The Benachi House and Esplanade Villa stand at one of the historic crossroads of New Orleans. The houses owe their locations to the formation of the Esplanade Ridge and to the commerce of both the indigenous Indians and the European settlers. Periodic overflow from the Mississippi River into lake Pontchartrain created a ridge of land and a maze of bayous adjoined by natural levees. After the river returned to its channel these bayous remained as arms of the lake, calm water-courses influenced only by tide and wind.
The Esplanade Ridge became relatively high and stable ground extending from the river to the confluence of nearby Bayous Gentilly (later Sauvage) and Petit au Lavoir, and hence to Bayou St. John. On either side of the Ridge dry land yielded to Cypress swamp.
The Indians found settlement on Bayou St. John hospita- ble. Its waters were easily navigable for fishing and trapping, with ready connections to the Gulf of Mexico through the passes. The Mississippi's formidable current was not a factor here.
The ridge was a natural portage between the river and Bayou St. John. Indian footsteps and later those of French and Spanish settlers inscribed on it the serpentine Bayou Road, the oldest road in New Orleans and one of the few of primitive origins that survives the geometric formalism of the French engineers who laid out New Orleans. Indeed when Bienville paddled up Bayou St. John in 1699 to first explore the area, he probably walked a trail at the location of this right of way to reach the Mississippi.
Here washerwomen toiled, ceramics were fashioned, and fruits and vegetables grown.
In the Colonial period, land on both sides of the Bayou Road was granted as concessions, first by the Company of the Indies, then by the Kings of France and later by the Spanish Crown. These tracts were developed into habitations (plantations) with houses and outbuildings facing the Bayou Road, having orchards behind and cultivated fields extending into the swamps.
The earliest concessions or European ownership of this area belonged to settlers whose homes were on the Bayou--notably Etienne Stephen Langlois whose plantation of 3 1/2 arpents front on Bayou St. John stretched back to Bayou Road. A small stream actually ran from the vicinity of the Esplanade Villa along Langlois' plantation to the Bayou. In 1724 Langlois acquired the adjoining land and increased the width of his estate to 6 1/2 arpents back to Bayou Road.
In the early 1730s Etienne Langlois sold his plantation to Renaud d'Hauterive, who a few years later sold to his neighbor Louis Brazillier (called Tourangeau). At some point the plantation became an 8-arpent estate. Brazillier thus came to be the second largest landowner on the east bank of the Bayou St. John. In 1756 Brazillier sold a portion of the rear of his plantation on both sides of Bayou Road to Dauberville, who promptly died and when the property was auctioned it passed to Alexander Latil. He operated a crockery factory on his estate for many years.
By the middle of the 18th Century this estate had been incorporated into the vast holdings of Brasilier dit Tourangeau, and after him, Vincent d'Auberville, whose land included the sites of both houses, on both sides of Bayou Road. Subsequent owners included Delisle Duparc, Juan Enoul, and Gabriel Peyroux de la Roche. Thereafter Pedro Dulcido Barran and Simon Farve were among its owners.
By 1803 the frontage of the Benachi House land was reduced to its present width of 138 feet (1-1/2 arpents), and the depth of 540 feet that continued into the 20th Century. On its right side, in the present right of way of North Tonti Street, was Castenado Alley, a path that served the land of Jose Castenado commencing at the present location of Columbus Street. From this time exists the earliest records of a maison principal on the site.
Simon Farve sold the tract to Joseph Zeringue on December 30, 1805. Zeringue commissioned Barthelemy Lafon, the respected Creole architect, to design a masonry dwelling of four rooms and a rear gallery enclosed on three sides. With its hip roof supported by slender colonnettes on the front gallery, and four bay fenestra- tion, it was remarkably similar to the original portion of the the adjacent House on Bayou Road, at 2275.
In 1812 the house and grounds were acquired by M. Guillaume Bellanger, a former College d'Orleans professor who opened a school there. An 1834 newspaper account describes a "basin dug out in the interior of the establishment" for student baths. The Charles Zimpel city survey of that same year shows a circular structure to the rear of the main building. It may indeed be the one unearthed by the present owner and partially reclaimed as a fish pond (beneath the bridge leading to the Gazebo), making it the oldest construction existing on the site.
After a series of intervening owners the habitation, with the Zeringue house and other dependencies, was acquired by Nicolas Marino Benachi in 1852 for $11,134. Benachi was a Greek business- man who worked in the New Orleans cotton trade for the Greek firm of Ralli Bros. They were international cotton brokers with offices in London, Cairo, Athens and India. Nicolas was born on the Greek island of Chios. His brother Emmanuel became Mayor of Athens. Emmanuel's son Anthony donated his Athens house which is now the prominent Benachi Museum.
Nicolas was Consul of Greece in New Orleans, a speculator in real estate and slaves, a hunter, horseman and founder of the first Greek Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere. When he acquired the property he was married to Catherine Grund. They had four children. Catherine and two of their children died while vacationing at Biloxi during the yellow fever epidemic of 1853. The Inventory of her Succession in 1856 shows Mon. Benachi and two children living in a five room house on Bayou Road. On November 13, he married Anne Marie Bidault (1837-1897), a native of Bordeaux, France with whom he had five children: Marie Benachi Botassi, who later moved to Paris, France; Anthony N. Benachi (1858-1916), B. N. (Zio) Benachi (1866-1923), D. N. Benachi, and Irene Benachi Bidault. For this second family Benachi built this building in 1858-59. The Zeringue house was probably demolished.
At Biloxi, Mississippi the Benachi family owned large tracts of land. N. M. Benachi is believed to have planted the live oak trees that line Benachi Avenue there. Zio became associated with a Biloxi chemical company. A. N. "Tony" Benachi was a cotton broker in New Orleans, and a bon vivant. He and Zio were yachting enthusiasts. Tony owned the "Royal Flush" a 16-foot cat boat that was famous as a racer in the Gulf Coast.
Benachi died in 1886 and his widow lost the building at a Sheriff's sale. By that time the Louisiana Supreme Court in the case of Morgan vs. Lombard had declared that Castenado Alley was not a public way. The brothers Torre, Peter and Joseph, bought the house and grounds.
They were shippers and importers, with real estate holdings. The line of their steamships sailed under the name Royal English Mail Line between New Orleans and the ports of Central and South America. They were the first to import lemons into the United States.
Peter had a wife and five children. Joseph was a childless widower. During their joint ownership the main house was expanded, through the addition of a flanking wing toward Bayou Road from the present location of the cistern. The wing made the entire structure "U-shaped" and featured double galleries on its front facade. It is almost certainly the building now located at 1429 N. Tonti Street, but it had one intermediate stop on its way.
Joseph Torre died in 1900 and Peter acquired his interest in the house. Then in 1902 Peter had an opportunity to purchase the land that is now North Tonti Street, on grounds measuring 39' x 143'. North Tonti had never been extended between Bayou Road and Columbus Street. Peter moved the wing to occupy his newly acquired lot, where it remained until 1915.
Almost immediately after this move pressure mounted from residents to complete N. Tonti Street and in 1907 Peter Torre agreed to sell enough to the new lot to facilitate the extension. This enabled Torre to subdivide the original Zeringue habitation and create lots fronting on Tonti. The previously relocated wing was removed from the new road bed, and divided into two buildings that became 1429 and 1433 N. Tonti. It was considered necessary to preserve as open space a depth to the rear of Torre's property and to the left of 1429 N. Tonti for the possible extension of Kerlerec Street. This never occurred.
Torre died in 1917. The Benachi-Torre house remained in the use and ownership of his descendants until 1981. Venetia Torre, Peter's last surviving child, came to own the house and grounds in their entirety, and she occupied it until her death in 1978. She left its ownership to the Louisiana Landmarks Society, but granted to one of her twin nephews, Mottram P. Torre, M.D., the right to occupy it during his lifetime.
Dr. Torre died suddenly in 1981 and the Louisiana Landmarks Society resolved to find a suitable purchaser for the ensemble. The Society's Pitot House was not self-sustaining, and its Board of Trustees did not view the required rehabilitation, furnishing and curatorship of 2257 Bayou Road as a realistic possibility. The Society owned an empty house. Sealed bids were accepted based on objective criteria: price; terms; covenants to preserve interior floor plan and details, exterior appearance and configuration; and assurance that the main building would be restored in two years.
Approximately twelve bids were received and considered. In December, 1981 the Board of Trustees authorized the sale to Robin von Breton and James G. Derbes for $227,000.00. Their bid was found to best satisfy the various criteria. Title passed on July 9, 1982.
The four lots comprising 2212, 2216 and 2222 Esplanade probably had creole cottages on them until 1881-1885, when they were demolished and the existing houses were erected for Julius Weis, a prominent cotton broker. The earliest of these structures were probably of post-in-the ground bousillage construction, rented to woodsmen or carters who worked on the waterway to Mobile or carried items to and from the bayou and town.
The Esplanade Villa is the third structure on that lot. The second structure was a brick between post cottage built on sills raised above ground. It probably evolved into a house that resembled the The House on Bayou Road.
Magdalena Brazillier, who had married Francisco Hery (called Duplanty), inherited substantial lands including the site of the Esplanade Villa from Louis Brazillier, her father. On October 15, 1774 she sold the 8 arpent plantation to lawyer Joseph Chalon and his wife Maria Isabel DesRuisseaux. The title for the property on which the Esplanade Villa sits shows Chalon as the Bayou-side neighbor in 1778.
It is surmised that Latil must have sold the portion of the rear of the Brazillier plantation south of Bayou Road which he owned, a triangle in shape, to Pierre Couturier. Couturier had been the surgeon for the Fourth Company of the Swiss Regiment of Karrer, the only permanent military company stationed in New Orleans during the French regime. Many of its officers founded Louisiana families, notably Gregoire Volant, whose daughter married Francois Pascalis de La Barre and whose son was executed by O'Reilly for instigating the revolt against Spanish authority in 1768. When he wasn't practicing surgery, Couturier imported furs and deer skins from western Louisiana and exported them to France. Couturier married Marie Francoise le Kintrek, the daughter of Jean Joseph Le Kintrek (called Dupont) and of Anne Marie Pose of New Orleans. Marie Le Kintrek must have soon died, permitting Couturier to marry into the Chevalier family for Couturier's brother-in-law after 1751 was Chevalier, storekeeper for the King in Illinois. Couturier's widow, Jeanne Chevalier, remarried Santiago Lamothe. After his death, she sold the property to Gabriel Peyroux in 1778.
Gabriel Peyroux was an important citizen of New Orleans and resident of Bayou Road. Among the first to declare allegiance to Spain in 1769 after the arrival of General Alejandro O'Reilly, Peyroux married Suzanne Caue, daughter of Francisco Caue, native of Calais, France in 1772. Peyroux owned property on both sides of Bayou Road in the vicinity of the Esplanade Villa. Peyroux first purchased the land on the left side of Bayou Road in 1778. Three years later he purchased the property across the road. Across it were 2 bridges known as the Bridges of the Washerwomen, located a block toward the Bayou from the Esplanade Villa. The washerwomen came from New Orleans to wash clothes in the little bayou. Peyroux tried to charge them for the privilege, and even removed one of the bridges. The Cabildo had to intervene and order Peyroux to cease his efforts and replace the bridge.
Gabriel Peyroux died in the 1790s. In 1796 his widow, Maria Susana Caue, partitioned the property and sold the 2 arpents next to the Luis Blanc estate to Josef Suarez, the 2 arpents closest to the City to Bernardina Bertrand, and 3 years later the middle portion (a little less than 2 arpents wide, 53 toises & 1 foot) to Carlos Guardiola. The house at the Esplanade Villa was later erected on the portion that passed to Bertrand. She kept the property for 10 years before disposing of it to Thomas Poree. Poree was the son-in-law of Antoine Foucher, one of the wealthier members of the creole set. After keeping the property for 15 years, his widow, Louise Foucher, sold the 2 arpents to Basile Beauregard, a real estate developer. Beauregard erected some buildings on the property, and sold the entire parcel to Bernard Coquet. Coquet didn't subdivide. A decade later he resold it to Beauregard, who then (1836) made the subdivision of blocks that now exists.
The first plan of the square showed a series of 30' front lots along Esplanade that extended halfway through the square. The first lot, next to the Milne Gardens at the river end of the plantation, was essentially triangular because of the necessity of squaring off the diagonal that arose from the plantation's lines crossing Bayou Road. Lot 1 thus had 51'1" of frontage on Espla- nade.
William Edmund and Robert Murphy purchased lots 1,2,3, and 19 on July 23, 1836 and constructed some buildings. While the sales of 1836 do not mention buildings, by 1841 there were buildings on the site of the Esplanade Villa. These were probably the 3rd generation of structures to be associated with the land. In 1842 the brothers sold the lots and buildings to Zoe Ann Plantey, a free woman of color. While she does not appear in other acts around the Treme, Rose Denise Plantey, possibly her sister, appears frequent- ly. She erected a house at 1722-24 St. Ann and owned another at 1718-20 St. Ann. Their parents were probably the St. Dominque refugees G. Plantey and Magdelein Cece Plantey. When the time came many years later to make her will, only one person was present (excluding the witnesses brought by the notary), William Edmund Murphy. This fact and his earlier sale to Zoe suggest a strong relationship between William Edmund Murphy, who never married, and the Planteys.
Though Zoe Ann Plantey kept the property that includes the Esplanade Villa for only 5 years, the adjacent property remained in the hands of free people of color for decades. As early as 1774 Alexander Latil sold it to free negro San Luis Lanuitte. He sold it to Negress Martina, who passed it to free person of color Miguel. Marie Michel, also known as Noyan, a free woman of color, acquired the property early in the 19th century. Marie Michel had built a raised creole house by 1806. She leased a small strip adjacent to the Esplanade Villa to Marthe Lebreton, another free woman of color, who also had a house. Alexander Milne purchased the 2 arpent estate in the late 1820s and developed an extensive vegetable and fruit tree farm. Such truck farming adjacent to the City were very profitable and as the City spread truck farming spread steadily outwards taking over sugar lands adjacent to suburban villages.
Around the corner from the Esplanade Villa on N. Tonti still stands the Lafon Home of the Holy Family. Wealthy businessman and free man of color Thomy Lafon purchased 2 lots from Basile Beauregard at his auction sale in 1836. During the course of the 1850s he erected the large home (virtually a hotel) on the site to care for elderly and infirm free women of color. This ministry was carried out by the Society of the Holy Family, a religious order of colored nuns, founded in New Orleans in 1845 by Marie Aliquot. The nuns operated a home in the building for over a century before abandoning it.
When Zoe Ann Plantey agreed to purchase the 4 lots and buildings at 2216 Esplanade, she committed herself to pay $8,000 by assuming certain notes that the Murphy's had signed earlier. According to the record Zoe did not make all the required payments, but instead of the property falling to the 3rd party creditors, in 1847 she transferred it back to the Murphys.
In 1853 the square underwent a dramatic change. In February notary Abel Dreyfous constructed the house at the corner of Tonti and Esplanade, the oldest extant house on the square. The house extended 35' on Esplanade and 45' on Tonti. Its floor plan showed essentially a double house, one half of which was probably some sort of store, the other residential. Four months later the Murphys sold their 4 lots to Nicolas Marino Benachi. The lots facing Esplanade contained buildings, undoubtedly rental property in the form of creole cottages or perhaps something grander. The sale price was a hefty $10,000 for lots 1,2 and 3. Lot 19, without a building and facing Barracks Street, sold for only $800. Benachi kept the property for almost 30 years before selling to Jewish businessman Julius Weis. He purchased the 4 lots with buildings and a fifth lot all of $4,500, a sum that reflected the heavy deflation of the late 19th century.
Julius Weis was one of a handful of Jewish businessmen in New Orleans in the late 19th century who defined the nature of philanthropy and enterprise. Of the structures he caused to be erected, 2212, 2216 and 2222 Esplanade may be the only survivors. While the various Godchaux enterprises have passed away, still the Godchaux house and sugar refinery stands in Reserve, Louisiana. Isidore Newman's school still turns out scholars from its extensive uptown quarters. All three men emigrated from Germany in their teens, began careers in the countryside before moving to New Orleans, founded Temple Sinai in 1870, and died around the turn of the 20th century. These were Julius Weis' peers.
Weis was born in village of Klingen, near Landau, Rheinpflatz, Germany on 8 October 1826. His father was a butcher, and could not afford to keep his children in school. After engaging in some modest mercantile pursuits as a young man, he persuaded his parents to permit him to go to America. He arrived in New Orleans 2 November 1845 and promptly met Isaac Mayer, an old family friend. Mayer sent Julius to Natchez, from where he began a career as a peddler in the Mississippi countryside. In 8 years of effort he accumulated $6,000. With that capital he opened a dry goods store in Fayette, Miss. In 1857, Julius sold his store and moved to Jackson to become a partner in Mayer, Deutsch & Weis. With the onset of the Civil War Weis traveled to New Orleans to withdraw his savings from the Citizens Bank in cash for shipment to Paris. During the Civil War he purchased a parcel of land in Memphis with Confederate money, then resold it for U.S. currency.
In 1864 the firm sent Weis to New Orleans to open a dry goods store. Before he left, Weis married his partner's daughter, Caroline Mayer, by whom he had six children. In 1865 he was elected a Board member of the Sun Mutual Insurance Company, a position he maintained for many years. The dry goods business soon bored him, and he entered the business of buying and reselling cotton. It was this business that made his fortune, all in the space of 13 years. It was the same business that made Isidore Newman's and Paul Tulane's fortune. The firm operated under the name of Mayer, Weis and Company. In one year they handled 130,000 bales of cotton. The business prospered to such a degree that when a silent partner had to be bought out the price in 1875 was $150,000.
When Weis arrived in New Orleans in 1864, he joined the Shanarai Chasset, a congregation dominated by German Jews like himself. He became a founding member of Temple Sinai in 1870.
In 1876 Weis built his palatial three story 21-room home at 1237 Jackson Avenue. It no longer exists. In 1880 Weis accepted his greatest challenge--the Presidency of Touro Infirmary. The time had arrived for Touro to move from its cramped downtown quarters, but money was scarce. Weis raised the funds and superintended the move to Touro's present location on Prytania Avenue. Weis also played a key role in stabilizing the first Jewish private school in New Orleans, started 1868 by the Hebrew Educational Society.
In 1882 Weis retired from the cotton business because of his health. After a long trip abroad, he returned and started the firm of Julius Weis and Sons. In 1884 Carrie died at age of 44, just a few months after her eldest daughter married Paul Godchaux, son of Leon Godchaux. His last major charitable work was the founding of the Touro Home for the Aged and Infirm in 1899. It was named for him because of his large contributions.
Though Weis had five sons, he had no male grandsons. His daughter Ida married Joseph Friend. She died in 1963 at age of 95, having chalked up a list of civic contributions for which she received the Times-Picayune Loving Cup Award in 1946.
When Julius Weis purchased the 4 lots the creole cottages may have been run down or they may simply have not been what the market demanded; but, in any case, Weis replaced them with the fine late classical double gallery homes that stand there today. In 1892 Weis sold the Esplanade Villa to Emilie Duplantier, the widow of L.J.O. Plauche. She kept the house for 27 years. Apparently she did not reside there. She married Joseph M. Elliot, a physician, whose office was in the Central Business District and who resided at 1625 Governor Nichols.
In 1919 she sold the house to Marie Aline Zatarain, the wife of Alfredo Blanco, who leased it to Winn Knox and Henry O. Singletary. Soon thereafter she sold it to Henry Romanski, the president of Romanski Photo Engraving Company who resided at 1047 Moss Street. Romanski kept borrowing money on the property and when the Great Depression hit, he couldn't pay the money back. In 1933 he dationed the house to Dixie Homestead. Property values were so low that Dixie wouldn't sell it until 1941 when Joseph Rosenberg purchased it. He lived there for 20 years until he sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Walter Negrotto, who again used it as rental property. In January, 1995 the Negrottos sold the property to James G. Derbes.
Constructed at a cost of $18,000.00, the Benachi's house was erected in what had become a well-to-do Creole neighborhood. Esplanade Avenue had been extended along with the Vieux Carre and Faubourg Marigny street grids. A Bayou Road omnibus line, organized by Benachi and his friend, Benjamin Rodriguez, provided connections to the old city. Esplanade was lined with trees and some of the finest residences. The Rodriguez-Musson House (where Edgar Degas sojourned in 1872) was constructed directly across Esplanade in 1854. At Dorgenois and Bayou Road the Lebreton or Indian Market provided a public place for meeting household needs. The city had come to the country.
The house retains its original exterior configuration (including the rear projecting wing on the right), floor plan and most details. Later additions have been removed.
It is an idiosyncratic building for the period, probably indicative of Benachi's individualism and travels. The front facade is formed in Classical lines, particularly with the entablature surmounting the double galleries. The paired Doric box columns, "flat" front wall of tongue and groove boards and cast iron balusters are unusual for New Orleans. The house presents a bold and simple symmetry with only one bay on either side of the front entrances. The sliding exterior pocket doors off the first floor front gallery are unique to this house for this period. Shutters on the first floor are paneled, while those on the second are louvered.
Magnificent gardens, stables and other outbuildings were to the rear. There was no lower floor rear gallery. Elements of the cast iron front fence were manufactured by Wood & Perot of Philadelphia. The walk gate and intermediate posts show a Gothic influence that was also popular in the New Orleans furniture of the period. The cast iron fountain on the front walk is Rococo in design, like the chandeliers, and originally featured three tiers.
The existing interior details in the parlors, dining room and main hall are original to the building. Gas light was provided throughout. The chandeliers in the public rooms are attributed to Cornelius & Baker. These chandeliers were removed from the house in the 1981 and reclaimed by the present owner through litigation. The black marble mantles are original. The only change in floor plan on the lower floor is the conversion of the butler's pantry to the rear of the dining room into a closet and bathroom. The placement of the interior stairway at the rear has more in common with a Creole Cottage than a mansion of this period.
During Benachi's ownership the house came to be known as the Rendezvous des Chasseurs, the gathering place of the hunters. Mythology later developed as to its use as a hunting club. In fact Nicolas Benachi enjoyed hunting. It is likely that he and his friends would meet here and go off to hunt in the surrounding area. The Inventory of his Succession lists two cases of stuffed birds in the downstairs hall. However, the floor plan of the building, particularly the children's rooms upstairs, suggests a design for a family, not a men's club.
Although the main building and grounds suffered from neglect during the last years of Torre ownership, little had been done to modify the main house that Benachi built. By December, 1982, at an initial cost of $130,000, the Derbeses rewired and replumbed the house, installed a heating and air conditioning system for each floor, repaired and replaced much of the original plaster walls, created two new bathrooms and rearranged a third in the old butler's pantry on the first floor, rebuilt the front gallery, replaced and enlarged the first floor gallery in the rear, installed a modern kitchen in the lower gallery room, built bookshelves in the smaller parlor and closets in the bedrooms upstairs, roughed in an attic apartment and provided a new entrance for it off the second floor rear gallery, extensively trimmed and removed trees and other overgrowth, and repaired and repainted the house inside and out.
In 1983 the rear terrace, designed by the Derbeses, was constructed almost entirely from bricks and flagstones that were unearthed on the site. The gazebo was purchased from the public television auction. The cast iron fountain in the rear is new.
In 1983 the Delta Chapter of the Louisiana Archeology Society excavated several areas of the yard behind the terrace. No privies were found, but trash pits yielded an impressive array of transfer ware, chamber pots, bottles, jars and other objects. The cave was located, empty of artifacts, behind the shed. The Gaudy Dutch pitcher and blue transfer china displayed on the etagere in the front parlour are from the excavation.
After the basic house restoration other aspects of this project have included repair and restoration of the cast iron fence and fountain in the front, and landscaping and maintenance of the grounds. After the gazebo and terrace were constructed, a 25' circular basin was discovered underground at the edge of the terrace. In 1984 it was excavated and half of it restored as a fish pond. The cistern beside the kitchen is probably early 20th Century, since the flanking wing occupied that space until at least 1902. The circular cistern base on the terrace is late 19th Century, served by the wing that the Torres added and then removed.
A major phase of the restoration focused on the Carriage House. This building, constructed with vertical barge boards as a secondary material, was probably a turn-of-the-century garage, with servants' quarters above. It may however be of earlier date, used by Benachi as a carriage house. The rehabilitation, completed in 1986, required the replacement of the previous foundation and virtual reconstruction of the first floor. It serves as a rental unit.
With the renovation of the third floor attic as a second rental apartment in l989, the restoration of the house was complete.
The downstairs public rooms are furnished predominantly in the styles that were popular in the mid-19th Century: Victorian, Gothic and Roccoco Revival, Classical and Empire.
In the dining room, the Victorian sideboard with the white marble top and shelves above is probably by Prudent Mallard, the most famous of the mid-19th Century New Orleans furniture craftsmen. The other mahogany sideboard, in the Classical American style, was probably made in Philadelphia about 1840. The brass and marble candelabra are French Empire, c. 1880. The hand-colored prints of pen and ink drawings are by local artist Jim Blanchard; and were made from 19th Century photographs of buildings on the Esplanade Ridge, several of which have been demolished.
The dining chairs show the Gothic influence. They, along with the dining table, were probably made by Signouret, another New Orleans furniture maker. On the right side of the "pocket doors" that open to the gallery is a fine rosewood armoire, probably crafted by Dutrueil Barjon of New Orleans, a free man of color. On the left is a mahogany Empire butler's chest with the scroll motif, c. 1840; and a pair of Vieux Paris vases of French origin, c. 1870. On the mantle you will find a three-piece American gilt brass and crystal girandole garniture, c. 1845. The rococo oval mirror reaches nine feet above the mantle.
The six-arm brass and pot metal chandelier is typical of those made by Cornelius & Baker of Philadelphia in the 1850's. The were originally gas fired, but have been electrified. Look for the cherubs with shields and spears, and the cast hand where it hangs from the ceiling.
The parlors feature a fine mahogany secretary/bookcase, a Napoleon corner cabinet, a pair of Rococo rosewood armchairs, and a fine carved rosewood center table with incised black marble top. The gasolier is identical to the one in the dining room. The pair, as well as the three-arm fixture in the hall had been removed from the house when the Derbeses agreed to buy it, and were later returned as a result of a lawsuit.
In the library portion of the parlours you will find a Roccoco carved rosewood love seat and a galleried walnut secretary desk. The wall sconce is original to the house. The chandelier is Cornelius & Baker, and appropriate to the period; but was installed by us during the renovation.
The center hall downstairs features paintings by local artists Rolland Golden, James R. Lamantia and Ruth Goliwas. Its furnishings include an Empire Marble top console table, a step-back chest and a Victorian mahogany card table
The Esplanade Villa was constructed as an elegant, double townhouse in the early 1880's for Julius Weis, a cotton broker and philanthropist. Its details, style and spaciousness reflect the wealth of the Esplanade Ridge at that time; while its two family occupancy is in the New Orleans tradition of multi-family use. The lower floors each featured an entrance foyer, double parlours, dining room and kitchen. Above were four bedrooms and one bath on each side. The building is in the Italianate style with arched fenestrations, double galleries and quoins on the front facade. Its bold horizontal elements give it a baroque quality.
Weis also built the adjoining structures at 2212 and 2220-22 Esplanade at the same time. He never lived in any of these buildings.
A total restoration of the Villa was undertaken by James G. Derbes, who purchased it in January, 1995. The building had been vacant for many years, and suffered from floor and ceiling damage from roof leaks, extensive pigeon infestation, termite damage and neglect. The unusual side galleries on the second floor had literally rotted away; and the arched windows on the facade end of both double parlours had been filled in with doors. Ancient linoleum was everywhere, often nailed or glued to the floors. Ceilings in several rooms had been "dropped." Miraculously, most of the interior detail was in tact; and the Louisiana cypress exterior walls were remarkably sound, though mostly barren of paint. And many of the details that had been removed were still on the premises - under the house, or otherwise set aside.
The owner has restored the building as a single family dwelling, with five bed and breakfast suites, an entrance foyer and double parlours, generous dining room, kitchen and owner's residence. The building retains exactly its original floor plan, though the uses of some of the rooms have changed. The original entrance foyer and double parlours on the right are now a tile bath, and bed and breakfast suite. The second-floor repetitions of the footprints of the foyers have become tile baths for the B&B suites overlooking Esplanade Avenue. The former dining room and kitchen on the left are occupied by a resident manager. On the lower right, the original dining room and kitchen have been restored. The storage room behind that kitchen is now a pantry. The original baths adjacent to the stair halls have been restored along with the footed cast iron tubs that were found within them. The project conforms to the standards of the Secretary of the U. S. Department of the Interior.