Few places offer the variety of vibrant city views that New Orleans’ balconies and terraces bestow. Just ask the lucky home dwellers who have one.
Ken and Lisa Pickering, for example, gaze at the New Orleans skyline from their Algiers Point balcony every morning and evening. Lisa Pickering, a registered nurse, even works on her computer overlooking the Mississippi River from a glass-enclosed room built on their balcony.
“The view changes every few minutes,” Ken Pickering said. “That’s the beauty of it.”
From their fourth-floor perch in a condo building, they watch 12-story cruise ships gliding by, tug boats moving barges and ferries toting passengers to and from Canal Street. At nightfall, they see lights glittering from the Crescent City Connection down to the Hibernia Tower building, the moon rising and stars gathering.
Most of the day, fog horns blow mournful blasts, the sounds of jazz drift across the river and people holler greetings from the walking path below. Even the laughing gulls get into the communal action.
Their deafening cries go on most of the day but become more frenzied if Ken Pickering feeds them.
“They hear the sound of the patio door opening,” Lisa Pickering said, “and I swear, they are saying, ‘Big Daddy is here.’”
But when the sun’s rays disappear behind the skyline, the gulls stop their chatter. They fly away in unison, leaving a startling silence in their wake.
On the other side of the river, Ellis Anderson and Larry Jaubert see hawks and night herons from their third-floor balcony on Chartres Street. They also have a clear view of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral’s steeples.
French Quarter sights and sounds differ from the Pickerings’ Algiers Point scenery. Instead of fathers jogging with baby strollers, Anderson and Jaubert witness a continual stream of weddings, parades and one-of-a-kind sights such as the World Naked Bike Ride. Instead of excitable seagulls, they hear cathedral bells and street music.
“Second-lines go by, sometimes two or three a day,” Anderson said. “When I hear the brass bands, I drop everything to watch.”
A more tranquil view keeps Ron and Trisha McAlear feeling at home on St. Charles Avenue. Their sixth-floor, room-sized terrace provides a panoramic view of the skyline from the Uptown side of the city. It encompasses most of downtown New Orleans, from the steel-latticed structure of The National WWII Museum’s Bollinger Canopy of Peace to the Caesars Superdome. At night, the skyline glows with Central Business District lights and the changing colors of the dome: purple, green and gold for Mardi Gras, green for St. Patrick’s Day and red, white and blue for the Fourth of July.
“This is the ‘wow’ feature,” Ron McAlear said. “When people come out here, they say, ‘Wow.’”
Not only do the three couples share the joys of living with a good view, they also share the grounding effect that their views bring.
The McAlears have owned 17 homes during their many years of marriage — in Gretna, Harvey, Uptown, Old Metairie, Mandeville and the CBD in the New Orleans area and others in Alabama, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Some of the moves were driven by Ron McAlear’s career as a marine architect, and some were driven by sheer restlessness.
Trisha McAlear said their daughter used to tell friends that her parents “moved when the baseboards got dusty.”
But it took a panoramic view of New Orleans’ skyline to get them to stay put.
Now retired, they have lived in their St. Charles condo and its enviable terrace for nine years. And even though they decamp for the cooler climes of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the summer months, New Orleans remains close to their hearts.
“We keep a footprint in New Orleans. This is our roots,” Ron McAlear said. “This is where our daughter was born.”
They bought the two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,480-square-foot condo sight unseen because it had a terrace.
They had sold their 3,000-square-foot condo on Common Street in the CBD, and gone to Cape Cod to wait for the perfect condo to come along. Their real estate agent called about the one on St. Charles, and they said yes.
It was not love at first sight.
“I opened the door and it was more like, ‘oh, no,’” Trisha McAlear said. “What came out of my mouth, I don’t think could be put in print. It was, what were we thinking?”
Nasty carpets everywhere. Columns of mirrors, mirrors wrapped around door jams. “It was like we were in Marrakesh,” she said.
“We walked out to the terrace,” she said, “and forgot about the carpet. Ron said ‘we can fix this,’ and we did.”
The only real problem was that a beloved, oversized china cabinet didn’t fit in the elevator or in the twisting stairways. The mover offered suggestions: have a helicopter place the cabinet on the terrace, use a crane from St. Charles Avenue to take it up, or cut the cabinet in half and reconstruct it once inside. They chose the latter.
Now the cabinet displays its treasures just inside the terrace doors near the kitchen.
Ken Pickering had a similar dilemma when he bought his condo on Algiers Point 21 years ago with his first wife, the late Marguerite. The lawyer and former commissioner of Louisiana’s Office of Financial Institutions had built what he calls a “country club” home when his children were young, but when they became adults, he decided it was time to downsize.
He wanted the Algiers Point condo because of the view, but Marguerite had protested. Too many hallways. Not enough closet space. Scaling down to 1,800 square feet, including the balcony, was a challenge.
They had solved some of those problems by removing a hallway and bedroom to create a one-bedroom, two-and-half-bath home with a dining room and open kitchen. An extra closet was carved out of their storage space on a different floor.
A few years after Marguerite’s death, Ken Pickering married Lisa LeBlanc, and a new problem developed. She needed a home office. There was no room to spare, so he carved space out of the narrow balcony.
Anderson’s 700-square-foot apartment fulfilled every need when she saw it in 2018. At the time, she was writing a creative thesis for a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Orleans about her younger years working as a street musician in the French Quarter.
She and her husband own homes in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama, but she felt she needed to live part-time in the French Quarter to help reconstruct her youth for the memoir.
“I had missed it,” she said of her French Quarter days. She left the Quarter in the late 1990s to open an art gallery in Bay St. Louis. “I had always wanted to come back, and the memoir was the perfect justification.”
She found the apartment through Quarter-residing friends and fell in love with it right away. The 12-foot ceilings, fireplace mantels, floor-to-ceiling windows, and wood floors resemble something Tennessee Williams might have rented when he arrived in 1938.
“We were delighted, especially since my husband is an architect, to live in an apartment with so many original features preserved,” Anderson said.
Later, when she started publishing the digital magazine French Quarter Journal, the balcony became a business hub. She shoots videos of Quarter life from it.
“We have this great vista of the sky over the quarter,” Anderson said. “I’ve told my landlord I want to keep it until he has to drag me out by calling 911.”