For sale: Aged New Orleans mansion with tree house and an artists' warren

Jennifer Karmon
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This circa-1870 New Orleans mansion is the stuff of legend.

For years now, it's been known to the local bohemian set as the NOLA Art House. The owner began renting out bedrooms -- there are 17 of them -- as affordable housing/studios for artists. The mansion's 4.5 bathrooms, kitchen facilities and other common areas are shared among the colony.

The home's crowning feature: a 50-foot-tall tree house hugging a giant golden rain tree, built by artist Scott Pterodactyl and friends from Hurricane Katrina wreckage. Here's how the New Orleans Times-Picayune described it back in 2010:

Just about every part of the rickety high-altitude complex petrified me at first. The squishy net bridge that stretches over the homemade reflecting pool, the shaky spiral staircase, the fourth-story crow’s nest made of giant plastic balls held together with bungee chords; they all jiggled my giblets.

But the scariest part of all was the thin cable that runs from one of the uppermost platforms to the second-story back door of the mansion. Pterodactyl told me that he likes to slide down the cable from the top of the tree directly into the kitchen. ... He often exits the tree house via the plastic sliding board that ends several feet above a pile of padding. He said he likes the “quick ways down.” ...

The window shutters, steel stairways, aluminum ladders, fast-food playground equipment, and mismatched lumber that went into the Swiss Family Robinson/Road Warrior-style aerial architecture [were] salvaged from the post-flood wasteland of New Orleans.

The tree house "can be easily seen from the raised highway," according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Interstate 10 is so close that the mansion is "washed by noise" from passing traffic and reportedly sat vacant for decades as its Treme neighborhood sagged around it, the Times-Picayune said.

The 6,000-square-foot Creole mansion at 1614 Esplanade Avenue is now on the market for $475,000. The listing touts the "magical tree house installation" and big 14,000-square-foot lot, calling the home a "great opportunity for buyers with a similar vision & interest in promoting artists." According to Curbed New Orleans, the bank-owned property sold for $195,000 in 2005 and three years later was transferred to a limited liability corporation under current owner John Orgon for $72,500.

Long before it became an artist's colony, some say, the mansion inspired the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." It's one of several local homes vying for that honor; 1614 Esplanade's claim hinges on rumors that a New Orleans madam named Marianne LeSoleil Levant (loosely, "rising sun" in French) operated a brothel there more than a century ago.

You can see many more photos of the mansion and learn more about it on the NOLA Art House Facebook page.

UPDATE, midday Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 (Pacific time): Commenter Holly alerts us to the fact that the NOLA Art House Facebook page now has a post suggesting that perhaps the property is not for sale. But the home is an active listing on multiple real estate sites, including our own. We've emailed them three times -- late Wednesday, Thursday and today -- and though we heard back once, their brief reply said nothing to indicate that the house wasn't for sale. We've told them we'd be happy to update this post. 

UPDATE, early Friday evening PT: We heard back from the NOLA Art House -- not sure from whom, because they didn't sign the email and the address is just nolaarthouse -- but we're told: "The house is in fact listed. ... Your article definitely covered everything." Whew! And just for the record, they acknowledged commenters' criticism and said, "We have a lot of supporters as well and we understand our home is not for everyone." 

And while we have your attention, we want to call out this comment from TimesarehardinSt.Benawd; admittedly, we can't be absolutely sure of its accuracy, but it doesn't set our Spidey sense tingling, either, and if it is true, it's some fascinating background:

This house once belonged to a friend's grandparents. I actually visited 30 years ago. It was in disrepair but still a grand home. The owners of a leather and shoe company lived upstairs(my friends grandparents) and the shop was down below.There actually used to be a vineyard in the rear; the equipment was still in the shed. The gallery of the front had magnificent Corinthian columns that sadly were stolen in the 90's. As children my mother would drive us down Esplanade and point out all of the architecture as we rode. This home was always one of her favorites with it's huge impressive columns. I have passed this house my entire life. I still drive passed it every day today. Since Katrina it seems to just exist without significant repair and missing much of the architectural detail. At least it is not abandoned and/or burned. I don't judge the present owner, but, I wish it does get sold and is renovated to it's former grandeur. It does sadden me each time I see it. I have renovated and helped renovate old New Orleans homes before and after the flood. It can be done.