One of my favorite landmarks in New Orleans is Longue Vue House and Gardens. It isn’t just a house museum to visit, but it is an experience for the senses. The vintage era home and garden design is something truly remarkable, as is the story of the Stern Family. It is nestled in a quaint neighborhood at the junction of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. The home was built by
Edgar Bloom Stern and Edith Rosenwald Stern, heiress of the Sears-Roebuck magnate, between 1939-1942. They were pillars of New Orleans where he was a successful business man, cotton broker, civic activist, and philanthropist. But this was not the original home. Their first one was a beautiful, white clapboard Colonial at the far end of Garden Lane, built in 1923. In 1935 they recruited
Ellen Biddle Shipman, Dean of American Women Landscape Architects, to create its magnificent gardens. After a few years there, Ellen and the Sterns agreed that the home’s design did not lend itself to enjoying their gardens. Consequently, they moved the house to the near end of the street and constructed a new one on their existing property.
They employed renowned architects, William and Geoffrey Platt, to design the home that now stands on the eight acres of land facing Bamboo Lane. It would be one of the last great houses of the American Architectural Renaissance. Some of my favorite gardens on the grounds are the Walled Garden, which originally was planted as a kitchen garden. During WWII the Sterns turned it into a Victory Garden, supplying the family and friends with vegetables, fruits and herbs. Another is the Discovery Garden which delights the young and old with exciting experiential gardening and learning. Mrs. Shipman worked with the Platt brothers to image a happier marriage of the house to the gardens. She would also have the honor of designing and decorating the formal interiors. Longue Vue was designed from the dreams of the Sterns who wanted a home of Neo-Classical architecture. It was to be a family home for raising their three children, which also became a grand estate for entertaining dignitaries and celebrities from across the world. After the death of Edgar in 1959, I love how Edith maintained the estate as a headquarters for garden clubs, cultural events, and political activism. She officially opened the gardens to the public in 1968 and began to convert the house into an historic house museum in the 1970’s. She left behind nearly all her furnishings and art collection to vacate the home and allow public access to this grand estate. It became an independent non-profit museum in 1980, several months before Edith’s death, allowing her to realize her vision for the community. The local newspaper, The States-Item, claimed in one of their issues that “every city should have its own Sterns”. Longue Vue was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and later was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2005. It is also listed on the Top Ten North American Gardens Worth Traveling For. The present day home has four distinct facades, with different gardens views from each one. Mission accomplished!
Longue Vue has sustained immense damage during numerous hurricanes. It has been so gratifying to see the outpouring of financial and volunteer help from GCA and the Garden Conservancy Fund each time. It is the center of New Orleans cultural and garden missions with garden volunteers, Cultivating Communities, after-school enrichment, and summer camps offered. I have immensely enjoyed their symposia, workshops, speakers series, and social events over the years. The grounds include an extensive collection of praiseworthy plants, shrubs, and trees, i.e. live oaks, magnolias, camellias, azaleas, Louisiana iris, and many native annuals and perennials. It is immaculately maintained throughout the year for locals to gather and a destination for tourists. Plan to witness the vision the Sterns planned for you!
Story contributed by Sara G.