in which Shipman designed it due to the wonderful archival holdings we have that contain furniture plans, photographs and letters. The most wonderful item however is a series of to scale watercolor maquettes.
The south gardens are called the Spanish Court designed by William Platt, 1964-1967, who based his design after the 14th century Generalife Gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The garden walks on either side of the greensward are paved with French tiles accented by polished Mexican pebbles embedded on edge in patterns taken from Barcelona, Spain.
Inspired by monochromatic gardens visited by the Sterns on their travels in England, our Pan Garden on the North is designed with pink and purple blooms where our Yellow Garden to the South blooms in Mrs. Stern’s favorite color, yellow.
Planted with native plants of the Gulf South, the Wild Garden has three serpentine paths where you can walk beside wildflowers, camellias or irises depending on the season. Shipman worked with Caroline Dormon, a pioneer educator on the importance of native plants and conservation of land and natural resources, to supply the correct plants for this garden. Seen here is our current display of irises.
Explore more of Longue Vue’s interiors at their website.