A friend asked what I knew about the mansion on Esplanade that features a stained glass five pointed star at its apex. I was embarrassed to say I’d never noticed this rather unusual detail on the tony Avenue: The property the house stands on was originally part of a Spanish land grant in 1800, and although it was meant to be farmed, the entire block was held by land speculators until after the Civil War, when it was broken into smaller lots. In 1873 steamboat captain J.W. Tobin purchased one of those parcels and built the mansion that still stands today. Born in Alabama, Tobin made his fortune sailing up the Mississippi River to the Ouachita River and into Arkansas- a voyage he undertook every Friday at 5 pm.
It’s quite a genteel home for a man in a rough trade- newspaper records show he was twice arrested on concealed weapons charges, although both cases mysteriously disappeared, with no resolution ever being recorded. Tobin died in 1888 while on a trip up river at age 61, his body brought back and waked out of the house on Esplanade.
His family sold the house in 1924 to Anthony & Sophie Battistella, whose family owned several other properties on Esplanade and had two thriving businesses- they were the biggest fish merchants in town…and also some of the biggest bootleggers, being charged with over $200,000 worth of contraband– $2,694,208 in today’s dollars. The ad spelled out just how spacious the home was at the time of its sale:
However, Anthony died not long after the purchase and his widow started renting multi room suites in the huge house (children and pets welcome!). She sold to the Van Pelts in 1936, and they broke the house down further, renting out single rooms (to working ladies only, no kids or pets, tyvm.), and so it went for decades, until in the early 1990s the house began a reverse process, slowly integrating until it is today, again, a single family home.
Okay, fine. But what about the pentacle?
Nothing mentions it, anywhere, even in neighborhood history accounts where the house is discussed. However, at some point, the star was covered up, so it’s possible that people didn’t know it was even under there, and by 1979, the mansion was in rough shape: But by 2007 renovations had brought it back to its former glory, including uncovering the star. Maddening. So I started looking more closely into the early owners of the house, and discovered this tidbit (emphasis mine):
The other day Jane brought up a discussion of steamboat superstitions and traditions. … Another good luck symbol is the five pointed stars on the hub of the paddlewheel crank. … I know it is a maintenance problem keeping the grease off the crank but a steamboat without its stars is like getting dressed up and not polishing your shoes. Steamboats.org
And there we have it. Not so mysterious, but something meaningful to the original owner of the home. And who knows? Maybe that good luck symbol was the push that kept the old girl going even as she was neglected all those years?