Sunday, January 13, 2013

New guidebook celebrates nontrad architecture

'Wallpaper City Guide: New Orleans' celebrates new buildings, new thinking and new residents in a tradition-bound town

Wallpaper Guide New Orleans Gallery
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(Gallery by | The Times-Picayune)
Chris Waddington, | The Times-Picayune By Chris Waddington, | The Times-Picayune 
on December 14, 2012 at 5:59 PM, updated December 14, 2012 at 8:22 PM
Authors of New Orleans guidebooks know that they have plenty of competition. The best of them succeed by offering intensely personal views of the city. Nathan C. Martin’s “Wallpaper City Guide: New Orleans” (Phaidon, $9.95 ) belongs among the quirkiest guides, worthy to be shelved beside Frederick Starr’s “New Orleans Unmasked,” and Jon Newlin’s “Geopsychic Wonders of New Orleans.” Unlike those out-of-print classics, however, Martin’s book offers plenty of tips, addresses, and practical recommendations in a compact format that easily fits in a jacket pocket.
How quirky is Martin’s guide?
The first landmark showcased in this lushly illustrated volume (great photos by Wade Griffith and others) is The Times-Picayune’s headquarters, a brick monolith and clock tower visible to passing motorists from I-10 and the Broad Street overpass. Martin also detours to the Orleans Parish Criminal Courthouse on Tulane Avenue, not just to admire this sooty monument to Art Deco grandeur, but to reflect on the fact that “Louisiana imprisons more of its population than any other state in the U.S.”
Martin, a 29-year-old Wyoming native, directs Room 220, a website and reading series that is one of the best forums for tracking the New Orleans literary scene. A tart stylist, he casts a keen, newcomer’s eye on our venerable, multi-layered city, and while it would be unfair to make him a spokesman for all the young and talented people who have poured into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, it’s hard not to see him as part of the trend he elucidates in a brief introduction to his book.
“The renewal of New Orleans following the floods triggered by Hurricane Katrina is a great, ongoing, American success story,” Martin writes. “The task has been messy and frequently heartbreaking, but it’s hard to argue that the city is not an enthralling place to be right now. Awash with an influx of bright-eyed, educated young people, it has lately become a hotbed for entrepreneurs and creatives looking to escape the high rents in cities such as New York and San Francisco.”
Martin’s guide will certainly cheer those who lament the destruction of New Orleans’ underrated legacy of 20th century buildings.
Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia earns a spot in the book; Jackson Square gets a pass. Instead of adding his two cents to the reams written about the Garden District, Martin directs visitors to the swooping, modernist curves of Leonard Spangenberg’s Unity Temple on St. Charles Avenue.
Martin’s savvy, deliberately provocative overview doesn’t ignore all of the city’s older treasures. It includes the colonial charms of Madame John’s Legacy and the 19th century Steamboat Houses in the Holy Cross neighborhood. But it puts those beloved landmarks on equal footing with the Downtown Public Library and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It’s the same with nightspots and other aspects of the culture. Martin celebrates the famed Paul Ninas’ murals in the Sazerac Bar, but makes it clear that this isn’t the city’s most swinging joint. Martin’s taste leans toward coolly modernist settings such as The Orange Couch, a Marigny coffee shop; and Cure, the trendy Freret Street cocktail bar. He ignores Hubig’s Pies (which has since burned down) and suggests a trip to Sucre, the gleaming Magazine Street sweets and pastry shop with its Lee Ledbetter interior and “the city’s best king cake.”
As with every guide, this one contains a few howlers. Some look like the work of the British editors who commissioned book. In an entry about Faulkner House Books, for example, the guide places the store, formerly the residence of the William Faulkner, “in one of the Pontalba Buildings off Jackson Square.” The plaque, mounted outside the Pirate’s Alley bookstore, tells a different story.

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