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The Arch
 
 
 
The Fontainebleau Arch

For close to a century, the arch has graced the main entrance to Fontainebleau.

At the turn of the 20th century, design competitions were a common means of awarding architectural commissions. The Louisiana Architectural Association developed regulations for local design competitions in 1905.

In 1912, the New Orleans Architectural Club announced a competition to design the gates to Fontainebleau Drive. The club chose a committee of three noted local architects to select the winning design. The judges were Samuel S. Labouisse (nephew of the famous architect H. H. Richardson), Francis J. MacDonnell (architect of Old Doris Hall at Tulane University, the Parke-Davis Building, First Baptist Church, many local residences, and other buildings) and Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis (designer of Jones Hall on Tulane University's campus, among many other buildings, and father of Nathaniel “Buster” Curtis, Jr., of the Curtis and Davis firm, designers of City Hall, the public library, the Rivergate, the Superdome, and hundreds more buildings around the world). They arrived at their decision by independent ballot and their decision was unanimous.

In their report, the committee stated:

"The program called for an entrance to a street 80 feet wide, with two sidewalks, two driveways and a grass plot down the central axis, and the solutions naturally fall into two groups, viz: --

"(a) With four piers, by which scheme the central vista is more or less blocked.

"(b) Two piers, keeping an open view along the axis.

"The Committee is of the opinion that the latter plan is in general the better, as a more open vista is secured, and more unity of design, giving a distinct impression of a single entrance or gateway, as opposed to the effect of a screen or double entrance."

The committee went on "to commend the excellent quality of draughtsmanships shown by the members of the Architectural Club" and offered brief criticisms of the winning and first two placed designs.

The original design for the Fontainebleau gates included a fountain in the neutral ground. Below are the original contest design submissions, including the winning entry which shows a fountain at the end of the neutral ground with a slightly kidney shaped oval pool.


CLICK ON THE IMAGES BELOW TO SEE THE ORIGINAL DESIGNS FOR THE ARCH

Fontainebleau Drive Gate Competition, 1912
Judges' criticism of the 1st place entry

"Quoins on buttress are out of scale. There should be fewer and larger quoins, or perhaps preferably omitted altogether. Panels are not well proportioned as to height. Lower panel should be higher and top panel shorter, leaving out small inserted panels and carrying through lines of buttress cap."

The judges' recommendations were followed in the final construction.


Fontainebleau Drive Gate Competition, 1912
Judge's criticism of the 2nd place entry

"This design is over-elaborated. Pilasters would be too small to justify their use. The idea of a roof is not commended in this instance. Very good indication of detail."

Fontainebleau Drive Gate Competition, 1912
Judges' criticism of the 3rd place entry


"Widewalk [sic] piers are too slender and weak. Lamps should be raised higher above the top cap of piers. Tapered pylons are not favored. An attractive rendering and well composed on sheet."

Fontainebleau Drive Gate Competition, 1912
Enlargement of the 4th place design


The judges offered no critique of the 4th place entry. Note the boy playing "hoops" on the upper left and the Edwardian couple standing to the right of the center gate.
Of all the designs, the judges commented "The Committee takes occasion to commend the excellent quality of draughtsmanships [sic] shown by the members of the Architectural Club."

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MODERN HISTORY

In the early 2000's, FIA organized a $30,000 restoration effort that included the abatement of lead-based paint, a fresh coat of marine-quality paint, and the installation of lights illuminating the arch and the two lions that have steadfastly watched over our homes since 1912.

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The images are from from Architectural Art and its Allies, Volume 8, Number 4, October 1912 (New Orleans, Louisiana Architectural Association), courtesy the Special Collections Division, Tulane University.
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