Friday, December 5, 2014

News and Ideas at the Reilly-Reeves House

The Turreted House at the Corner of Park and Cherokee­

Last year, when a friend pointed out to me the singular features of this house, I was eager to learn about it.  At that time it still had a blue plastic protective sheet on part of the roof to protect it after damage due (I think) to Hurricane Gustave, and it needed a good paint job.  See the Teegee Essays blog posts from January and February of 2013. ­

Now an exemplary paint job, including details of shutters, etc., is almost complete.  I have added a new album of nine supplementary views:

Yes, it was Richard Norman Shaw who marketed the fancy houses from c. 1870 to c. 1910 as "Queen Anne".  Reading surveys of Nicholas Pevsner's generation I had been puzzled: we had endless specimens of the style that flourished about up to World War I both in California and in the Pacific Northwest to our north, where a whole neighborhood in Seattle has been called "Queen Anne".
But in the middle of the 20th century, when I was studying at Berkeley and labeling and filing 2X2 slides used in teaching there (and socializing with graduate students in both architecture and the figural arts, though never, I admit,  taking a course in 19th century American architecture), no one called these houses anything but Late Victorian (not even the occasional friends who owned one of them)—not that Victoria had been our queen, but certainly Anne hadn't.  At least some of us knew that she belonged to the generation of Jane Austen, say, and thought of Chippendale (  and the Image album, s.v. chippendale furniture) to furnish it.  I don't know how our Baton Rouge house is furnished, but I can't quite see a forest of cabriolet legs in it (there's a good page on them in Wikipedia, s.v.) or even an American version of Hepplewhite.
As so often (but why didn't I find this page last year?),  the Wikipedia comes down hard and clear on the real estate abuse of "Queen Anne": , not deigning to call the American (and other colonial) "painted ladies" (their San Francisco nickname now) by Queen Anne's name unless prefaced by "revival".
Most of the antique or pseudo-antique furniture, from which I got my first notions of furniture styles (remember: no internet, no TV shows on Great Homes or Antiques Roadshow, no Wiki, though the Britannica of 1910, s.v. Furniture, does have five plates of excellent examples) came from Grand Rapids factories as they passed through my grandfather's shop, and the furnishings of the Reilly-Reeves house, whatever their stylistic affiliations, could just as well come from that industry, already by 1912 more than two generations old, and may have been of hardwoods finer than ash.  It doesn't matter; I think houses back then were named more for their period style than for charming association with earlier queens.  In fact, the commercial use of "Queen Anne" is so entrenched for Late Victorian that is both fancy and expensive that the Wikipedia labels the houses of the end of the 18th century "English Queen Anne".
I have come round to this because a good friend sent me the Kindle edition of D. E. Stevenson's "Miss Buncle's Book", new to me and utterly delightful.  She was Scottish, born in Edinburgh in 1892, fully a generation younger than the very English E. F. Benson.  The novel in question, the first of half a dozen, appeared in 1934 just three years later than E. F. Benson's first Lucia.  Both start in a village of more limited possibilities and in the second volume move to a 'better' one, Benson's famous Tilling (which is Rye) and Stevenson's Wandlebury which may or may not be near Cambridge but does take its name from what is now a preservation Park (  That too may be coincidental, and its justly famous self-referential device of a novel written within a novel was unique, but the handling of characters and its sheer joy suggest irresistibly, to me at least, that Stevenson, who had written only one novel before this one, was practically intoxicated by Lucia.  I do recommend the Buncle books, which we owe to Kindle (the 1930s by a Scottish woman not being, perhaps, financially feasible publishing), but with the Baton Rouge promise of a blog post on the Reilly house puzzling me by being called "Queen Anne" I had to notice the two authors' descriptions of fine houses of the late 18th century, that the heroine is devoted to and the authors describe quite accurately.  Now I don't know what D. F. Stevenson actually lived in, but on line she is said to be related to Robert Louis Stevenson (not, to be sure, to an archbishop of Canterbury), and, I guess, is one of that intellectual bourgeoisie who all knew one another—and she writes that way, as Wodehouse, for example, does not, though he's just as clever as they are.  Wodehouse didn't live in a country house, such as he sent Bertie Wooster to, except sporadically.  The way one describes a house that one loves is quite different from a TV presentation of Chatsworth or Castle Howard (used to film Brideshead Revisited, and by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor: whether a smaller house or a great one.  Now D. F. Stevenson loves the house she puts the second novel in the same way as Benson loved his Lamb House (for which I refer you to some very good photos of the house and the whole town (in Flickr:
But the point is: whoever did it (I think in the Registry of noteworthy buildings in Baton Rouge), calling the Reilly-Reeves house Queen Anne of a sort, all those writers who need copy have copied the label (usually taking pains to disclaim it) and find nothing reliable but the photos in the EBRLibrary collection and the data attributed to "the courthouse", whence we have names for a contractor and an architect (both unknown to me, but no matter: an architect was hired to realize the owner's vision) and the date, also guaranteed, it is high time we considered the house itself and not some realtor's label.  Incidentally, if one chooses to trust the memories of someone of the family but elderly, and if the building of the Gottlieb House over on Drehr really was a direct response to that on Park Boulevard, it would seem to endorse a pre-World War I dating for the Gottlieb house.  Only one interview says so, but does assert that they had the first telephones.  One thing you can trust from Antiques Roadshow is the folkloric historicity of family memories.  It is like the genealogy of the Troy Tale: there is truth in these traditions but for accurate data…  If you've read thousands of student papers 'researched' in a branch public library (to avoid going to the university library) and then boiled down to make sense to the writer…  On the other hand, until I read those two descriptions of fine houses beloved by the authors who put their principal characters in them, and found the Wikipedia article, s.v. Queen Anne Architecture:
I hadn't dared to let the house itself be its own evidence, making a stylistic statement unlike any in the handbooks or old catalogues.  But I admire the family who are proud of it, and for more than two decades I have been glad to live in its neighborhood.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Gottlieb House

The One Truly Different House in the Garden District
The front through the great tree

 When, Depression baby that I was, I had saved enough to put down the full 20% of the asking price on a house in the neighborhood that I liked,  I got a 6-room 1928 bungalow, with fixtures just like the ones of my childhood.  Our "Garden District" offered dozens of these.  My oldest neighbors then were about my present age, and many of them were the original owners, and they knew all about our Garden District.  As Southerners, though (I was from northern California, via New York City), they meant that they knew all of  Who was Who.  Our corner-lot houses are larger and most of them are the ones with family names.
Even in that category (I have written about several of them) this house is outstanding.  Kathryn Darsey, who lived next door to me and was about 80 even when I moved in, told me that the house above was the Gottlieb House.  In 1986 I didn't yet have a computer, let alone Wikipedia, but I did remember the name, partly because she didn't like the house (which I loved at sight), because it was dark.  I should have had the sense to photograph it while it was still dark: for this kind of brick and this kind of design, "dark" is like that original finish that the Keno twins on the Antiques Roadshow insist upon.
Does anyone have good photographs of the house before 2002, when, together with some necessary repairs, it was painted with the cream-colored paint that also is a sealant?
The forms are so powerful that it still has plenty of character, even without white window frames and black screens setting off the dark red brick.  But having a family to fully inhabit it is the most important; it's just that I'd like to have a record of it  as I remember it.
Thing is, since taking pictures of oak trees is a no-no on campus, for a faculty member whose colleagues teach photography (like putting a perfect pink rose on a wedding altar or photographing the Old Wagon Wheel or a Mail Pouch barn somewhere out West), I would go and photograph these equally grand oaks just three blocks from my own house—and only look at the house; I got into the study of houses only about 2011.  And I was timid to trespass: anyone who could have that house and maintain its gardening outclassed me by far, besides my having been taught as a little Presbyterian not to pry or snoop in other peoples' lives.  So one day as I drove past it, it was all cream-colored.  In Berkeley I had always envied the big brown shingle houses, pre-World War I, and knew that people who were working their way through college at 90 cents per hour could never have them.
Anyway, when a friend asked me to take pictures all around it, I was delighted for the excuse to oblige.
You can check as I did, in Wikipedia: The Gottliebs were bankers; they had founded the best and most solid of our banks, in the days before all our banks were bought out.  One of them was an important Louisiana state senator, too.  They certainly were qualified to build this great, solid house, apparently using imported brick and on property ampler than any other in Baton Rouge.  So "Gottlieb House" is correct.
When this old lady showed up with a camera, people were very friendly.  And I promised to post the pictures and not to relay any gossip I might be given and not to ask to come inside: this is a whole family real home.  I really should like to get a Plan, and someone thinks she has one.  It is true that some early Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie Style houses generally handle a porte cochere similarly, and I think that the date I was given, 1915 or 1917, must be about right.  (The Register of houses in Drehr Place gives very generalized dating, especially for houses so different from the Colonial manner or Cottage Style that is prevalent here).  My knowledgeable friends and former colleagues assure me that it is not Wright, but I see what they mean about Prairie Style; it is anything but Gracious Southern.  Colonial's nice, too, but very, very different.  This house is much more like many in well-to-do parts of America, including the Northwest as well as the Midwest.  Not that I've studied it yet.  I have written so many posts about houses that my neighbors tend to suppose I'm an architectural historian.  But what I am is a classical archaeologist and art historian and, admittedly, a thorough dilettante.
32 labeled images in Albums (use link):
and in
+Google (slokind)

Please feel free to leave comments at foot of this Post, in Picasa album, or in +Google.

Here are the oak trees  about the time of Hurricane Andrew,
taken with a Nikon F camera on Tri-X film.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Post-modern Cartography!

Not that Google Earth isn't great
(but a photograph is not the same thing as a map)
This was meant to be a footnote to the Post of July 29.  Here it is, better late than never.

So long as I was teaching undergraduate courses, as one means of keeping abreast of what the freshmen were getting from my colleagues, I browsed every semester among the textbooks ordered for history, geography, anthropology, et al.  It was quite by accident that I came across one called Human Antiquity, in its 2nd edition (1990 by Feder and Park.  I do not believe that the authors had ever checked the maps (and some of the dates such as that for Friederick Engels on p. 398, where "(1942)" must be that of some other textbook, Engels having died in 1884, indeed, according to the Wikipedia article, in 1892).
The map, reproduced above, is possibly the worst every provided for college students.  Its most egregious faults, the Black Sea, Pontos Euxinos, shown the color of land, and all of Mesopotamia (though left unclosed at the top!) colored blue.  But, someone surely will protest, the Young will not try to read the map; it is really just an obligatory ornament—though, as a "location of sites", its placing Halaf in the water is shocking.  The more you look, the worse it is: even with the omission of the Danube's mouth, 'GREECE' ought not to be printed where it is.
This textbook is not from a great publisher, but as a 2nd Edition…!  When I was in Middle School in the 1940s, the maps in our books (issued on loan by California to all the students, and after a long war grubby and inky from long use) never had such inadequacies as this one has.

I remembered this awful map when the Islamic State took Mosul, and the Kurds helped the refugees come down from the Sinjar mountains.  I had to go back to the EB of 1910, s.v. Syria, to find my way through the news reports.  The historical atlases I had on hand either omitted too many modern names or too many ancient ones (I knew that the Mitanni had been up there east of Aleppo or Damascus and west of Mosul, but not exactly where, relative to any of the groups of modern Kurds).  And where had the ancestors of the Kurds been (well, soon I did learn that they are Indo-Iranian, so that hadn't been earlier than Media—and how placed relative to Scythians?).  And what about all those other names concerning which I know little more than how to spell them?

Before computer graphics routinely could make maps better, they made them really bad: not very good even when not cheap, not excellent any cheaper than the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, which is to say in atlases as such, not as illustrations in books with illustrations.  In the Art of the World series, published by Crown in the USA and, in German, originally, by the Holle Verlag, in the early 1960s, the maps are reproduced from line drawings, photographically, and visibly in plain pen and ink, usually by someone handy with a crow-quill or a Rapidograph (yes, it's in the Wikipedia).  Some of them were neatly done but with a dismal ignorance and insensitivity to geography.  In that series of archaeological books their quality varies.

Map provided for Edith Porada's Ancient Iran.  
In the same series, map for The Middle East  by Sir Leonard Woolley.
Woolley, the excavator of the Royal Cemetery of Ur, was a full generation older than Professor Porada, but by the end of his career he knew, as Henri Frankfort for his Peguin History of Art volume a decade earlier, what sort of map was required and, doubtless, where to acquire it.  He does not let everything north and west of the Euphrates just fall off at the left in this odd partial tracing of a pre-existing map; having known her, though not very well, I know that Porada cannot have approved of that skewed and discontinuous map of Ancient Iran.  In 1962 a good archaeological map of Greater Iran may not have been available (I didn't find a good 19th-century one offhand, and I suspect that 19th-century Biblical interest in Leonard Woolley's world is partly responsible.

Yet all three of these maps lack indicators of latitude and longitude.  About 38° North is close enough as a starting reference for Mosul and Aleppo, but how far north do modern Kurds live?  Well, south of Hasanlu and Marlik, I think.  Not north of Lake Van and Urartu.  Bit by bit I spread out the larger atlases and began to learn enough geography.  It's getting better, and Wikipedia offers some tourist pictures of the principal cities.  But I got the lay of the land from Robert Baer.  
I am forced to admit that I never did know where the Mitanni lived.  This is still the zone that is Iranian (at least since the end of the 2nd millennium BCE), south of Slavic and north of Semitic.  And please, everyone, don't call all the major groups of Semitic-speaking  peoples "anti-Semitic".

There are beautiful new maps of this whole world in the Metropolitan Museum's new catalogue of art from Assyria to Iberia: at the Dawn of the Classical Age.  Map reproductions of the mature computer age!  I wish I might scan some.  I just got the book.

But no other one that I have seen is as culpable and horrid as the one I put at the head of this Post.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The 1880s again

Hamlin Garland, William Dean Howells, young Henry James, and, last but not least, Mark Twain
1880s armchair, japalac on oak
Back in March and April, 2111 (posts between March 17 and April 4), in my usual kind of Chain of Browsing, I came upon an author that none of my teachers had succeeded in making me read, Hamlin Garland, and learning that he was befriended by William Dean Howells I began to read his correspondence with Henry James and became interested in the decade, the 1880s, when my grandfather was born: but these were the writers born before the Civil War.
Yet, so thoroughly had I been driven from the most famous of them, by the anthologizing of the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and the choice of Tom Sawyer (I did know the movie of the 1940s) as something for Norman Rockwell to illustrate, that no amount of pressure had succeeded in getting me even past page one of Huckleberry Finn.  I seem to have felt that it was disrespectful of my friends of African (and Asian) ancestry to make them Types, and unsubtle, at best, to treat southern persons, much as I disagreed with them, as if they were all cruel slave drivers.  Besides, my quote-loving friends had tried a few dozen times too many to make me admire Mark Twain's 'calculation' of the length of the Mississippi as the pinnacle of wit (and, of course, its context was never given).
Anyhow, as you see, I was obdurate.  But just as too much secondary school had saved Hamlin Garland for me (and led me to acquire a whole library on my little Kindle), now the rebroadcast on PBS of Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey West's 2002 Florentine Films' Mark Twain has brought me to, first, Huckleberry Finn, which belongs to that annus mirabilis, 1885-6, and which, after all, all the best minds liked best (if both Arthur Miller and Bernard Shaw did, how could I not?).  And, behold, it is much, much more than about Race!  In fact, it is in the context of the whole work that the question of Race is a serious question.  Twain was much too wise to argue anything like that.
Now I shall decide which Complete Works is better (neither is expensive) and as with Howells and William James (Henry is the one that I'd read the most of) and Arthur Conan Doyle, with the help of zoomable fonts, I shall set about reading Mark Twain.  How (after writing my last post!) can I not have to read the great writer who came to accept the unknowable as such?  How can I not accept his  getting from day to day in his old age by playing the role that the World took pleasure in?
And now that I understand the American Renaissance Revival (see the headpiece here) I can happily appreciate the Hartford house.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The question of Iraq

Encyclopedia Britannica XI (1910) s.v. Syria
(click to fit to screen)
When the invasion of Kuwait appeared suddenly on CNN, I found Kuwait on a map easily, and I knew from the excellent map in Henri Frankfort, The Art of the Ancient Orient, Pelican History of Art, 1954, to look for Babylon where the Rivers nearly met.  For that book had been my introduction to the subject.  In the meantime, I had learned that during the first years of the war beginning in 2003, Syria had received numerous refugees from northern Iraq.  True, I knew that Halaf, for example, was in Syria, and Mari and, of course, Damascus.  I mean, I knew bits and pieces but where the border had been drawn I really didn't know.  Being used to Europeans that I talked to on trains often knowing only New York, Chicago (gangsters) and San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge)— not much more and not necessarily where to look for them (for example, Hollywood was simply Hollywood), but that did not excuse me.  Or the makers of atlases. The great and good Bavarian Grosser Historischer Weltatlas had a beautiful ancient Mesopotamia and a detailed (color coded) modern Arabian Republics of the periods 1945–1961.  But I got it only in the 1960s, and I'm sure it's still in copyright.
But I had nothing for c. 1918.  T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars… had no map, and the movie with Peter O'Toole was filmed in Jordan.
This is an awful confession of ignorance but perfectly true, in so far as I knew nothing (unless you counted the Assyrian Empire in the back of my Sunday School Bible).
The 1910 Britannica was still very British.  It has a double page map in color of Ireland but no political map of Mesopotamia; as for Iraq, of course, the name had not yet been assigned to the country we know.  For some reason, it wouldn't say, or even index, Ottoman, and only later did I find Turkey in Europe, but less detailed than the Syria, above.  The Eleventh Edition  has become invaluable as the encyclopedia of the world before World War I, recording all its biases and assumptions, and its maps, engraved in Switzerland, I think, were great.  The Syria map I found for the area that I have had to read about for the last 25 years is perhaps an ordnance map and it is signed by Walker.

So much for my supplying the above half-page map of Syria to head this blog post.

The whole world would seem to be snowballing towards disaster of the senseless kind.  Though it was true that an almost predictable march back into Iraq from Syria was awful news, foreboding news, after watchers of CNN in 2003 had watched the Iraqi army dissolve through palm trees and across the Euphrates, and Syria had welcomed many Iraqi families, it was high time that we understood that it may not have been mere cowardice in the face of unbeatable invading forces; it might have been what they were instructed to do: cross the river and desert and regroup with their nearest ethnic relatives and train themselves in their own way.  Why would I think that?  I don't know.  I only could look back over the fluid and yet unchanging history of the truly middle Middle East.  And who could not reflect on the Kurdish people spread out across at least three modern nation states?  How can we expect that Iraqis will cling with deep pride to Iraqi identity?  To find their name on that Britannica map, you look for a people, but not a nation, and almost all the way down to the marsh arabs.  It may be enough to be glad if what was once Babylonia hangs together and what was once Assyria, for its part, too.  And Ctesiphon, of course, is not in modern Iran.  But we are still hung and bound and gagged by the insoluble problem of Palestinians and Israelis.
That is why I have no opinions, can form none, about the World.  I have known for decades how bitterly Ukrainians resent Russians and Russians hold them in contempt.  I don't know why, really, but when I lived in New York I heard it all the time.
I won't go through a laundry list to write an updated Merry Minuet, but I know how bitter and unhappy things feel.  I keep trying to tell myself that it's just an octogenarian's lack of élan vital.  Partly it is, but not primarily.  I find some solace in reading good spy fiction, like John le Carre.  Reading the tragic biography by Kai Bird of Robert Ames.  Even the patient rehearsal of my own youth and worst fears of  the Age of Edgar J. Hoover's FBI; my friends and I never dared even to speak of the FBI and that a lot earlier than Betty Medzger thought we did.  What is awful is the consolation afforded by this literature: none of what we hear today is new.  Small consolation.  It has taken most of my lifetime for civilization to put itself together again.  To me, civilized values and all the arts and all decency is what I love, or at least all that I flatter myself in believing.
That's inadequate and incoherent, but it's all I can muster right now.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Mulling over our Species, in History
An author today on Science Friday talking about everything to do with the concept of Self, confessed that for clarification she had resorted to William James, even though a century old.  More than a year ago I had done the same (I think it was in the series of posts that had begun with Hamlin Garland).  When it comes to really good thinking, Henry's older brother is hard to beat, and it does us good to realize yet again that human minds can think straight and radically with very little technology.  Not that they always do, and not that we needn't keep in mind that, say, in archaeology it is important to remember what hadn't been discovered yet and that then, as now, there were fantasy governed or otherwise limited minds.  I mean, Werner Jaeger is not merely anti-Platonic; in many respects he may be right.  Anyone read Paideia recently?  Don't worry; I'd have to read it again if I were to discuss it.  But I've been mulling over a question that is very hard to frame and that may be inane anyway.

What seems to have gotten me started was Memorial Day's statistics of huge numbers of war dead; of all the litanies of lost generation, of the holocaust and Hiroshima accounts in David Remnick's wonderful anthology of The New Yorker in the 1940s; of seemingly unlimited varieties of moths in my friend Bill's blog, Naturally.  

But what about homo sapiens?  How much of a die off or plague has been needed to modify us?  Appalling as the 20th century cemeteries from D-Day or those "In Flanders Field" are, as dreadful quantitatively as well as morally the European harvest from ethnic cleansing, as difficult even to count the dead of Hiroshima, is the consequence of such lost generations genetically sufficient to alter nations affected?  They aren't as numerous as many migrations have been, as of Irish or Mexicans in the 20th century.  That is, was even the loss of Jewry in Europe as large a fraction of their numbers as of Hispanics from South to North America?  The former are as large a proportion of promising lives that never reached full adulthood as I can think of.  Perhaps the remnants of the Confederate armies after 1865?

There are all sorts of difficult questions that come to mind.  Does it in fact matter a great deal if the British lost generation included so large a proportion of educated idealists as the literature tells us?  And the young artists in France and Germany?  And, in Europe, the influenza  epidemic (not that it wasn't bad in America as well).?  What about the famous Black Death of the 14th century?  Not surprisingly, it is the literate who write history, and they can only properly record what they know.  I was thinking that it is very hard (and regarding calculations with some skepticism) to know what fraction of a population perished by great natural or man-made disasters so as to leave a permanent mark on the population.  And how noticeable a mark?  Arguably, the potato famine affected the peopling of the USA more than any wars that we have fought.  How terrible do things have to have been to be noticeable a couple of centuries later?  How important is population explosion today?

I'm not talking about for good or for ill.  If the Old World could populate the New World with its leftovers, it must be said that the result is not by any means so bad as might have been guessed.  I'll vote for the minds and beauty of African-Americans any day.  Also, I'm not sure that we aren't seeing epigenetic changes among them with the North American diet and climate.  If brown bears are much bigger in Katmai State Park than the same-species grizzlies of Yosemite….?

Also, what about miscegenation?  If the ancient world had a much smaller population, it also could not mix so freely as we do.  What about the ancients' inability to count much beyond 10,000 (myrioi) and even so, we often suspect, with only a vague realization of the number?  I first understood the long-term consequences of a lost navy, a lost war, reading Thucydides on Syracuse.  But I understood the loss to have been more societal than genetic.

And yet, I bet our Last Ice Age ancestors may have been a little less identical to us than their bones suggest.  After all, we ARE regular mammals just as the Katmai brown bears are.

OK, perhaps this is inane.  Certainly, there are no ways of getting answers that I could regard as reliable.  But it's hardly as if we could all look just like Masaccio's Adam and Eve, and even less likely that their originals, from the land of Sumer in perhaps the 4th millennium BCE, looked like them.  No harm in wondering.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Some still loose threads

At 301 East Blvd in Baton Rouge, almost "midtown"

(1) When one is driving across Baton Rouge, E to W across town, one first learns to use North Blvd to allow for I-110 as it slices N to S, and to turn south to stay on surface streets.  Your landmark is the big First United Methodist Church and you take East Blvd south in the shadow of the elevated Interstate  before you reach the second landmark church, Mt. Zion First Baptist.  Later I learned that in the first half of the 20th century (and really still today) these were the fashionable protestant churches of their respective denominations, with notable families in their congregations, respectively African-American and European-American.  All the major Christian churches are convenient to downtown and to the Capitol.
The Interstate highway was ruinous to East Blvd, but it hasn't quite ruined it.  Not that Mt. Zion, in particular, enjoys the noise of traffic.
Long before I had retired and began studying pre-WW II Baton Rouge, or had discovered Governor Fuqua's house in the heart of Beauregard Town, I used East Blvd to get from North Blvd to Government St and noticed the handsome house, 301 East Blvd, above, just north of and across the street from Mt. Zion First Baptist.  I still am trying to learn about this house.  It really is quite like Governor Fuqua's, though smaller, tetrastyle instead of hexastyle, but to my eye perfectly Greek Revival and quite old, more distingué than its immediate neighbors yet less lovingly maintained than this house that, I understand, belongs to Mt. Zion:
No nuisancy freeway (see at right) can daunt the careful maintenance seen here

I need to take my photos of this fascinating neighborhood to the EBR Parish Library, now that it is in its new building.  Also, the whole neighborhood is plainly of substantial, established importance, and I need to return to solidify my impressions of it.  To my shame, after 20 years, I still don't know it.

(2) How to define (is it possible?) Spanish Town Road.
Spanish Town Road is complex, and I ran out of daylight and legal parking.  Start at the Capitol park:

As I have said in an earlier post, this is too complicated for an amateur like me, but I'd like to get a richer impression of it.
(3) The neighborhood defined by our fine Magnet High School.  Once, when I was serving on an LSU committee, I learned that Baton Rouge Magnet High School was the best secondary school in the State;  in any case, its alumni and the city are very proud of it.
The west flank of the original building

The new north buildings (where for years and years there were "temporaries")

On the west of the central divider with its spreading oaks, a modest well kept bungalow
View of the well known businesses on Government Street from the Eugene St. divider

In fact, right in Midtown, the wellbeing of the city embracing its schools is well illustrated.  Athletic teams can always be bussed to playing fields.  Here, it seems to me, the schools and the residential neighborhoods anchor each other.
Rather than wait still longer, I'm posting what I have.  There are, of course, more houses in the Albums.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Female Image

The Images as I Remember Them
Gene, age 29, 1943

Gene and Sid, 23 and 28, June 1937
Just as the present U.S. Chief of the Federal Reserve does not represent the same public icon as one of the young female celebrities, almost all of them elaborately made up, or Eleanor Roosevelt during WW II the same kind of public icon as Veronica Lake, for example, or, at the opposite extreme, the haggard mothers in FSA photos, who had no hairdresser and no dress but the cotton housedress, the self-presentation of most female authors or scholars does not represent their decade.  Nor do the debutantes or their mothers (as shown in the Press or in illustrations to novels intended for followers of soap operas).
The movie magazine photos of stars like Norma Shearer inspired the outfit that 'Gene' wears in a 1937 snapshot, and those clothes were for sale in all the readymade outlets.  The house dresses that went with them were used in ads in women's magazines (Edward Steichen when strapped for funds to pay alimony was one of the photographers who did excellent work of this kind, but he didn't choose the clothes or accessories).  The date of the snapshot, "Gene and Sid, June 1937" is that of their 4th wedding anniversary.
Just six years later, well into WW II, 'Gene' not only is posed in an attempt to provide a publicity picture for her attempt to fulfill an adolescent dream to be a pop singer.  Though taken with a good camera, a 4 1/4" X 3 1/4" Press camera, it is a naive disaster for its intended purpose; a professional with studio lights and training in that sort of imagery was called upon to make a Hollywood kind of glamor glossy.  That image used a softening lens, full pancake make-up, and lipstick extending much beyond her natural lips, which was the rule at the time also for close-ups of Betty Grable and Lucile Ball (and most of the other stars) who, like 'Gene', naturally had a cupid's bow mouth, more or less.
Try as I might, I cannot locate a copy of the pro close-up, but the hair style could not be disguised as other than that where she is posed on the piano stool.
Wartime was the decade of rayon acetate.  The white dress of 1937 was probably linen.  The dress printed with tulips, magenta, green, black on off-white, as well as the stockings were rayon, and shoe soles were a new product, neolite.  Linen, most leather, silk, "virgin" cotton, were unavailable (nylon, of course, was for parachutes).  But the skirts of dresses were barely knee length; things were skimpy to save materials.  Maybe so, but the styles, with padded shoulders and fitted jackets, were very perky and expressed more attitude than mere patriotic sacrifice.  Think Andrew Sisters in wartime movies; think Hollywood's Joan Leslie; think Petty Girls.  And that with permanented hair, often rolled over a "rat".
I repeat, though: neither Mrs. Roosevelt nor my grandmother was affected by that Look (nor our president by zoot suits, which, where I lived, were not confined to African-American or Hispanic men).
I wonder whether 'Gene' if she had stayed in her parents' small town would have changed so much as in that manqué-glamor photo: a chanteuse was not posed on a piano bench.  But her nurse's aide uniform also was knee length.
And everyone wore lipstick.  It was thickish, and it came off easily, but washed out only with difficulty.  At school, though, the other girls made fun of you if you didn't wear it.  Janice, who walked to Jr. High School with me, was the child of a fundamentalist minister, and we stopped at a gas station restroom so she could put it on.  I never dreamt of being free of lipstick or of shaven legs.
The point is that, at the lower-middle class popular level, in the six years between those two photos, the icons changed quite radically.  And this change concerned not Vogue so much as subscribers to Good Housekeeping, for example.  Not how young women thought or what they read so much as their collective image.
Shortly after nylon was relegated, along with leather bullet cases, to army surplus shops, the New Look appeared, first in haute couture by Yves St. Laurent but promptly in the new Seventeen magazine.  It also was tight waisted, and the skirts were mostly full as well as long.  The magazines emphasized that we could have camel's hair and silk (also woven gingham, real gingham).  You didn't go to the army canteen or build figher planes in such a style.  I hear that our county public library has just subscribed to a complete digitized run of Vogue to which you are referred.  But this was not easily aped by J. C. Penny or by Sears or,  in England, by Marks & Spencer.  Their revolution, and that of college shops, was consonant (and typified in my memory by cashmere or lamb's-wool sweater sets), with calf-length skirt hems.  And the plentiful nylons (though still with garters) were seamless!
To a certain extent, again, a new young woman was launched.
The real liberation, apart from pills (which many of us didn't need, yet), in the 1960s was from the ladylike (and lipsticked, hatted, etc.) post-war New Look.  One thing after another.  Not setting one's hair.  Wearing pants, even bluejeans, instead of skirts.  Wearing sandals, not pinchy 'ballerina' shoes, and not without stockings (in California through most of the winter, too), no lipstick at all, and no bra!
That was the new icon.  Of course, if we went to the opera, we dressed properly; if poor, the little black dress and a nice string of beads would do.
Meanwhile, the little girl on Sunbeam bread and the little girl happily spilling Morton's salt ("When it rains, it pours") were updated.  The tiger on the corn flakes box and the cats in Disney's Aristocats were brought into line with prize-winning LP album covers: commercial modernity, some of it very attractive.
With the millennium (and somewhat before it), the mascara, the eyeshadow, the liquid make-up, the lipstick and indescribable varieties of outer wear, and the poses in the advertising photographs, and, especially, the kind of slenderness of, e.g., Special K advertisements has exploded again.  Like (something I just learned) fireweed, the pioneer weed that comes back like a vengeance.
Nota bene: I am not so silly as to suggest that pretty women should not be 'objects' (nor, of course, pretty men).  It's just that the iconology of sex in commercial imagery keeps recycling and I keep feeling that the changes are full of signifiers, signifiers whose meaning often puzzles me.  I mean, you can use almost any types to make human faces and bodies look sexy.   I admit that the models in the recent Korean Airlines TV ads are especially puzzling.  And why do we have to revert to something very like Gloria Swanson?  What is being concealed?
Both of my parents are dead, and I apologize for having to resort to using their pictures.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Residential Neighborhoods North of Government Street

A February Day and a Tall Tree and Cleared Spaces (DSC_1290)

I. The Enclave between Government St and North Blvd, between 19th Street and Eugene.

The word 'enclave' is used, because here it was four-lane surface thoroughfares running parallel to the minor railway, the Louisiana & Arkansas, not heavily used today (but watch for its signals and, if you're sleepless, listen for the night-train whistle at about 2:00 am), North Blvd. changing from a parkway to a plain throughway (and to be distinguished from North Street, to be grouped rather with Spanish Town Road), several important cemeteries and two old and important schools, Dufrocq Elementary and Baton Rouge High School, one of two Magnet High Schools.  Major churches are farther downtown, most of the First churches west of the freeway, Interstate I-110.  The 'enclave' I studied first also is characterized by recent and ongoing renovation, as are its two old schools, and by its alignment to Roseland Terrace and Drehr Place, the two first tracts (19th Street was the city limit then) of the Garden District, some of whose contractors very evidently also worked in the 1920s for owners of lots north as well as south of Government Street.  There were no utilities alleys, however, which are characteristic of whole tracts which a major realtor like Zadok laid out and installed in advance, and there may have been some other conveniences lacking that I don't know of (City Park was being developed, the new LSU campus, too, and the late, great mid-city department store, Goudchaux (later Maison Blanche), like other features related to Main Street, was begun only in the 1930s.

The new images on which today's Post is based are stored in:

I became interested in these characteristics only after I had seen Louisiana Public Broadcasting's  documentary for the 1950s successful and non-violent bus boycott in the early 1950s.  They say that it did not eventuate like the infamous events a decade later in Alabama and Mississippi, for example, because of the large, rooted middle class of African Americans here and the strong leadership of the Rev. T. J. Jemison, of Mt  Zion First Baptist Church, who died only recently.  I wondered which church that is, since Scotlandville, plainly, is mostly later, and in fact First Baptist is just a block south of First Methodist, which most of us know because it's the one we see on crossing under I-110.  But more of the First churches in another Post.  Here just what documentaries don't tell you, where the "power churches" (of whichever denomination) are (again, Taylor Branch taught me that importance in Atlanta), and where it was that people were waiting for buses (compare the populations of 1950 and 2000!).  I came here in 1981, and I knew from Oakland, CA, not to generalize about ethnic and social groups in a city of a quarter million.  My mother was working, c. 1950, for Stanley Home Products (cf. Tupper Ware), and we went (I assisted her) in homes where we were invited, so that we gained a network of Likes (yes, as in Facebook, et al.) all over neighborhoods (barring VanAstorBilt) from S. F. Bay some 30 miles over the hills as far as Livermore, in all the variety that implies.
Wherever possible, Baton Rouge retained its street names and address numbers, so the enclave I was in on Friday is numbered from 100 to 499, N-S, and from 2200 to 2399 W-E.  One is grateful, because, what with cemeteries and railroads and, later, with intervening non-grid freeways, they are useful.
I admitted that three decades ago, when I first saw the Garden District, there were some houses up for sale that weren't selling; they not only hadn't been mowed and trimmed and painted but they had some of those spray dipinti that are so alarming when you're house-hunting.  There are none today.  Commercial contractors (and occasionally do-it-yourself improvers) have bought those that needed help, and they have been selling for as much as five times their price in the 1980s.  I was right to assess the GD as too good to perish.  What about across the street?  Zoning permitted lawyers and dentists and insurance agents and the like to buy up bungalows which rush-hour traffic on Government Street deterred young families from buying.  And obviously there are still some zoning restrictions.  Evidently, though, if you want a house as good as in the Garden District, it can be had less expensively, and you won't have hip-flasks thrown in the gutters or dipinti sprayed wherever a dog could reach or broken-down window air conditioners, either.  Even better, when a six- or eight-room house has been maintained only on the make-it-do principle (the English used to mock our "do-it-yourself" cult in such terms), you won't have the expense and trouble of undoing bad "improvements" from the 1950s or 1960s.  In my post for January 16, above, "What Evergreen Drive Tells Us", you can see how rewarding the results can be.
Similar rewards can be seen on the next street to the west, Delphine, but there, once a block away from Government Street, there will also have been numerous lots for houses one room wide and three or four rooms long : "single shot guns".  There are some in Beauregard Town, and I know of one in Roseland Terrace in the Garden District (in downright poor parts of town they are the rule, as the four-room cube of brick with stucco is in California—neither is to be confused with rural shacks).  Now, in the greater part of two blocks on Delpine Street, they come in rows, for a good reason: the lots on the city plat are measured for them and have been sold and owned as such.  There are other good reasons, too.  Though they usually (like all brick-pillar houses) need to be leveled and given new joists, they are really well built; some may have been so neglected, of course, that they have to be wholly rebuilt.  We have such things as dry rot and powder post beetles hereabouts.  Houses need to be lived in, and past a certain point you can't even rent them (which of course is itself a kiss of death for a century-old wooden house).  But somehow, and I congratulate the couples and singles who have realized it, a "single shot gun" in good  condition is easier to care for, more pleasant to live in, and MUCH closer to your place of employment (and no freeway driving) and far more neighborly, than some suburban ranch on a slab, badly built to begin with, with no trees or persons that share your culture.  And so Delphine should get a medal for urban renewal.  I photographed one house, a shot-gun duplex (two front doors) that is raised in order to be leveled and have the joists replaced.
Finally, the first thing I noticed, when I left that first block of Evergreen, in the enclaves north of Government Street is openness: not just the bareness of the deciduous trees or the use of several house lots for law offices' parking.  Often you have one or more lots empty, but even more often (and unlike what hurricanes may have done) a whole corner once with three houses today is perfectly flat, flattened I think.  In these 1920s blocks the corners or other grouped lots, on flood-free, on-the-bluff land, the last choice land—not requiring flood insurance, where within a mile or two to the south or southeast you are on alluvium, riddled with minor tributary streams that flood at least a little every year, empty lots on every side demand an explanation, despite the effect of the N-S thoroughfares and the Louisiana & Arkansas railway tracks, this should be the most fully built up neighborhood in the city.  Empty corner lots that are meant to take the large houses?  I haven't found an explanation in histories of Baton Rouge, but deliberately I want to see if I, an outsider till recently, can read the evidence truly.  The model of Oakland, CA, where most of the 19c large, proud houses (costly to maintain) got chopped up into the smallest possible apartments, got hopelessly abused by tenants who couldn't afford to take care of them (and who had no means to borrow money), would help explain what may have happened north of Government, except that Baton Rouge was younger and smaller and more modest (this wasn't Lake Providence), and, as PBS observed, had a large middle-class native born African-American community—the circumstance in which "community" is a reality.  What even I can see (and have read about) is that black community itself was sorely tested by not only white flight but by the choice of Scotlandville at the same time, after WW II, as the place to take flight to.
But this enclave next to my own is not grand, not so impossible to afford fixing.  Folks tell me that it is "black", but even today it is more salt-and-pepper, like much of New Orleans.  Anyway, color is not the reason why, evidently in the 1960s and 1970s, there was much too much trashing of these old wooden houses and much too much of "flight" on everyone's part.  What was hopeless and could destroy quiet and decent society within it has been torn out; what can be restored by new joists and new roofs and porches will richly reward the effort (who wants to live in a house with a splattered-on ceiling that falls all over your heads and books and furniture when the hot-water heater in the attic leaks and ruins everything?  Who wants floors with no spring, with astroturf carpets or linoleum tile underfoot?
I hope that the improving financial picture continues to brighten, so that north of Government Street can fulfill its mission.
Bear in mind, this is just an archaeologist's reading of about 20 square blocks, but far more interesting than I'd have thought.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Popular Biography

After 65 years I still remembered Gene Fowler's biog of John Barrymore.

Public Library reading through a lifetime
A single PBS broadcast can provoke a flood of memories.  In this case, it was the film version of Christopher Plummer's one-man (or two) last year of John Barrymore's life.  Adolescents consume journalistic biographies avidly, to broaden one's views, to test one's feelings, as a source book of Life.  I can date my readings fairly accurately by remembering which library I borrowed them from: Alameda, San Pablo, a branch library somewhere in East Oakland, the wonderful Berkeley Public Library, which  was my library of choice once I discovered that the 51 bus and the A and F electric trains (replaced by buses similarly named) connected everything I wanted.  But, let's face it, I'd have found the same sort of reading wherever I was.  Besides, with the rise of cable TV, canned biographies were abundant; now, only the best of their kind survive, on PBS as American Masters / Experience or, imported, from the UK.
Children of each cohort have their own favorites.  It is no wonder that I honestly remembered how seriously I took not only the British princesses but Shirley Temple.  My second blog post, of February 9, 2009, with the Label 'Shirley Temple Movies', commented on that fact.  There was more than paper dolls, though, that led me to the Barrymores.  Somehow vaudeville had led me to Sigmund Spaeth and him to famous theatrical families of the time; the Dewey Decimal System brought the Drew and Barrymore families into proximity, a current film (which I found hard to understand), None But the Lonely Heart, featured Ethel, we had Lionel telling the story of A Christmas Carol (well, too, as I recall, on 6 sides of 10" shellac 78rpm), and lots of stuff in the weekly magazines on John (who was dead only two years).  Eventually, these led me to Gene Fowler's popular biography (see above: the gossip column dignified as Hollywood history in hard cover).  The Wiki's list will give his range; his own mentions of himself in his"Good Night, Sweet Prince" will hint at his own proximity to the Barrymore life style.  A number of copies are available even today, though most will have been sold off.  By the time I was out of high school, in 1952, I was no longer enchanted with the Barrymores as theatrical artists, but the idea of sinful Hollywood during The War (ours, WW II) had led me to The Dream Life of Balso Snell (much, much worse than Miss Loneleyhearts) but as good an adolescent trip as can be found anywhere: incompetently extremely ambitious.  Something far better kept being mentioned by critics, Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One.  And within a couple of years I had a friend who was a librarian eager to send me de-accessioned copies ("ex-library", if you don't mind marginalia that today can be matched in the comments of Twitter, et al., meaning indestructibly well bound) of memoirs written "with" a writer or alone with a tape recorder and a typist, or independent biographies, written without the object's having the right to object).  None of these are candidates to become a classic Life of any kind.
I don't mean those in the EB 11th edition, the most famous being Swinburne's sv Mary Queen of Scots, that have a remarkable point of view.  Swinburne's, which is only 6 two-colum quarto pages (which will come to about 48 octavo pages of Penguin Classics. and even so much longer than any modern encyclopedia editor will tolerate).  Of course, Mary Queen of Scots has always attracted those in some measure prone to identify with her, at least imaginatively or operatically.  Indeed, I have read only half of one of them, lent to me by a neighbor herself at that time an octogenarian herself, so I was not surprised when she lent me her copy of Victoria Regina, the favorite role of Helen Hayes, a play by Laurence Houseman no longer as highly regarded as it was in 1934.  In the present generation, biographies of Princess Diana probably fill the bill (though I don't know what may exist for more recent celebrities).
Also, for whatever reason, I don't quite know why even today, and even in the most liberal and literary Press, Shirley Temple stands apart.  Or why, even in the conservative Press, most are just as fond of Pete Seeger as I have been.  But why have they forgotten the Tale of Abi Yoyo?
Who has more to contribute?  Did anyone else for a while feel that Edna St. Vincent Millay was a major poet?  Who took her place in the 1960s?
And remember that Drew Barrymore, however talented, is not very closely related to John.
And, again, the Canadian film with which I began this Post is really excellent.
P.S. I had intended to say something about Waugh's The Loved One but neglected to do so.  Anyway, it wasn't a Public Library self-indulgence but a choice of a different kind.  So I'll just say that it is hilarious to read, even when it turns gruesome, so enjoy it.  In Evelyn Waugh (who had problems of his own, of course) reacting to Forest Lawn brought out the best and worst in him.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What Evergreen Drive tells us

Now turn the corner North to Evergreen Drive

I promised not to study any more bungalows.  These are not new kinds, though no two are quite alike, especially after nearly a century, but they are not part of Zadok Realty's planned tracts, beginning with Roseland Terrace, yet they are very much related to those on the south side of Government Street (and some also to the northern half of Beauregard Town).
When I saw what we have here I took a few pictures, but I don't need to discuss them in detail, beyond observing that some are more faithful to their origins (if only because they have been restored more recently: they are well informed).
How shall I put it?  I came to Louisiana unaware of and blind to racial distinctions of any kind (from Berkeley, CA).  Only in the last five years and thanks to my looking more closely at 1920s bungalows, after my colleagues had told me that I must not look at houses in some blocks (else I'd own a house of my own in these blocks, just west of the main High School) did I form the habits usual here.  Now, thanks to one of the nation's best mayors and many other fine citizens,  and to living and going where I please (provided it isn't a flood-prone "bottom") can I be interested in the integrated development of the town.  Also, I don't know, I cannot tell, what 'community' now enjoys the Magnet High School as its own.
I should point out, what I haven't studied yet, that the slash of the Interstate Freeway, N-S, I-110, may have been really divisive.  And Evergreen Drive is one of several streets that run uninterrupted from Government Street to North Blvd, by which you can go directly west, all the way to the Old Capitol and the River.  I first saw this continuity in several of the bungalows preserved on S. 19th St., just north of the new Dufrocq Elementary (as previously the old one of 1906, abandoned to dilapidation).  Now, I think, the reversal of dilapidation is replacing the race to Ranch-style NASCAR-land (probably an unjust designation).
In any case, easy-going Louisiana is a pleasure to those who love the America of their parents, parents who bought their first homes in the 1920s.
The photos taken yesterday specially for this essay

Evergreen starting from Government, opposite Drehr Place, and running north to North Blvd.

Evergreen between Louisiana and Spain, south towards the big garage of the house with the façade heading the previous Post, showing its biggest palm, the rear of its square façade, and its two chimneys

428 Evergreen, the first house north of the garage and yard of the big fancy house.  It rained and froze starting the next day, but yesterday I came back (better light and no pickup truck are demanded).  this is very like the Sanders house less than two blocks away in the Drehr Place part of Wisteria Street.
428 Evergreen: the "camel back" provides upstairs bedrooms, and I'm not sure which gables are primary (by now any good contractor could have looked around, and the 'chinese' gable may be elective, the front door an up-market choice), but the vocabulary and syntax, especially the short pillars and brick posts, are exactly right.
Here on the corner of Evergreen and Spain, we have a fine choice of pillars, quite urban, and that blue paint that has been used a lot all over the Beauregards and Garden District.  Nice to see that this is a family house whose child got a car for Christmas!
Here, and still in that early 1920s (I think) vocabulary with square 'Chinese' brackets and  dagger-pointed pi pendants on the pillars, we can compare again the Sanders house in Drehr Place and all those already compared with it in earlier Posts.  The open gate for access to the garage, framed by brick posts topped with cast pineapples, however, belong to the house next to it, currently being worked on, hence the open picket fence for supplies.
And here is a detail of it, definitely going to be Craftsman and possibly such to begin with.   Again, this is highly correct in its approach.  Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, when houses of the 20s were "improved" they were a disgrace, everywhere, not only in Louisiana (though in our 1920s neighborhoods, and not only in the kitchens, we have our own mockeries).  I had to photograph in the shade, but see the general view in the Album.
Some of you may have seen me last week daftly call a banana limp from freezing a 'bamboo' instead!  Well, here's a very fine stand of ornamental banana, and like all the others that suffer when we have a hard freeze this one will survive, too.
Now I have to wonder: can I learn enough to share about the whole of the neighborhoods from before WW II (which caused a great hiatus in domestic housing)?  It bothers me that people talk about 'the working class', both blue- collar and white-collar, which is to say most of us, including about the same proportion of African-Americans (just read Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters", the first volume of his biography of Martin Luther King, inter alia, and of the California Hispanics and Asians that I went to Oakland High School with) as if we had been either wealthy families at their Newport summer homes or else the subjects of the justly famous FSA photos.  What I like about Baton Rouge is that, for the most part, it is neither.  Just like San Luis Obispo, where I was born.