Gas lamps have been an important part of the Crescent City’s architectural landscape for centuries. They remain an attractive part of home décor in residences across the city, as well as a signature part of the French Quarter.
Historically, gas lamps were an important development, not only in New Orleans, but also across the United States. Sarah Duggan, decorative arts of the Gulf South project manager for the Historic New Orleans Collection, said gas lamps meant evening activities no longer had to center around a fireplace or a single parlor table. In a social city like New Orleans, that’s a big deal.
The lamps also made New Orleans a safer place, eliminating dark corners and improving visibility for pedestrians and police officers.
The first gasworks opened in New Orleans in 1834 and mostly supplied streetlights and commercial spaces. By the 1850s, gas fixtures became a popular feature in private homes. Some homes had decorative gas chandeliers called “gasoliers.” These fixtures usually featured round glass shades and elaborate decorations like scrolling leaves, characters from literature or even mythical creatures. Decorative ceiling medallions, which remain in many of New Orleans’ historic homes, highlighted the gas fixtures. Reflective furnishings like mirrors, gilded clocks and silver dining services further enhanced the brightness of gas lights.
“The lighting evolution was not unlike the development of the internet in our own lifetimes,” Duggan said. “Originally expensive inventions reserved for businesses or the very wealthy, both utilities became more accessible, reliable and affordable until they were ubiquitous tools for everyday life.”
Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights has been making gas lights in Louisiana since 1945. Andrew Bevolo, Sr., an immigrant from Northern Italy, founded the company. He used experience he gained from working for Higgins Industries and the Sikorsky Engineering Corporation during World War II to improve gas lighting. Switching to rivets from the traditional soldered connections was an important Bevolo contribution to gas lighting.
What does a homeowner need to do if they want to install gas lamps in their own house? Chris King, technical support manager of Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights, said the process can be easy if you already have gas in your home. A shotgun house with a gas line running under the house is particularly easy.
But if you do not have gas, a plumber needs to run the line. A slab house can be more challenging. King said questions a homeowner needs to answer are “Is natural gas already available? Or do I need to get a propane tank and decide where to put it?”
Because individual home situations are different, it’s hard to estimate a price range, but King said many people should expect to pay $350 to 800 for gas lamps. There are a wide variety of styles and sizes a homeowner can choose from to best suit their unique house.
When installing a gas lamp, the lamp will bolt directly to a wall or ceiling. King said one of the big selling points of Bevolo’s gas lamps is their longevity. The brackets are weather resistant and the glass is designed to withstand both the heat and storms endemic to the New Orleans area.
“Our lights are meant to last longer than you,” King said. “It’s on there to stay.”
King said some people opt for cheaper, machine-made, imported gas lights but those will have a much shorter lifespan. Bevolo makes every lamp themselves for the customer when it is ordered.
Once the lamps are installed, King said maintenance is pretty easy for homeowners. Oiling hinges and cleaning the glass on the lamp is all that is needed. The light itself can enhance a home’s aesthetic appearance.
“The light’s not bright, but it gives off a warm glow like a fireplace,” King said. “It’s not as harsh and bright as an electrical light.”