Monday, September 29, 2014

Delving Into the Origin of New Orleans' Shotgun Houses

Blogger's Note: Shotgun houses have become intertwined with Louisiana architecture, and more specifically, New Orleans neighborhoods; so where did this thrifty and nifty building style begin?


From the Nola.com article Shotgun geography: the history behind the famous New Orleans elongated house:

"Tradition holds that the name 'shotgun' derives from the notion of firing bird shot through the front door and out the rear without touching a wall. The term itself postdates the shotgun's late-19th-century heyday, not appearing in print until the early 20th century.

According to some theories, cultures that produced shotgun houses (and other residences without hallways, such as Creole cottages) tended to be more gregarious, or at least unwilling to sacrifice valuable living space for the purpose of occasional passage.


Cultures that valued privacy, on the other hand, were willing to make this trade-off. When they arrived in New Orleans in the early 19th century, for example, privacy-conscious peoples of Anglo-Saxon descent brought with them the American center-hall cottage and side-hall townhouse, in preference over local Creole designs.

In the 1930s, LSU geographer Fred B. Kniffen studied shotguns as part of his field research on Louisiana folk housing. He and other researchers proposed a number of hypotheses explaining the origin and distribution of this distinctive house type.

One theory, popular with tour guides and amateur house-watchers, holds that shotgun houses were designed in New Orleans in response to a real estate tax based on frontage rather than square footage, motivating narrow structures. There's one major problem with this theory. No one can seem to find that tax code.


Whatever their origins, shotgun singles and doubles came to dominate the turn-of-the-century housing stock of New Orleans' working-class neighborhoods. Yet they were also erected as owned-occupied homes in wealthier areas, including the Garden District.

New Orleans shotguns in particular exhibited numerous variations: with hip, gable or apron roofs; with "camelbacks" to increase living space; with grand classical facades or  elaborate Victorian gingerbread. The variety can be explained as a strategy to address market demand with a multitude of options in terms of space needs, fiscal constraints and stylistic preferences.


In recent decades, however, New Orleanians have come to appreciate the sturdy construction and exuberant embellishment of their shotgun housing stock, and now value them as a key element of the cityscape."