Living in New Orleans, it’s easy to take shotgun houses for granted. They’re everywhere. But like anything else in the Crescent City, there’s more to these simple, unassuming homes than meets the eye.

To foster appreciation for this form of architecture, the Preservation Resource Center (PRC) of New Orleans is hosting two major events as part of Shotgun House Month: a lecture and discussion on the origins of the architecture and a tour of selected shotgun houses in the Irish Channel.

Many shotgun houses directly front the curb, but some (like this one) have small strips of front lawn.

An Octavia St shotgun. Photo by Ian Cockburn.

A fading, abandoned shotgun.

The Shotgun House Tour

On Saturday March 28th and Sunday March 29th, locals and tourists alike can enjoy a self-guided tour of seven shotgun homes. The tour is open from 10am-4pm on both days.

Advance tickets are $20 for PRC members and $25 for non-members (buy here). All tickets purchased the day of the event are $30, available at the tour headquarters on the corner of Washington Ave. and Magazine St. in the Irish Channel. Any ticket is good for both days; patrons can do part of the tour on Saturday and part on Sunday if they choose.

“It’s a rite of spring,” Suzanne Blaum, director of education and outreach for the PRC, said of the tour, which is nearing its 20th anniversary. This year’s event will be the first since Hurricane Katrina to be spread over two days.

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.

Blaum said 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. The houses featured on this year’s tour will give visitors an appreciation of the architecture as well as ideas on how to creatively use space in their own homes.

“When people buy a shotgun, they don’t always know how to maximize their space,” said Brandy Lane Gilly, volunteer and co-chair of the Shotgun House Tour. “Seeing these different homes will give them a variety of different options. This is one layout seen in a variety of ways.”

It's something that is like nothing else in any other American city. Ellen Weiss, Emerita Professor at the Tulane School of Architecture.

Shotguns Revisited: Origin Theories & Other Matters

On Tuesday, March 24th, Ellen Weiss, Emerita Professor at the Tulane School of Architecture, will deliver a lecture titled Shotguns Revisited: Origin Theories & Other Matters at the PRC at 923 Tchoupitoulas St. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a wine and cheese reception, followed by Weiss’ presentation at 6 p.m. Tickets are free for PRC members and $5 for non-members.

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.

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.

Images courtesy of the Preservation Resource Center, unless otherwise noted. Main image by Ian Cockburn

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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.


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