There’s something about walking into someone’s home that changes us. Take Scrooge from A Christmas Carol — the curmudgeon with a heart equally puckered as the pre-transformed Grinch. Yet, Scrooge makes a full transition into a lovable, jolly giver after the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future give him glimpses into different homes. Luckily, we no longer need spirits to (kind of creepily) visit us on Christmas Eve to venture into homes that might change our minds, our hearts, or at least our decorating sense. Instead, we have the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.
Now in its forty-fifth year, the PRC is holding its annual Holiday Home Tour, on December 14 and 15. For those two dates, you will no longer have to distantly idolize those Garden District homes that make jaws drops and minds ask, “What does that house look like on the inside?” because you can go inside. The Holiday Home Tour, “…has been a hallmark program of the PRC for basically forever,” says Danielle Del Sol, Executive Director of the PRC.
In fact, in the late 1970s, the small group that was running the PRC (having started in 1974) put together a home tour called the Candlelight Christmas Tour. Much like today, the concept was simple: These homes are beautiful. People want to see the inside of them. They look amazing decorated for the holidays. Voila.
Although, the Holiday Home Tour isn’t just about beauty; it’s about preservation through experience. Each home on the tour will exemplify a different architectural style, decorating style, or living style. There will be the “Grand revival-style mansions that you find in the Garden District,” Del Sol says, “and also gorgeous shotguns.” While the houses may differ from their dormer windows right down to their Greek columns, they connect through their balance of history and modernity. The houses on the tour, like many spaces in New Orleans, have “adapted in some way to retain a lot of the historic character and also [have been] made livable by modern standards,” Del Sol explains. The way the home owners choose to modernize, update, or retain the historical elements of the house make each house’s doorway a journey into a new space, a new concept, and a new family’s story.
Take for instance the Westfeldt home, which is the oldest house in the Garden District and included on this year’s tour. That house, nestled on Prytania Street across from McGehee School, has seen six generations of Westfeldts add, renovate, and redesign the rooms, the garden, and the walls that house over 150 years of memories and stories. While that home has gaggles of tourists gawking at it each day, other homes on the tour are more nondescript, like the nineteen century renovated corner store that’s now a single family home. And, this isn’t just your average corner store; it’s two stories and full of personality.
“It’s so important for people to understand that these homes aren’t just static,” Del Sol says. “Our city is a living, breathing city and so is our architecture. People live in these buildings. They go to school and church in these buildings.” We know that there is something timeless about living in New Orleans. All one has to do in order to feel like they’ve dissolved the time-space continuum is head to the French Quarter at night and listen to the blend of hooves trotting in front of carriages with the sound of brass bands in the distance. Strolling through City Park, one can visit the 800 year old tree or an adventurer can cross the same waters steamships charged and docked at in the early 1800s.
And the reason we can feel and have those experiences is because the generations before us fell in love with New Orleans, just like many of us have fallen in love with this city. And when you love something, you care for it. “We are stewards, in this moment in time, of this architecture, but it will live beyond us,” Del Sol says. Her eyes light up as she continues to say that, “Preservation is not elite. It’s for everyone,” and, “It’s really fun to get to open doors.”
Those holiday doors will be open to all that want to join the Holiday Home Tour that will take place on December 14 and 15. For more information about the tour, the PRC, and tickets for the tour, you can visit prcno.org.