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Old Stuff in New Orleans

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 1997; Page E02

For most New Orleans visitors, shopping -- especially antiquing -- means Royal Street as surely as bar-crawling spells Bourbon Street. But in recent years, with rising rents and stiffer competition, many antiques dealers have moved out of the French Quarter onto Magazine Street, which follows the curve of the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Audubon Park. It's a hodgepodge of antiques shops, art galleries and more ordinary salvage shops dotted among several miles of old residential neighborhoods, but two clusters of stores here are well worth a couple of hours' browsing. And it's a scenic ride as well: You can take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar (still a bargain at $1.25), get off at a handy stop and walk south five short residential blocks to Magazine.

For a broad and unusual assortment of fine art and antiques, for example, get off the streetcar at St. Andrew Street and head straight south. On the corner of St. Andrew and Magazine, in what looks like a former small-town bank, is Jim Smiley Fine Vintage Clothing (2001 Magazine; 504-528-9449), the sort of place that knows the difference between "vintage" and merely used. Smiley's runs the gamut from haute couture dresses to '40s suits, serious antique wedding gowns and bodices, silk step-ins and even bloomers, along with an assortment of shoes and hats large and elaborate enough for either Garden District tea parties or Sunday church suppers.

Just up the street is Bush Antiques (2109-2111 Magazine; 504-581-3518), which has an amazing assortment of ecclesiastical remnants, so to speak: gilded high altars, heavy bishop's chairs, old chapel statuary, including the Virgin Mary and various saints, iron crucifixes from cemeteries, regalia, silver crosses and stained glass, even vestments. It's a must-see for those who have fallen in to the fallen-angel desanctified decor so beloved of vampire chronicler Anne Rice. (Incidentally, sales tax in New Orleans is 9 percent, so if what you're buying is large, you might consider having it shipped to you; the handling charge may well be less than the tax.) In the rear of the store, across the courtyard, is a studio full of vividly painted pseudo-primitive bayou folk art.

On the other side of the street is Hands (2042 Magazine; 504-522-2590), whose owner, Rachel Dalessandro, specializes in pre-Columbian art and artifacts as old as 3,000 years (some astonishingly affordable). Also on the south side is Gerry White Glass (2036 Magazine; 504-522-3544), the combination showroom-studio of a man whose custom architectural glass, etched and carved, ranges from table tops (and table legs) to doors and standing screens. Be sure to ask about the sentimental history of the "Venetian blinds" in the front window.

In and around these four standouts are a number of more traditionally mixed antiques stores and granny's attic salvage shops worth a quick perusal, especially for those intrigued by folk art and old silver.

Those whose eye turns more to ethnic and folk arts should stay on the streetcar a little farther, to General Taylor Street, before heading down to Magazine. Pottery fans should start at Shadyside Pottery (3823 Magazine; 504-897-1710), the studio showrooms of ceramicist Charles Bohn, who served his apprenticeship in Japan but who also loves classical Greco-Roman styles. Second stop: Casey Willems Pottery (3919 Magazine; 504-899-1174), whose more ostensibly rustic but elegantly utilitarian wheel-thrown works have been custom-ordered by New York's Guggenheim Museum for sale in its gift shop.

Art-furniture lovers head for the showroom of Mario Villa (3908 Magazine; 504-895-8731); it was Villa who made the sconces for the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, which gives you an idea how highly his peers regard his work. The Davis Gallery (3964 Magazine; 504-897-0780) is ground zero for household items, baskets, personal items, cookware and masks from Central and West Africa -- all actually used, not mass-manufactured, and displayed in a museum-quality setting. The nearby Private Connection does a similar good turn for Indonesian artifacts -- shadow puppets, "flying" temple figurines, batik fabrics and jewelry -- along with Dutch colonial-era antiques (3927 Magazine; 504-899-4944).

Many airlines fly from the Washington area to New Orleans. U.S. Airways, which flies nonstop from National, is quoting a round trip fare of $218 from Washington, with restrictions. Magazine Street runs roughly parallel to and in between St. Charles Avenue and the curve of the Mississippi River from Canal Street, which divides the French Quarter from uptown New Orleans, into the Garden District. Pick up the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar at the corner of Canal and Carondelet. The Magazine Street Merchants Association, 504-891-4191, has a brochure with map and store information. Or contact the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, 504-566-5068,

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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