POSTED Tue. Apr 12, 2016


Shogtun Home Tour: Room by Room
Adam Karlin
Written by ADAM KARLIN

Of all the distinctive architecture one can find in New Orleans, few building command the name recognition of the humble shotgun. Ironically, these home are difficult to find in the French Quarter and CBD, where most tourists spend the majority of their time. On the other hand, they can easily be found in many of the city’s other neighborhoods.

A shotgun house or shack, for those who don’t know, is a narrow residence, with rooms arranged one behind the other. There is usually no connecting corridor between the rooms, although a sidehall shotgun may have a corridor running down the side. Double shotguns replicate the narrow rectangle on either side of a median line. Doors buttress both ends of a shotgun.

This weekend, visitors and locals can explore this iconic home on April 16 and 17 with the Preservation Resource Center (PRC) during its annual Shotgun Home Tour. The self guided tours are available on both days, from 10am to 4pm, and leave from The Rink shopping center (2727 Prytania St).

The tour takes in seven homes in the Garden District that exemplify the shotgun style. Advance tickets are $20 for PRC members and $25 for non-members; all tickets purchased the day of the event are $30, available at the tour headquarters in The Rink.

In years past, the PRC has described the event as “a rite of spring.” Part of the tour’s appeal comes from the way in which New Orleanians, an already quirky group by nature, put their unique stamps on the houses.

Suzanne Blaum, the PRC’s Director of Education and Outreach, believes the shotgun’s straight-line layout lends itself to creativity. Some people create private bedrooms or add on a camelback (a partial second story layered onto the back of the house). Others decorate the home exterior with funky, bold colors.

Last year, Ellen Weiss, Emerita Professor at the Tulane School of Architecture, described the appeal of the shotgun for NewOrleans&Me. Weiss, who grew up in New York City and Washington, D.C. (and has lived in numerous other cities), fell in love with the shotgun house shortly after arriving in New Orleans.

“They’re compelling visually. They really command your attention,” Weiss said.

Why do these homes catch people’s eyes? There’s a classical feel to their design and aesthetics. Weiss said the outline of a double shotgun house is comparable (albeit on a smaller scale) to the basic frame of ancient Greek temples. There are no columns, but the dark shutters closed over tall openings lend the homes a look similar to columns on a temple.

The origin of shotgun architecture is fiercely debated among scholars. One theory is the buildings are variations of the classic Creole cottage, but a more recent hypothesis, put forth by folklorist John Michael Vlach and supported by LSU anthropologist Jay Edwards, states that the design originated in the Bight of Benin in southwest Nigeria. Slaves would have brought the shotgun design into Haiti and the Caribbean, and from there, into New Orleans (supporting this theory, shotgun homes can be found throughout the South and in parts of the Caribbean).

While it’s tempting for many scholars to take an either/or position on the debate, Weiss said the two competing theories don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The shotgun may be a multicultural house. It’s possible the architecture came both from the designs of Nigerians and from locals’ revisions of the Creole cottage. The ideas merged in the melting pot of New Orleans, and the style thrived.

Regardless of who created it, the shotgun is here to stay, and will remain a source of pride for New Orleanians for generations to come.

“It’s something that is like nothing else in any other American city,” said Weiss.

Editor’s note Parts of this article have been repurposed from a previous article, The History of a Home. More information on the Preservation Resource Center’s Shotgun House Tour, as well as links for purchasing tickets, can be found here. The Shotgun House Tour is a fundraiser for PRC’s mission to improve New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods.

Image by Cheryl Gerber.

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    • The Arts Council of New Orleans
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    • PRC
    • NOMA
    • The Historic New Orleans Collection
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    • Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
    The Arts Council of New Orleans

    The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.


    WWNO, the NPR member station for New Orleans, serves southeast Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi by broadcasting balanced news, thought provoking analysis, classical music, jazz and other musical styles, intelligent entertainment, and unique local content. We broadcast on 89.9 FM, and KTLN 90.5 FM in the Houma-Thibodaux area as a public service of the University of New Orleans. All of WWNO’s programs, including its growing local news coverage, are available online at


    WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.


    Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.


    As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

    The Historic New Orleans Collection

    The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

    Southern Food

    The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

    Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.



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