History of La Belle Esplanade
The unique New Orleans hotel that is La Belle Esplanade was built in the 1883 as a Creole answer to the mansions on Saint Charles Avenue. The three houses at 2212, 2216, and 2222 Esplanade Avenue were all built by the successful cotton broker Julius Weiss. A native of Germany, Weiss arrived in New Orleans after spending a few years as an itinerant peddler in Mississippi and northern Louisiana. Weiss never lived in any of these houses, instead he built them on speculation as the area was undergoing an extensive redevelopment to satisfy the tastes of wealthy Creole merchants relocating from the French Quarter, and a growing wealthy Greek immigrant community.
The property lines of these three lots do not match the street grid, but instead follow the original plantation lines that were laid out perpendicular to the high point of Esplanade Ridge, which is Bayou Road. For this reason the rear of the properties are narrow pie slices wedged into the middle of the block, creating a unique configuration for the back gardens.
Unlike most homes built for speculation, Julian Weiss did not construct these inexpensively or exactly alike. Though they share architectural elements, each was designed to be a stand-alone, unique masterpiece. You have to look closely to see the similarities. 2212 is built along Swiss cottage lines. 2216 is a traditional Queen Anne two-family manor. 2222 is Italianate. The interiors of all three feature 14 foot ceilings, classic New Orleans porches to served as outdoor hallways, and transoms to allow for the free flow of air during humid New Orleans summers.
Esplanade Avenue was one of the city’s main thoroughfares, and a streetcar line ran down the middle of the neutral ground from 1861 to 1934. It was the first streetcar line to run through the “back of town,” testimony to the importance of commerce and the vitality in the surrounding neighborhoods.
During the 1960s this fashionable neighborhood began to experience hard times. The three homes in the middle of Esplanade Avenue’s 2200 block were divided into apartments and they fell victim to neglect, much like the other stately manors that line the avenue. In the 1970s, a preservationist spirit took hold in New Orleans, and the legacy of Esplanade Avenue’s architectural legacy was documented by the Historic New Orleans Commission.
In 1986, a local attorney and preservationist, James Derbes, purchased 2216 Esplanade Avenue, the location of La Belle Esplanade, with the intent of turning it into a bed and breakfast. Through an investment of sweat equity, Mr. Derbes restored this building to its original glory with an eye toward preserving all of its period details and charms. While working on 2216 Esplanade Ave., Mr. Derbes was presented with the opportunity of purchasing its neighbor at 2222, which had also experienced a period of neglect. Due to his foresight and efforts, both properties were restored and their rear gardens joined into a charming setting with the fountain that stands to this day.
Under Mr. Derbes’ direction, 2216 became the Esplanade Villa a popular and successful bed and breakfast that operated in conjunction with the Benachi House, which he also restored, across the street. During Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, when the failed federal levees flooded New Orleans, the house did not sustain water damage. Though New Orleans’ landscape appears to be flat, Esplanade Avenue runs atop Esplanade Ridge, one of the higher points in the city. For this very reason, Bayou Road, New Orleans’ oldest street, crosses Esplanade Avenue at the 2200 block.
Soon after Katrina, Esplanade Villa stopped functioning as a New Orleans bed and breakfast, and reverted to apartments. In 2012, Mr. Derbes was gracious enough to part with the building which he worked so hard to restore. La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast is operated by La Belle Esplanade, LLC with the mission to make the real New Orleans, the way New Orleanians experience their city, available to visitors.