Nostalgia: Belleville to Ellawohl to Christian Brothers

The history of the home that became a school

What is now the home of Christian Brothers School in City Park started out as Belleville, a five-bedroom home built in 1909 by liquor distributer Fred Bertrand. Ten years later, William Harding McFadden, an oilman and philanthropist, bought it for use as a second home during Carnival and
other social seasons in New Orleans.

McFadden renovated the home, creating a seven-bedroom, 11-bath mansion they called Ellawohl. The greatly enlarged home included a ballroom, a trophy room full of bear rugs and taxidermy, a library, a music room, a wrap-around solarium, multiple drawing rooms and more. Everything was beautifully appointed, with a grand staircase leading from the marble-lined indoor swimming pool to the ballroom, which featured Venetian glass chandeliers and a mantel designed for the Grand Theater in Mexico City.

Outside the home, the McFaddens added greenhouses, stables, kennels and a few small cabins (one of which was donated to the Girl Scouts in 1931; it’s still in use by the organization). The grounds were luxuriously landscaped, with special attention given to old live oaks and rare bougainvillea. There was a lover’s lane with an iron arbor brimming over with wisteria and roses.

The McFaddens were favorites in New Orleans society, frequently written about as they hosted local and out-of-town guests. Their first formal event was a 1923 breakfast and swimming party for two young McIlhenny sisters, followed by a horseback ride on the lavish grounds. Many supper dance and debutante parties, teas,and receptions followed over the years.

In 1935, McFadden arranged for City Park to have a long-term no-payment lease over some of the grounds. At the end of 1942, McFadden sold his 42-room mansion and the remaining grounds (including four other structures) to the City of New Orleans for $40,000 (estimated to be about half of what it was actually worth). The mansion served as a Department of Agriculture Forest Experiment Station until the late 1940s, then as the Sam Barthe School until 1959. Since 1960, The Christian Brothers School has occupied the building.


A view of one of the gardens at Ellawohl in the 1930s. One side of the house had a sunken garden; the other featured an oriental garden where the Japan Society often met. Tiled courtyards and walled-in terraces created additional gathering places for the McFaddens’ many social events.


 

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