Check out this article about Project Home Again in New Orleans


Saturday, August 22, 2009
By Stephanie Bruno
Contributing writer

THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Gentilly’s Filmore district, bounded by Robert E. Lee Boulevard on the north, Harrison Avenue on the south, the London Avenue Canal on the east and Bayou St. John on the west. Lake Terrace is adjacent on the north, and to the south is the former St. Bernard public housing complex, which is undergoing a massive overhaul.

The area once belonged to Scotsman Alexander Milne, who developed popular attractions along the lakefront. The land was swampy when he purchased it, but Milne was certain that it eventually would be drained and filled so that the city could extend all the way from the Mississippi River to the lake. He was right: Many modern-day lakefront neighborhoods eventually grew out of Milne’s holdings, including Filmore, which developed in the mid-20th century after lift pumps were installed to drain the London Avenue Canal.

THE BLOCK: The 1200 block of Owens Boulevard on the even-numbered, or south, side of the street, between Wellington Drive on the east and St. Bernard Avenue on the west. Readers who like to take virtual Street Walks using the “Street View” function on Google maps may be disappointed this week because, with the exception of two ranch houses at the Wellington end of the block, there was only vacant land here when the “Street View” images were shot.

Since then, the area has undergone major renewal due to the Riggio Foundation’s “Project Home Again,” which has built 20 new homes on the square: four on Owens, a few more on Mandolin Street and a long row in the 4200 to 4400 blocks of St. Bernard Avenue. The organization is constructing 12 additional affordable and energy-efficient homes on scattered sites in Gentilly.

Today, the two ranch house are repaired and reoccupied, and four Project Home Again houses, gifted to those who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina, occupy the block.

THE HOUSES: The ranch houses at the Wellington end of the block are typical of the neighborhood between St. Bernard and Paris avenues. They are modest, slab-on-grade, one-story houses with front lawns, side drives and carports. But the four Project Home Again houses are distinctly different. Relying heavily on the Craftsman movement for their styling, they are one- and two-story homes, raised on piers, with front porches and parking in the rear. All occupy extra-wide lots.

I am traveling on St. Bernard Avenue, looking for the turn off to Park Island on the left, when I am distracted by the sight on my right: A colorful row of handsome new houses. I circle a few times before I see the “Project Home Again” sign. By then, Park Island is a distant memory, and I have a new target for my Street Walk.

— Anatomy of the block —

I walk the area before I commit to a block. The long stretch of houses along St. Bernard Avenue is breathtaking, but the sun is shining from the wrong direction. I like the houses on Mandolin, too, but there are too many cars parked in front of them this day to take photos that would convey their beauty. Then I find Owens, where two fine trees have been preserved and grassy lawns are uninterrupted by driveways (a rear “alley” provides access). This is it.

I begin at the Wellington end of the block and note that the original homes — two ranch houses — have been repaired and seemingly reoccupied.

Just past the second one, I am looking at my first Project Home Again house, a salmon-colored bungalow with a front porch and shed roof that extends from the cottage out over the porch and the home’s forward wing. Lean, tapered columns and a Craftsman-style front door add personality to the porch.

Care has been taken with the details, such as the house numbers stenciled onto the transom over the entry door and the coordinating mailbox. A fledgling cypress tree is taking root in the front yard.

To the right of the bungalow is one of the larger models of houses: one-story in front and two-story in the rear, much like the traditional New Orleans camelback. Here, however, the rear wing does not extend to the ground but is lifted on tall piers to provide a place for parking.

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The massing on this house is more complex than on the first. The entry porch extends from the body, with its own gable-fronted roof. The first floor of the house comes next, again with a gable-fronted roof, but this time with a higher roof ridge. The pattern is repeated on the two-story element.

All gables are detailed with vertical planks, a pattern often seen in historic Craftsman houses. Ah, here’s a detail I missed on the first house: The piers and the lattice between them are painted a dark green to anchor the houses to the ground and help the foundation blend with the landscape.

Both this house and its neighbor to the right sit far back from the sidewalk behind a grassy open area. Between them in the foreground is a large tree, a Chinese tallow I think. If so, just wait for its glorious fall colors to add even more beauty to the block.

The blue house that comes next seems to be a mirror image of the last house — same massing, proportions and details, but all reversed so that the entry porch is on the right rather than on the left. But now I see that it is instead a variation on a theme, for here the exterior walls of the camelback portion extend all the way down to the foundation and there is no open space below. I pick up another detail: Not all front walks extend in a line perpendicular to the sidewalk. Some are at an angle, some bend.

A massive oak tree separates the camelback from the bungalow at the corner of Owens and St. Bernard. From the front, it looks to be the same model as the salmon-colored house I first observed. Like the first house, this one sits much closer to the sidewalk than the two camelbacks, and then I realize that the variations in setbacks animate the streetscape.

I walk around the side of the bungalow along St. Bernard and see an inviting screened porch in the rear, an element I can see on the back of several houses. Because there are no rear-yard fences, the backyards of all the houses connect, creating a park-like setting.

— Life on the street —

Storm clouds are brewing and there is thunder in the distance. Still, the sun is beating down hard, so when I loop the block and stop to talk to a man mowing the grass at his home on Wellington, he is dripping with perspiration.

“Trying to beat the rain,” he says in answer to my silent question.

He pushes the mower through thick, tall St. Augustine grass, his floppy hat providing little relief from the sun. I ask him how long he’s been back in his house and what he thinks about the new houses nearby.

“Took a while to get back. Too long,” he says, huffing and puffing in short sentences. “Those new houses? Nice. Glad to have ’em.”

Then he reaches the front end of the lawn and turns back to mow in the opposite direction.

. . . . . . .

Stephanie Bruno can be reached at For more pictures of blocks profiled in this column, go to The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center website ( provided background information on Filmore. Learn more about Project Home Again at


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