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What is the history behind the gargoyle on the side of the old building at 701 Jackson Ave.? 

Blake Pontchartrain: The New Orleans N.O. It All

click to enlarge A gargoyle was placed on the side of a historic building to keep vandals from breaking the windows.

Photo by Kandace Power Graves

A gargoyle was placed on the side of a historic building to keep vandals from breaking the windows.

Hey Blake,

What is the history behind the gargoyle on the side of the old building at 701 Jackson Ave.?

Dear Reader,

  The building actually is at 709 Jackson Ave. and once was a synagogue named Sha'are Tefilah, which translates to "Gates of Prayer." The building was completed in 1867, but the congregation later moved.

  Gregg Morris, a developer, bought the building in 2012 and converted it into apartments, remaining true to the historic building's original design.

  In addition to being a synagogue, the building has served as a school and office space. It originally had two stories, but a previous owner added a third floor and installed new glass in all of the windows. To protect the windows from vandals, the owner placed a fiberglass gargoyle on the building.

  Medieval folklore mentions carved gargoyles as originating from the conquer of a dragon in France, according to archaeologist Gary R. Varner, author of Folklore, History and the Study of Myth, and they were affixed to buildings for centuries. "The word 'gargoyle' comes from the Old French gargouille, which is derived from the Late Latin gurgula meaning throat or gullet. The connection is obvious when one considers that most gargoyles ... were intended to be gutter spouts to direct rainwater from the roofs of buildings. Over the years however ... the word has changed and gargoyles have come to symbolize any carving of a grotesque nature regardless if the carving has a functional or purely decorative purpose." Varner wrote.

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