Luling Mansion on Leda Court near the Fair Grounds is one of the most intriguing and unique-to-New Orleans buildings in the city. Can you tell me more about its history and present use? Mary Goldie
I couldn't agree more with your description of the Luling Mansion, and I think it's fitting that your question comes right before the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, when many people on their way to the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots may wonder about this historic Faubourg St. John structure.
Located just off Esplanade Avenue on what originally was an 80-acre tract, the mansion was built in 1865 for wealthy cotton merchant Florenz Luling. He spared no expense on the home, even hiring noted architect James Gallier to design it.
The 22-room house was constructed in the style of an Italian villa and remains one of the city's most unusual and lavish examples of the Italianate style of architecture, according to the Friends of the Cabildo book New Orleans Architecture Volume V: Esplanade Ridge.
Three and a half stories tall, with balconies, galleries and arched windows throughout, the plastered brick building includes a massive granite staircase. The interior was just as spectacular, with marble mantles, cypress millwork and even a bowling alley and observatory.
After the Civil War, sagging fortunes combined with the heartache of losing two young sons who drowned in Bayou St. John, prompted the Lulings to sell the house in 1871. The buyer was the Louisiana Jockey Club, which established the nearby thoroughbred racecourse about the same time. The Jockey Club mansion entertained visiting dignitaries, including President Ulysses S. Grant, impressionist painter Edgar Degas and the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, who included the club on his 1872 itinerary, which also included viewing the first Rex parade.
The Jockey Club sold the home in 1899, and the property later passed into the hands of the Longshore and Soule families. Some of the surrounding land was sold at one point, and two new streets were added: Leda Court and Verna Court, named after sisters.
In 1934, the building was divided into apartments, which remains its present use. It was purchased by C.J. Welcker in 1950. He died in 2006, but the property is still in his family's hands.