1935: The seeds are planted for Longue Vue House and Gardens
Edith and Edgar Stern — she the daughter of the president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., and he the president of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange — lived in a house on the western edge of New Orleans, just off Metairie Road. But when Ellen Biddle Shipman, whom House & Garden magazine had dubbed the “dean of women landscape architects,” started in 1935 to work on the garden at the eight-acre estate, the Sterns — who have been called “the first family of New Orleans philanthropy” — decided that house just wouldn’t do because it wouldn’t let them appreciate what Shipman was striving to create. So they had that house moved and hired William and Geoffrey Platt to design another house for them in its place, one befitting Shipman’s vision. Longue Vue House and Gardens, one of New Orleans’ grandest estates, was born.
Longue Vue’s lush, meticulously planned and scrupulously maintained spread remains a model of landscape gardening. It and the house are open to the public. In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places, the site has been declared a National Historic Landmark.
- The estate takes its name from the Hudson River estate where Edgar Stern proposed to Edith Rosenwald.
- The Platts’ father, Charles A. Platt, had been Shipman’s mentor.
- The new house took three years to build, from 1939 until 1942, but the Platt brothers were called back when renovations needed to be done, said Lenora Costa, Longue Vue’s curator. Similarly, Shipman kept working on the gardens until her death in 1950.
- Longue Vue is one of the last great houses to be built during the Country Place Era, when wealthy Americans drew inspiration from places they saw in Europe that seamlessly blended indoor and outdoor spaces. The style is fashionable, but conservative.
- The Sterns’ original house was moved to what is now 1 Garden Lane, on the Longue Vue property.
- Longue Vue has a variety of delightful rooms, including the Flower Arranging Room; the Wrapping Room, which was used only to open mail and wrap gifts; the Blue Room, which features blue carpeting, walls and furniture; and the Lampshade Room, which dates from the time when people used to change lampshades with the seasons, Costa said. Shades that weren’t in use were stored in the Lampshade Room until their turns came around again.
- The couple started work on the house and gardens after an extended stay in Europe, when, Costa said, they saw enough to realize war was inevitable. When construction began, she said, they hired workers who likely would be too young or too old to be drafted into what would become known as World War II.
- The Sterns collected cels, which are individual scenes from animated movies. Their 19 cels include scenes from such Walt Disney classics as “Fantasia,” “Dumbo,” “Ferdinand the Bull” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The Sterns’ cels are being conserved in California, Costa said, but photographs of them are on view at the home.
- In the Drawing Room, the Sterns entertained many notable guests, including Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Robert Kennedy, and Adlai Stevenson.
- Pablo Casals and Jack Benny performed there, as did Marian Anderson, who was barred from singing in major New Orleans venues because she was black and segregation was in force.
- Edith and Edgar Stern both separately won The Times-Picayune Loving Cup, awarded annually for civic betterment. They were so proud of their twin achievements that cement urns resembling their Loving Cup trophies adorn their shared cemetery plot in Metairie Cemetery.
Even though the house and gardens are much grander than most people can hope to aspire to, Costa said the complex is a model that not only impresses but also instructs in what can be done with the right artisans and a sizable amount of money and good taste. Longue Vue also served as a model of quick response after it sustained heavy damage from Hurricanes Betsy and Katrina because restoration work began quickly – an example, she said, of the region’s can-do spirit.