An elegant “Sister” on Julia Street
If you hung a banner across the 600 block of Julia Street proclaiming “Cassandra Sharpe Loves the Thirteen Sisters of Julia Street,” you would simply be understating the truth. Cassandra has been like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness since she purchased her “sister” in 1993. “Can you imagine that in the early 1970s the city of New Orleans wanted to tear down The Thirteen Sisters and turn the vacant space into a surface parking lot?” she asks with dismay. “Yes, my building was basically not lived in for more than 50 years when I purchased it in ’93, but it was just waiting to be reclaimed as a grand single home. It was in complete disrepair but still had incredible marble fireplaces, wood floors, amazing ceiling heights, a second floor 26-foot balcony overlooking Julia Street and large doorways made of cypress that I knew I could bring back to life.” The purchase marked the beginning of the love affair that has lasted for almost 23 years.
Today the home of Cassandra Sharpe and Rich Look is a grand 7,000 square foot mansion that includes a gallery and studio on the first floor and their 3,600-square foot living quarters on the second, third and fourth floors. They love living in this historic 1832 Georgian townhouse with four stories in the front and a three-story service wing she says, while Rich waxes poetically adding, “It is a very old and wise building with great, sturdy genes that’s very welcoming, warm and embracing.”
Rich, a musician and Japanese translator, has been very much a part of the couple’s love affair with their Julia Street home since he walked through Cassandra’s front door in 1994 with friends from New York to attend a party during the second weekend of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. “Cassandra had completed most of the restoration before we met,” Rich says. “The house immediately felt like home to me. It is spacious, but not too large. When you include the slave quarter/service wing it rambles, and that’s a fun feeling.
Speaking of rambling, with a house like this there’s no need to go to the gym. I’m up and down four flights of stairs dozens of times a day, so much so it’s second nature. It keeps us fit.”
A real estate broker for 30 years as well as a Heritage Club Member of the New Orleans Preservation Resource Center, Cassandra has always been involved in preservation. She has served as a Lafayette Square Association board member for the last 20 years. “Trying to preserve our precious architecture in New Orleans truly matters,” she says. “I believe it’s the city’s best asset. Visitors want to see what has been preserved from the past.” She is also quick to add Patty Gay, Director of the New Orleans Preservation Resource Center for 40 years, has also owned one of The Thirteen Sisters for many years. “We are encouraging individuals to purchase and convert these majestic buildings to single homes, with commercial spaces on the ground floor. I believe our buildings between St. Charles Avenue to Camp Street are the most significant grouping of buildings in New Orleans, if not the United States.” Artist Alex Beard and gallery director Jim Qualls are her tenants for the first-floor gallery. Beard also has his studio where he paints on the second floor in the service wing.
Both Cassandra and Rich work out of their home. “Rich’s studio is on the fourth floor and I run my corporate headquarters from the second floor. I love that Rich plays the piano in the second-floor parlor near the large walk-out windows many times during the day. In the morning when I have coffee I love to sit on the sofa and look out the front windows and see the sunlight shining down Julia Street.” He continues, “I also love our bedroom at night. I have cypress shutters that close and the light seems to just softly glow in the room. I also love to go out in the courtyard in the early morning. Even though we are in an urban area it almost feels like you are in the country; it is very peaceful”
“Sitting at my piano with a view of Julia Street is one of my favorite places in our home,” Rich says. “I love my piano and its location provides a view of the comings and goings on Julia. Other places he enjoys are the transom window over the third-floor stairwell door where direct sunlight streams through it every morning, filling the stair chamber like liquid gold. His studio/study on the top floor provides no interruptions and a view out over the rooftops of the city.” I also want to mention that when we entertain Cassandra pulls the most amazing meals out of the tiny kitchen and that’s when the dinner table is a best-liked place. Great food and drink, great company and I get to play for a well-primed and captive audience during the dessert.”
Rich Look and Cassandra Sharpe.
The rear part of the front parlor is used for the dining room, with original pocket doors dividing space from the back parlor.
A comfortable guest bedroom with two beds is in the third-floor service wing.
A small, yet functional kitchen opens onto the front balcony on the second floor.
the portrait between the two windows is Margaretta Brooke Look, Rich’s paternal grandmother, and a landscape of the California Goviota Coast by Polly Look Lewis, Rich’s sister, hangs over the antique sideboard from Italy.
A four-panel Japanese screen depicting the 10th century Heian Court has a place of honor over the couch, a portrait of Winston Churchill is displayed to the right of the screen and a Bay St. Louis seascape by George Schmidt is on the other side of the screen.
A third-floor bedroom features three Japanese prints over the bed, with Cassandra’s art to the left of the bed.