This story first appeared in the September issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door each month? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
There’s no mistaking the family resemblance. The two Queen Anne-style mansions located near the corner of St. Charles and Nashville avenues were both built in 1889 and designed by architect Louis Lambert.
Next-door neighbors, the houses started out looking almost like twins. The one at the corner of Nashville — which has been painted pink for decades — is the larger of the two. It was originally owned by Thomas Underwood, who had it built at a cost of $9,900 in 1889. His neighbor William Girault had the slightly smaller one built next door for $5,000.
Just two years after the houses were constructed, Underwood sold his home, and the new owners gave it a makeover in 1891, hiring architects Favrot and Livaudais to wrap the front porch around the left side of the house, swapping turned columns for Doric ones and adding a pediment above the entrance, according to its current owner architect Louis Kong.
Suddenly, the houses became fraternal twins.
Today, the beautifully maintained properties remain showstoppers on the avenue, capturing the eye of nearly everyone who goes by. Tourists zip along on the streetcar, thrusting cell phones out the windows, snapping photos of these grand dames that so capture the exuberance of Queen Anne style, with their asymmetrical facades, round towers and elaborate millwork.
Now, both houses have gained recognition for their significance to the St. Charles Avenue streetscape. Dubbed the Pink Lady and the Blue Lady for their spry paint jobs, each has been cited as “a contributing building to the Uptown New Orleans Historic District,” and, as such, are included on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Louis Kong, owner of the Pink Lady, and Annalisa Lafont, owner of the Blue Lady, worked together to research their houses’ history. “Louis is very kind, and since he is an architect, he generously allowed me to piggyback on his effort. Since they were companion houses, it made sense,” said Lafont, who has owned the blue house since 2008 but has been in love with it for much longer.
Homeowners Annalisa Lafont and Louis Kong
In the 1980s, when she and her ex-husband were newly married, they purchased their first piece of artwork as a couple. It was a poster commemorating the history of the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. The poster depicts three houses with the streetcar in front of them. The Pink Lady and the Blue Lady are two of the three houses. Today, the poster still hangs in Lafont’s home.
Kong also has had a love affair with his property that predates his ownership of it. In the 1990s, he lived near the corner of Nashville and Pyrtania. “Every day, I’d walked by this house to take the streetcar,” said Kong, a native of Hong Kong who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture and business from Tulane University. “I used to think, if the owner would let me just see inside, I’d die a happy man.”
Kong ended up buying the house on July 2, 2008; it was his birthday.
Inside, both houses are filled with original carved woodwork, oak floors and elaborate stained glass, all stunningly preserved. “Every time I turn around, I see new details to admire,” Kong said.
When Lafont purchased the house, it needed renovation, and she’s spent years bringing it back to life. Kong also has lovingly restored his property, and is in the process of adding period-appropriate decorative moldings to the upstairs bedrooms and hallway.
“I’ve had to relearn the classic language,” said Kong, who describes himself as a modernist architect. “But the Pink Lady is almost like a person. You become friends with her, and you want to dress her up and show off her glamour.”
Photos by Liz Jurey