Insurance broker Raoul Vallon was an active participant in New Orleans high society; he was a member of the Rex organization and the Bayou St. John Fencing Club, where he excelled and won many medals. He married Eleonore “Ella” Sinnott in 1896, and a few years later they began the process of building a family home for themselves and their two children.
The Oriental styling of the house was conceived by Vallon, who hired architect Frank P. Gravely to execute his vision. And so in 1904, for just over a building cost of $15,000, the Pagoda House appeared at 2037 Napoleon Ave.
The design was said to have been inspired by Vallon’s friend Lafcadio Hearn, who moved to Japan after living in New Orleans. His experiences there led him to believe the pagoda style would well suit the New Orleans climate, catching breezes and letting heat out of the belvedere at the top of the house. The extended rooflines also help provide shade and shelter from the Louisiana sun and rain, while the pagoda-style upturned corners of the red tile roof were traditionally said to keep out evil spirits.
The Vallon family lived in the house until they sold it in 1925. It was sold again in the late ’30s to importer Eduardo Massa and his wife. They decorated the home with many Oriental furnishings – teakwood furniture, fine china, silk tapestries, and inlaid tiles – gathered during their trips to Europe. They also added extra porches and fireplaces to the home.
The Simkin family bought the house in the 1960s for about $38,000 and lived there for over 30 years. It was last sold in ’99 for $325,000.