On a quiet street in the University Area, you will find a handsome English manor-like house that was built in the same era as Charity Hospital, Lakefront Airport, Pontchartrain Hotel and many of the finest homes in New Orleans. Architect Leon C. Weiss (1882-1953), a friend of former Governor Huey P. Long, indeed left his legacy of signature designs in Louisiana. It was Long who commissioned Weiss to build many public buildings, including the uniquely shaped “skyscraper” Louisiana Capitol and the governor’s mansion of the same period. Tulane University’s archives contain many pages of the drawings and documents of the work of Weiss when he was a part of the firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth.
“Weiss was considered an architectural genius of his day,” explains real estate developer Ashley Farnet, as he offers a tour of his home just blocks off St. Charles Avenue. “He designed our house as his private residence in the early 1930s.”
Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the classic architecture of Marie and Ashley Farnet’s home fits neatly on the large corner lot that’s lush with a green lawn, well-manicured shrubbery and ivy growing on the façade that adds to the English manor look. “We understand that the site where our house sits was originally a camellia nursery that occupied the entire block,” Ashley says.
“We feel fortunate to have such a unique home. We purchased it in 1997 from the Weiss estate, so we’re only the second owners. While we weren’t in the market for a house when I found it, I toured it out of curiosity. But when I saw the quality of everything from the thick brick walls to the half-inch thick slate roof and copper gutters and downspouts, I realized it was very special. Then I saw the huge yard with a 200-year old oak tree surrounded by hydrangeas and I couldn’t contain my excitement.”
Although Marie first balked at the purchase because they had just renovated another house, she understood why Ashley wanted it. “I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was dead set on getting it,” she recalled.
Once purchased, the couple began a major renovation of the house. “I broke through a 12-inch thick wall and opened up the kitchen and utility room,” Ashley says. “Then I punched through the back wall and had a pair of French doors added to overlook the rear garden and to let maximum light into the space. We also did major renovations to the master suite, where we took three rooms and converted them to the master bedroom and bathroom.”
Both agree that this is their dream home. “I love the house because it’s so versatile,” Marie says. “I have enjoyed decorating it and creating our garden in the backyard that’s kid-friendly. Gardening gives me a creative outlet that is very gratifying. I have made a place for my family and friends where we can share tranquility or as much fanfare as we desire. I sometimes think if these walls could talk they would have lots of stories to tell about the happy times the Weiss and Farnet families have enjoyed living here.”
“Yes, this has been an incredible home for our family,” Ashley adds. “It’s a place where many have come to laugh and play, and that makes us very happy.”