Vallette Street

The Gist: Vallette Street in New Orleans is named after Francois Valette, an entrepreneur that owned several docks and warehouses in Algiers Point on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. His son, Octave, changed the spelling of the family name.

Yesterday:  Algiers Point dates back to the finding of New Orleans and had also been referred to as Point Antoine, Point Marigny, and Slaughter House Point over the centuries. The original land (now known as Algiers) was granted to Bienville and established in 1719. Its official name became Duverjeville upon the American annexation of Louisiana, and it would not be officially known as Algiers until 1840. Chase says, “One of the earliest appearances in print of its name as Algiers is the New Orleans City Directory of 1840. Thirty years later, on March 14, 1870, when the community was formally incorporated into the city of New Orleans, it knew no other name.” (185-86).

However, the area had been commonly called “Algiers Point” long before the name became official. Given the fact that it once was a prominent slave trade depot, the large presence of African slaves gave off the impression of it being like Africa itself. Algiers is the capital city of Algeria, and there is a legend that General “Bloody” O’Reilly suggested the name after recently fighting Algerian pirates in Mediterranean Sea.

vallette street home

This historic house along Vallette Street was built for Francois Valette’s sister, Josephine, and her husband in 1848. Credit: algierspoint.org

Born on the Belle Chase Plantation down in Plaquemines Parish, Francois Valette and his son Octave owned several warehouses on Algiers Point. A large part of their business came from the Vallette Drydock Company. During the Civil War, Valette feared that the Union Army would seize his docks to make repairs or procure supplies, so he dynamited them, essentially putting an end to his own business.

With the combination of steamboats and trains, Algiers later became an economic powerhouse as it became the chief port for transcontinental trade. According to Chase, by 1900 the point boasted “70 to 75 percent of all freight to and from the east and west coast of the United States! At these yards and docks transfers from freight train to steamship was made; often a whole train’s cargo from the West was loaded aboard ship in twelve hours for the remainder of its journey to an Atlantic seaboard point.” (191). Thus, Algiers has streets named Pacific and Atlantic. However, the Panama Canal would make Algiers Point an obsolete transcontinental port.

 

Today: Vallette Street is predominantly residential; however, one can find several local businesses and community centers. Arts-focused organizations, like the Rosetree Blown Glass Studio and the Calliope Puppet Center, are located along the street. A testament to the meandering nature of the Mississippi, Vallette Street first runs perpendicular to the river only to parallel it later.

 

The Rosetree Glass Studio on Vallette Street is housed in the historic Algy Theater built in 1940. Credit: algierspoint.org

The Rosetree Blown Glass Studio on Vallette Street is housed in the historic Algy Theater built in 1940. Credit: algierspoint.org

Algiers is located on what is known today as the “West Bank,” which refers to the Mississippi River’s geographic location, not its directional position. In other words, if you stand at the point, Uptown New Orleans is technically the western bank. Despite the incessant meandering of Old Man River, the “West Bank” is still the western side.

Algiers identifies with its iconic ferry, which brings commuters (both pedestrian and automotive) to the foot of Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. People can go to Algiers’s historic district for a small town feel. You can go listen to live music at The Old Point Bar or have a pint at the Crown and Anchor English Pub. Anyone with the photography itch should make it a point – ah – to go Algiers, since it boasts some of the best panoramic views of the city. There is also a bike path along the levee which leads to downtown Gretna, a separate town in the Jefferson Parish portion of the West Bank.

Tomorrow: Throughout history, the ferry has made Algiers what it is today, no matter if its ferrying people or commodities; however, this icon’s future is rather unknown at this point. Granted, I don’t think that the ferry will be disbanded (even though that happened a few years ago with the Gretna/Jackson Street Ferry), but it is undergoing a few changes that have residents wondering.

View from the Algiers Ferry. From Algiers Point, one can take in one of the best views of the city.

In 2014, Veolia, a privatized transit company, began operating the ferry. Pedestrians now have to pay $2 per trip whereas they rode gratis before. Also, the operating hours have been reduced. Resident Algerian Ian Graham, who commutes to work at The Prytania Bar in Uptown, says, “The major fear right now is that reduced ferry hours will hurt restaurants, bars, and B&Bs.” He is skeptical about Veolia expanding hours of operation, despite their claims to do so. “Generally, I think people are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the ferries. Veolia says they are about to put advertisements on the boats, like they do on buses. Hopefully that can help pay for maintenance.” Graham feels that the $2 pedestrian charge is not unreasonable; however, the monthly passes do not yield much of a discount and that may affect the residents and working commuters (the people who rely on ferry service the most). The annual Algiers Riverfest was cancelled this summer due to reduced ferry hours, and is still on hiatus.

I’m quite confident that this ferry fiasco will sort its way out. One thing I know and respect about “West Bankers” is that they are truly devoted to their communities, and I don’t see that changing in any regard.

 

Sources:

John Churchill Chase. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children.

Liz LeCour. “Francois Azanor Vallette, Sr.” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=89877611

Andrea Shaw. “Algiers Riverfest on hiatus; Wednesdays on the Point, hopes for extending ferry hours.” The Times Picayune. May 9, 2014. http://www.nola.com/festivals/index.ssf/2014/05/algiers_riverfest_on_hiatus_we.html

Algiers Point Association: http://www.algierspoint.org

Judi Robertson and Kevin Herridge. Algiers Point Association. http://www.algierspoint.org/historical-tour.html

Friends of the Ferry:  http://www.friendsoftheferry.org/algiers-point.html

http://nolaferries.com/

Calliope Puppet Center: http://artsneworleans.org/events_framed/for_venue/3054

 

 

Veterans Boulevard

Ever since the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleanians have been resisting the concept that we are, in fact, “Americans”. Occasionally, we are reminded of our American heritage by 4th of July barbecues or occasional runs in the World Cup. I thought I’d post something about the troops because we, as a nation, tend to forget them as we go on with our everyday lives. Funny thing is, we wouldn’t have our everyday routine without them, and we shouldn’t wait for two out of the 365 ( aka Memorial Day and Independence Day) to honor the men and women in uniform. And, although our founding fathers are directly responsible for Independence Day, our troops have kept us free since then.

The Gist: Veterans Boulevard honors all American veterans, past or present, deceased or living. It runs through a small portion of Orleans Parish (Lakeview) and across Jefferson and St. Charles Parishes (Metairie and Kenner). Appropriately, several veterans of WWII returned home and populated those areas, resulting in massive growth in the region. Also, Jefferson Parish was named after Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence.

 

Yesterday: Veterans Boulevard today is widely commercial; however, it was mostly undeveloped swampland until the 1950s. And, like most of our recent history, we can trace it back to WWII. Catherine Campanella writes in Metairie, “As young soldiers returned home to New Orleans and began raising families, they faced a housing shortage. Like many of their parents and grandparents before them, they moved slightly westward. Using GI Bills, they acquired new and affordable homes on larger lots than were usually available in the city” (8). The Lakeview neighborhood in Orleans Parish also grew immensely as a result of this boom. According to Campanella, the population of Jefferson Parish doubled between 1940 and 1950, and reached 50,000 by 1955.

Pavement of Veterans Highway in 1955, when most of the metropolis we know as Metairie were nothing but drained cypress swamps.

Pavement of Veterans Highway in 1955, when most of the metropolis we know as Metairie was nothing but cypress swamps and forest. Credit: Jefferson Parish Yearly Review.

The main commercial sector of Veterans Boulevard runs through Metairie, which originally was called Chapitoulas (sound familiar?) for the native tribes that lived in the area before colonization. The name “Metairie” has been debated, according to Campanella. It could be a derivative of a French term for a type of farming (moitoire for “one-half”), as most early residents were small farmers who leased the land and shared 50% of his harvest. Or, it could refer to Jacques de la Metairie, who travelled with La Salle as a notary when the French first laid claim to what would be the Sportsman’s Paradise we all love and cherish today.

 

Veterans Boulevard is a living (and bustling) memorial to all men and women who have fought for our freedom.

Today:  Modern developers have to look elsewhere to the West Bank or the Northshore because Metairie has been completely built out. A stark contrast from how the area got started.

Though Veterans Boulevard was not blessed (or cursed depending on the situation) with the rich history that many other streets have, it makes up for that with what they offer. Granted, the traffic is a pain in the arse, but it has something for everyone. Several Mardi Gras parades (including the Irish-Italian Parade) go down Vets. If you like chain restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings or Chili’s, there are plenty to choose. If you decry the chains and only eat at locally owned restaurants with amazing food, there are many like Parrain’s or Tower of Pizza. A wide variety of cuisine can be found on Vets with poboy shops, Asian restaurants, pizza and burger joints, and much more. If you like Byblos, Vets not only has that but also a Mediterranean market where (I keep hearing) you can buy a whole goat! In addition to Winn-Dixie and Rouses, Vets is home to several local, traditional grocers such as Dorignac’s and Zuppardo’s.  Drive-thru daiquiri shops are everywhere. Shopping centers are plentiful, (I personally stay away from that madness as much as possible). There are a few “yat-tastic” bars (that also have amazing food) like the Swamp Room, and the sleazy lounges are honestly too many to count (suggestion: if you are the kind of person that likes the sketchy-ness of Ms. Mae’s or Snake n’ Jake’s after 3 am, then you may have a new stomping ground to explore). If you want upscale bars…well you may just have to go Metairie Road instead. Veterans may not have the “cool” factor that Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue have, but it’s got just about everything.

There is actually a memorial park at Causeway and Veterans, which is quite possibly the most congested intersection in Southeast Louisiana, and many commuters probably don’t even notice it as they speed by. During Mardi Gras season, this park has the “Family Gras” festival with live music for local residents who wish not to venture into the uptown or downtown madness with their small children.

Veterans Boulevard park

“Purple Heart Loop” immortalizes Louisiana soldiers who fought and died. It also has a memorial to local police and firefighters.

 

 

 

Korean War memorial for Louisiana soldiers.

Korean War memorial for Louisiana soldiers.

 

 

 

Veterans looks more like your standard American city than much of historic New Orleans. Developers tend to use current building trends of their day, and concrete slab foundations were the way of the time.

 

Tomorrow: It’s hard to say where the future lies for Veterans or Metairie in general. This area could have flooded just as bad as Lakeview if chance had broke the Jefferson Parish side of the 17th Street Canal. If the flood protection holds up (I guess that goes with all of New Orleans and St. Bernard), I don’t see any drastic change happening.

So, when we say we are not an American city but a European one, let’s take a step back and remember the U.S. veterans that thought/think otherwise.

 

 

Sources:

Catherine Campanella. Metairie. 2008.

 

 

St. Joseph Street

Cobblestones contribute to St. Joseph Street's unique character.

Cobblestones contribute to St. Joseph Street’s unique character.

The Gist: St. Joseph Street in the Warehouse District was named after Marie Josepha Deslonde Gravier. She was the wife of Bertrand Gravier, the Faubourg Ste. Marie suburb developer.  There is no correlation with the famous St. Joseph’s Altar Celebration on March 19th. The St. Joseph Altar tradition was brought to New Orleans by Italian immigrants, and it is both a celebration of lent (seafood and vegetarian dishes) and a way to feed the poor since most of the leftovers are donated to local churches and charity organizations. Interestingly enough, St. Joseph Day is also celebrated by the Mardi Gras Indians on “Super Sunday.”

"Vue d'une Rue du Faubourg Ste. Marie, Nelle. Orleans. (Louisiane)." This lithograph portrays a street scene of teh Faubourg Ste. Marie, which was also named for Marie Josepha Deslonde. The scene starkly contrasts with the present day Central Business District.

“Vue d’une Rue du Faubourg Ste. Marie, Nelle. Orleans. (Louisiane).” This lithograph portrays a street scene of the Faubourg Ste. Marie, which was also named for Marie Josepha Deslonde. The scene starkly contrasts with the present day Central Business District/Warehouse District. Credit: The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Yesterday: To my disbelief, St. Joseph Street has no connection with St. Joseph at all. Several “saint” streets are not named after real saints, and St. Joseph Street is no exception. (check out my previous post about St. Charles Avenue).

Marie Josepha Deslonde inherited the area which would eventually become her namesake. Married to Andre Renard, she received a large tract of land after his death. The land originally was part of a subdivided Jesuit plantation. Chase says, “Bertrand Gravier fell madly in love with Marie and her arpents. They married; then she died and left her seven arpents to Bertrand. On the last day she made the will, historians slyly point out!” (70).

Today: St. Joseph Street is located in (what is now) the Warehouse District in New Orleans. The area was much more industrial in the early 1900s, given the area’s namesake. Though the area does not consist of operational warehouses, St. Joseph Street (as well as much of the Warehouse District) retains many of the original buildings, which have been converted to apartments, museums, or office buildings.

This warehouse was renovated in 1999 and now houses the Contemporary Arts Center on St. Joseph and Camp.

This warehouse was renovated in 1999 and now houses the Contemporary Arts Center on St. Joseph and Camp. Photo Credit: http://www.trimarkconstructors.com

The Woodward Wright warehouse once was a fully operational factory in the early 1900s manufacturing steel tools, equipment, and appliances. It since has been converted to trendy apartments. Photo Credit: www.hriproperties.com

The Woodward Wright warehouse once was a fully operational factory in the early 1900s manufacturing steel tools, equipment, and appliances. It since has been converted to trendy apartments. Photo Credit: http://www.hriproperties.com

Tomorrow:  For a while now, the Warehouse District has been a conglomeration of arts and entertainment, museums, local entrepreneurship, and regional cuisine, while attempting to retain the historical significance of the area.

I haven’t read Richard Campanella’s recent book, Bourbon Street: A History; howeverwhat I see from the map on NOLA.com, New-New Orleanians (or “Neo-Orleanians” if you will) seem to think that this area is “uncool” and “unauthentic.” I disagree 100%. If HBO ever has a new show and calls it The Faubourg Ste. Marie, people would flock there in mass.  In fact, the Warehouse District/CBD is one of my favorite places to go in New Orleans. It’s always seemed much more authentic and local to me than other places in the city despite what anyone says.

And, the “coolness” factor? Really? Has New Orleans become a freaking high school cafeteria? When the hell did that happen?

 

Sources:

John Chase. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children. 1949.

The Historic New Orleans Collection. http://www.hnoc.org.

Langenhennig, Susan. “Richard Campanella discusses ‘The Geography of Cool’ on Radio Show.” NOLA.com. March 14, 2014: http://www.nola.com/homegarden/index.ssf/2014/03/richard_campanella_discusses_t.html

http://www.hriproperties/woodward

The Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans. cacno.org

St. Charles Avenue

The Gist: St. Charles Avenue was named after King Charles III of Spain, who was in power when Spain acquired New Orleans in 1763. It’s not necessarily named after a saint, but the Spanish monarch.

Yesterday: St. Charles Avenue has become one of the most iconic avenues in New Orleans, yet it was nothing more than a swampy frontier in 1822. John Chase writes, “St. Charles street was best known to the boys, who sought in sport for snipe among the latanier in the marshes, which had never been disturbed otherwise in their original growth” (122). He says that eventually St. Charles Avenue would be become the American Sector’s “lifeline.”

The original St. Charles hotel built two blocks from Canal Street in 1837. It was designed by famous architect, James Gallier and was one of the first great American hotels in the country. In 1851, it burned down in one of the city's great fires. It was rebuilt without it's iconic dome. It also would burn down in 1894.

The original St. Charles Hotel built two blocks from Canal Street in 1837. Designed by famous architect James Gallier, it was one of the first great American hotels in the country. In 1851, it burned down in one of the city’s great fires. It was rebuilt without its iconic dome, yet would burn down again in 1894.

It seems that St. Charles Avenue was always bustling with activity and prosperity even since its conception. Drinking was big then as it is today. Chase says that a library owner installed a bar among the bookshelves so that his library could survive. And, it most certainly did after that. Chase says that the avenue “was a gay, bright, and lively street with an air of exciting bohemianism about it” (212).

A railroad connected New Orleans and the town of Carrollton (the former Jefferson Parish seat and now the Riverbend area of Uptown New Orleans), prompting growth along the route. This is how St. Charles Avenue grew across what was once a row of plantations. This railway is still in use today as the St. Charles streetcar line, which is oldest working railway in the world.

A streetcar rolls passed The Holy Name of Jesus Church on Loyola University's campus. Tulane University is adjacent to the church, and the beautiful Audubon Park is across the street.

A streetcar rolls passed The Holy Name of Jesus Church on Loyola University’s campus. Tulane University is adjacent to the church, and the beautiful Audubon Park is across the street.

Today: Just as it was the major avenue for the American sector of the Faubourg Ste. Marie (now the CBD), it remains the primary Uptown route with homes, restaurants and bars, shops, universities, parks, and businesses. On this street, one can really see the diversity of New Orleans. You will see lawyers and businessmen wearing suits alongside service industry workers in chef shirts or serving aprons. People of all races, economic classes, and backgrounds can be seen along St. Charles Avenue.

St. Charles Avenue undergoes a traffic circle at Lee Circle. Named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Lee Circle remains a popular destination to catch parades. Notice the row of port-o-lets at the bottom of the picture.

St. Charles Avenue at Lee Circle. Named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Lee Circle remains a popular destination to catch parades. Notice the row of port-o-lets at the bottom of the picture.

From Canal Street to Calliope Street (near the Pontchartrain Expressway Overpass), the avenue is full of law firms, skyscrapers, hotels, banks, fine restaurants, and town parks (like Lafayette Square). It then curves all the way to the river, intersecting with Carrollton Avenue in the Riverbend section of Uptown. It passes Tulane and Loyola universities, Audubon Park, and countless bars and restaurants.

The St. Charles streetcar line is still a major mode of transportation for locals and tourists alike. On a nice Spring afternoon, the streetcars will be at capacity with riders enjoying the views of century-old live oaks and elegant homes (some Antebellum). Most American cities refer to these transportation cars as “trollies;” however, we call them “streetcars.” The green streetcar along the St. Charles route has become an iconic symbol of New Orleans. Children commonly have birthday parties aboard them.

Since carnival season is in full swing, it is also good to mention that St. Charles Avenue has become a standard route for most Mardi Gras parades due to its wide neutral ground (or median) that can accommodate large crowds. Though several krewes parade down St. Charles Avenue two weeks before Mardi Gras, the most popular parades lead up to Fat Tuesday. On Thursday night, Muses (a krewe exclusive to women) rolls. Bacchus (one of the few “super krewes”) rolls the Sunday before Mardi Gras and features a famous celebrity as the Grand Marshal each year. Orpheus runs on “Lundi Gras” (or the Monday before Mardi Gras), while the Zulu and Rex parades roll on Fat Tuesday. During carnival season, beads get caught in tree branches and power lines and decorate the avenue until the next carnival.

Clockwise from top left: Mardi Gras beads hanging year round in trees along parade routes; the Bigshot float in the Zulu Parade, seated ladders are a common site along St. Charles during Mardi Gras; the Buoef Gras float in the Rex parade.

Clockwise from top left: Mardi Gras beads hanging year round in trees along parade routes; the Bigshot float in the Zulu Parade; seated ladders are a common site along St. Charles during Mardi Gras; the Boeuf Gras float in the Rex parade. Credit for Boeuf Gras and Zulu pictures: Chris Graythen, Getty Images.

Zulu is a historic African-American parade that runs on the early morning of Fat Tuesday. This krewe was not allowed to parade publicly until 1968. Run by the Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Zulu has both white and black riders that dress in grass skirts and have black face. This event is most likely the only occasion in America (if not the world) when white and black people wear blackface together and it be not only tolerated, but celebrated. As I’ve said before, we do things a little differently down here.

The Krewe of Rex is also a historic parade that first took to the streets in 1872. It brought stability to the carnival season at a time when the city considered eliminating carnival due to chaos and disorder, and they continue to do things for the public good (as their motto “Pro Bono Publico” suggests). Rex’s iconic Boeuf Gras float symbolizes the medieval routes of carnival. Historically, many European (typically French) cultures used to parade cattle down the streets and into the slaughterhouse for one last feast before fasting for Lent. In fact, Rex paraded live cattle in the parade for many years as well. Dr. Stephen Hales from the Rex Organizations says, “The Boeuf Gras is the oldest symbol of carnival, going back to the Middle Ages. In fact, back then they called it Boeuf Gras, not even Mardi Gras. If you took a 14th-century Frenchmen and parachuted him into New Orleans during Mardi Gras, he would be baffled as to what was happening, until he saw the Boeuf Gras float. Then, he would know exactly what was being celebrated.”

Tomorrow: St. Charles Avenue can appear as a time capsule with the streetcars, century-old mansions, and oak trees; however, new developments are always transforming the grand street. According to http://www.nola.curbed.com, a new grocery is being planned at 2025 St. Charles Avenue and will supposedly have a “beer cave,” coffee station, and a walk-in cigar humidor. These are a few of my favorite things, it just so happens.

As far the future of St. Charles Avenue goes, I do not foresee any significant changes, and I think mostly every New Orleanian is 100% content with that as well.

Am I wrong?

Sources:

John Chase. Frenchmen, Desire, and Good Children. 1949.

Sarah Chase. “New LGD Grocery Will Have a Walk-in Humidor and ‘Beer Cave.’” http://www.nola.curbed.com. 15 January 2014.

http://www.rexorganization.com

http://www.old-new-orleans.com/NO_StCharlesHotel.html

Packenham Avenue

The Gist:  Packenham Avenue in Chalmette, LA, is named after the British general, Edward M. Packenham, who lost the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

Yesterday: As Americans, we tend to be very proud yet ignorant of our great history.  The War of 1812 is no exception, possibly being the least known American war among contemporary citizens. Basically, the War of 1812 ended up being Britain’s payback for the American Revolution, and this war almost ripped the country apart before any shots were fired. Several Federalists were against the war, whereas President Madison, a Democratic-Republican (if you could ever believe that in today’s political climate), detested the British as did his predecessor Thomas Jefferson. Anti-war New Englanders called it “Mr. Madison’s War” and threatened to secede from the Union that they had just created a few decades earlier. Although the start of the war drew opposing factions, the end of the War of 1812 generated the greatest sense of unity among Americans in their nation’s infancy. And, we have the Battle of New Orleans to thank for it. If you want to be technical, the battle actually took place in Chalmette, Louisiana, just a mile or so outside of the present-day New Orleans city limits.

As long as we are being technical, the British should have had control over New Orleans in the first place, since they defeated the French in the French and Indian War in 1763. The conditions of the Treaty of Paris dictated that all French colonial holdings west of the Mississippi River would be ceded to the Spanish, and everything east of the Mississippi would be subject to the English crown. However, the French and the Spanish devised a scheme to prevent New Orleans (which is technically east of the river) from falling into Britain’s clutches. New Orleans was officially documented as an island, or the “Isle of Orleans,” with all the surrounding bayous and lakes. So, the Spanish would take over New Orleans, not the British. Interesting to note, that the “French Quarter” consists of Spanish architecture as a result of two fires that burned the original French buildings. So, the “French Quarter” may look like the historic districts of Boston or New York if the British had rebuilt it.

If we still want to be technical about things, the War of 1812 had officially ended on December 24, 1814, when the Treaty of Ghent was signed. However, Sir Edward Packenham did not receive the memo as he was harboring experienced troops on Ship Island off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, preparing to attack New Orleans.

An artist rendition of the Battle of New Orleans painted by war veteran Jean Hyacinthe de Laclotte. www.andrewjackson.org

An artist rendition of the Battle of New Orleans painted by war veteran Jean Hyacinthe de Laclotte. Notice Jackson’s strong line of defense. http://www.andrewjackson.org

Many factors were against Packenham. It was foggy when he arrived, and his men were not in proper position, nor was the artillery. The impassable swampland also bogged down his troops, making more time for Jackson to take his position. Most importantly, the British’s plan to turn the Lafitte brothers and their pirates against the United States had backfired. The British offered Pierre and Jean Lafitte prestigious officer positions in the Royal Navy along with large quantities of money if they joined them. Historian Zachariah Frederick Smith wrote in 1904, “[The British] were imprudent enough to disclose to Lafitte the purpose and plans of the great English flotilla in the waters of the Gulf, now ready to enter upon their execution.” Despite having a warrant for their arrest, the Lafittes chose Louisiana over the redcoats and relayed the vital information to Governor Claiborne, who had previously gone to great lengths to capture and try them.

Packenham was an experienced officer (Copenhagen, Martinique, and Nova Scotia) as was most of his troops (Peninsula War, Indies battles, Washington D.C., and Baltimore), but their experience on the battlefield would not save them. Despite having the first tactical advantage of seizing the Villere Plantation house (not the current house at Chalmette Battlefield), they were decimated on January 8th, 1815. General Andrew Jackson led one of the most diverse armies the United States had ever had: whites, free blacks, and Choctaw Indians along with enlisted men, local militia, and pirates. Although the battle included night raids of British encampments and gunboat skirmishes, the day was essentially decided on the battlefield. Andrew Jackson’s forces had built a parapet that provided excellent cover from musket fire, so the redcoats were easy targets as they marched across the field in their redcoats (which would only get redder-if you get my drift). The American casualties (less than 100) were nil in comparison to the British (over 2000).

This painting shows the death of General Packenham as he is brought to the rear of the English army's position. An officer weeps with a handkerchief at this death. However, another painting was commissioned to edit that feature in order to make it look more manly and honorable. The revised version shows the English officer pointing across his face. Both versions are on display at The Historic New Orleans Collection galleries.

This painting shows the death of General Packenham as his body was brought to the rear of the English position. An officer weeps with a handkerchief, mourning the tragedy. However, another painting was commissioned to edit that feature in order to make it look more manly and honorable. The revised version shows the English officer pointing across his face. Both versions are on display at The Historic New Orleans Collection galleries.

Packenham went out in a blaze of glory nonetheless. According to The Historic New Orleans Collection, “When General Gibbs rode over to report that his troops refused to follow him, Packenham spurred his horse and dashed to the right side of the lines. Immediately upon taking up the lead of his men, his horse was shot out from under him, and he was wounded in the shoulder. He leaped upon his aid’s horse and galloped a few more yards when he was mortally wounded… The bodies of generals Packenham, Rennie, and Gibbs were disemboweled, placed in casks of rum and returned to the fleet and on to England” (HNOC 103). The British weren’t even informed that the war had officially ended until they had camped on Dauphin Island to pick up the pieces.

Today:  It is quite odd that a street is named after a defeated enemy general. I doubt that Gettysburg, PA, has a Robert E. Lee Boulevard or that Yorktown, VA, has a Cornwallis Drive. But, I guess we do things differently down here. St. Bernard Parish actually has several smaller streets named Packenham, some having several spelling variations. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find out how this particular street got its name in Chalmette. It runs through Judge Perez Drive and ends at St. Claude/St. Bernard Highway. Chalmette Battlefield and Cemetery is near that intersection.  This street is mainly residential with some small businesses.

The Packenham Oaks are located near the battlefield along St. Bernard Highway. It has been rumored that Packenham died from his wounds under the mossy branches. Historians, however, have yet to confirm that claim.

The Packenham Oaks are located near the battlefield along St. Bernard Highway. It has been rumored that Packenham died from his wounds under the mossy branches. Historians, however, have yet to confirm that claim.

Chalmette, LA, (along with all of St. Bernard Parish) was utterly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. To give out-of-state readers an idea, this area is adjacent to the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans and was damaged to the same degree. Residents, however,have rebuilt their communities in “The Parish” on an impressive scale. I never lived in St. Bernard, but I have observed that residents really came together after Katrina to rebuild, and that sense of unity still exists today.

So, sometimes things don’t change, I guess. On January 8, 1815, this area witnessed a unity, resilience, and pride that America needed. Well, “Chalmations” still have those attributes, which New Orleans needs more than ever today.

Tomorrow:  Next year marks the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans. Chalmette Battlefield is currently planning a special commemoration. I’m sure some impressive reenactments are in store for us. They are also working with race coordinators to organize a run/walk. But, the park is actually taking suggestions from the community. You can go to their website if you want to pitch an idea to them. They are very responsive. I’ve suggested a few things.

Re-enactors commemorating the Battle of New Orleans at Chalmette Battlefield. Credit: NPS.GOV

Re-enactors commemorating the Battle of New Orleans at Chalmette Battlefield. Credit: NPS.GOV

I always tell people the Battle of New Orleans never ended in 1815, but continues today, especially as we try to make sense of ourselves several years after Katrina.  Perhaps we can learn from Jackson’s victory. Tenacity and unity go a long way, yet we don’t need to disembowel English officers to succeed. So, that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about.

Sources:

The Historic New Orleans Collection: History Galleries Notebook. THNOC.

Zachariah Frederick Smith. “The Battle of New Orleans.” http://www.battleofneworleans.us/2013/02/battle-of-new-orleans.html

John Chase. Frenchmen, Desire, and Good Children. 1949

National Park Service. Chalmette Battlefield and Jean Laffite Historical Park and Preserve. http://www.nps.gov/jela/chalmette-battlefield.htm

Fulton Street

The Poydras Entrance to the Fulton Street Square.

The Poydras Entrance to the Fulton Street Square.

 

The Gist: Fulton Street is named after Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine and steamboat. Originally mostly industrial, Fulton Street served as an entertainment strip at the 1984 World’s Fair. Part of it has been revitalized as a popular, modern-day pedestrian mall. (There is also a Fulton Street in New Orleans East; however, this post is about the Fulton Street in Downtown New Orleans.)

Robert Fulton is credited with inventing the steam engine. His competitors, however, claim that he ripped them off.

Robert Fulton is credited with inventing the steam engine. His competitors, however, claim that he ripped them off.

Yesterday: Fulton Street runs parallel to the Mississippi River within the “American Sector” of early New Orleans, which became known as the Faubourg Ste. Marie (now known as the Central Business District or “CBD”). A few posts ago, I wrote about the history of Poydras Street, and Fulton Street ends as Poydras Street runs perpendicular. Dating as far back as the early 1800s, it was mainly used as an industrial avenue due to its proximity to the river. In fact, it remained predominately industrial through the 1970s. In New Orleans Architecture: The American Sector, Mary Louis Christovich wrote in 1972 that the 600 block of Fulton Street was “filled with boxcars, railroad tracks, and trash” despite having attractive commercial warehouses (164).

The Italian Village at the 1984 World's Fair. Fulton Street became a grand promenade to enter the fair.

The Italian Village at the 1984 World’s Fair. Fulton Street became a grand promenade with entertainment, food, and shopping. Credit: WYES

Today: Christovich also wrote that the “Fulton Street facades, now used as warehouses and railroad depots (circa 1972), could make an attractive street scene” (164). She was right. When the World’s Fair came to New Orleans in 1984, Fulton Street was a strip where fairgoers could eat, shop, and just embrace the exposition. The area would later be not readily used after the fair, as did many areas along the riverfront. After decades, it would later be revitalized into commerce once again. Since Hurricane Katrina, Fulton Street has become a popular dining and entertainment destination due to its proximity to Harrah’s Casino and several hotels. Restaurants like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Grand Isle provide people with quality surf-n-turf dining, whereas places like Gordon Biersch and Manning’s provide a good venue for watching sports and drinking brewskies. A local staple, Ernst Cafe, is across the street from the pedestrian mall’s end and usually has a crowd most nights. Fulton Street, as a regular street, runs through the Warehouse District to South Diamond Street from there, where several shops and restaurants give residents plenty of options.

Miracle on Fulton Street. Credit: Rusty Costanza/Times Picayune.

Miracle on Fulton Street. Credit: Rusty Costanza/Times Picayune.

Fulton Street has grown into a prominent Christmas destination as well with a covered promenade of seasonal items like Christmas trees and eternal emblems like the Fleur-de-lis. The Miracle on Fulton Street also has recreations of snowfall. That’s about all the snow we’ll see for 4 or 6 years.

Tomorrow: Overall, I don’t see Fulton Street falling into dilapidation anytime soon. In fact, several developments are underway. Manning’s, a sports bar owned by the …. you guessed it, the mighty Manning dynasty, is a new development on Fulton that offers sports fans a Mecca of options. An up-scale bowling alley (oxymoron?) just opened across Fulton from Manning’s. Fulton Alley claims to have high-end cocktails and an overall classier environment than your run-of-the-mill bowling alleys. Fancy bowling establishments? We’ve come a long way from steam engines.

Sources:

WYES: http://www.wyes.org/local/a-worlds-fair-to-remember/

1984 New Orleans World’s Fair. Bill Cotter. 2009.

New Orleans Architecture: The American Sector. Mary Louise Christovich. 1972.

“Plaquemines Parish Orange Festival, Miracle on Fulton Street, and More this Weekend in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune. 3 December 2010.  http://www.nola.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2010/12/plaquemines_parish_orange_fest.html

http://nola.curbed.com/tags/coming-attractions

St. Louis Cemetery #1

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Getting into the Halloween spirit, I decided to change the blog this week. I initially thought to do a brief profile of each New Orleans cemetery, but that would have been quite an undertaking since there are over 14 historic cemeteries, each of which deserves more than one small paragraph. So, the obvious choice was to choose the St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans’s oldest extant (or still-in-use) cemetery. Above is a painting I did for the Save Our Cemeteries art contest in 2000.

The Place

The aboveground tombs from St. Louis Cemetery #1 blend in well to the New Orleans skyline.

The above-ground tombs from St. Louis Cemetery #1 blend in well to the New Orleans skyline.

The cemetery’s site was designated by the Spanish Crown in 1789 in order to not only make room for more corpses but also to distance the citizens from potential disease outbreaks. At this time, (what is now) Basin Street was low swampland beyond the city limits.  The traditional “above-ground” tomb became popular because it helped maximize space (multiple people or whole families could be buried in one tomb). It also proved better than burying people underground since the mud was saturated, and the Mississippi River frequently flooded its natural banks. Now that modern technology can pump water from New Orleans, underground burials are possible; however, above-ground burials are a tradition. [Saveourcemeteries.org]

The flat tombs are a stark contrast to the aboveground tombs in the "Catholic" section.

The flat tombs are a stark contrast to the above-ground tombs in the “Catholic” section.

A small Protestant section exists in the back of the cemetery, whereas most of the grounds are designated as Catholic burials. It is ironic that such hallowed ground would eventually be next door to Storyville, the infamous red-light district, which was closed down by the Navy during World War I out of fear that it might distract the sailors from their duty. It was later demolished in the 1930s. The Iberville housing projects are now adjacent to the cemetery in its place.

The People

Just like today, a diverse population resided in New Orleans back then.

Here lies Bernard de Marigny. Custom has it that vistors leave dice on his tomb to commemorate his destructive love for the game of craps.

Here lies Bernard de Marigny. Custom has it that visitors leave dice on his tomb to commemorate his destructive love for playing craps.

Bernard de Marigny: The name should sound familiar to many New Orleanians since the trendy “Marigny” neighborhood was once his former plantation. He also founded the city of Mandeville and established a sugar plantation on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain where Fontainbleau State Park exists today. He was highly influential in the development of the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. Also, he was a degenerate gambler who lost most of his lavish fortune. Supposedly, he introduced New Orleans to “craps.” Robert Florence says, “He ended up destitute and terribly in debt … and at 53 had to go to work as a clerk in the Office of Mortgages and Conveyances after having been not only a business tycoon but also a senator who helped frame the state constitution” [42].

Even though tourists make wishes, give objects, and mark "XXX" as some kind of voodoo ritual, it is still uncertain whether Marie Laveau is buried there.

The Glapion Family Tomb. Even though tourists make wishes, give objects, and mark “XXX” as some kind of voodoo ritual, it is still uncertain whether Marie Laveau is even buried there.

Marie Laveau: The legendary Voodoo priestess is supposedly buried here. Ironically, Laveau was also a devoted Catholic and attended mass daily. It was her mixture of Catholic tradition and Voodoo practice (or “gris gris”) that made her so prominent.  She was born to a wealthy French planter, Charles Laveau, probably due to the “Code Noir” that decreed that a white man must marry a slave if they birthed a child together.  Laveau married two men in her life. Her last husband was Christopher Glapion, a captain in the Battle of New Orleans. His family still owns the tomb, and they do not approve of the droves of tourists that mark X’s on the tomb.  Florence says it’s more “vandalism” than “voodoo” to them. Although it is possibly the most popular tomb in St. Louis #1, it is not quite certain if her actual remains rest there. Florence says, “The date of death, 1897, is not hers, but closer to her daughter’s, Marie Laveau II. So the question is, which one of them is buried here?”

 

Here lies Homer Plessy. His plan to challenge a state segregation law backfired when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in Plessy vs. Ferguson.

Here lies Homer Plessy. His plan to challenge a state segregation law backfired when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in Plessy vs. Ferguson.

Homer Plessy: He was the Rosa Parks of his time, except it all blew up in his face (along with every other black person living in America at the end of the 19th Century). Plessy and the “Comite des Citoyens” challenged a Louisiana law that segregated passenger trains. Only 1/8 black, he was legally recognized as a “Negro” and was arrested after boarding the white car. Six years later, Plessy vs. Ferguson went before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court ruled against Plessy, establishing the “separate-but-equal” doctrine for more than 6 decades.

 

Here lies Paul Morphy. Child prodigy and chess master. Chess players commonly leave chess pieces on his tomb as a sign of respect.

Here lies Paul Morphy. Child prodigy and chess master. Chess players commonly leave chess pieces on his tomb as a sign of respect.

 

Paul Morphy: Morphy was the best chess player that the world had every seen. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that he was “a triumph of the American intellect.” As a child he was defeating Union generals and world champions. After easily defeating the best chess players around the globe, he decided to call it quits at the early age of 22.  During the Civil War, he and his family evaded the Union occupation of New Orleans by fleeing to Paris, where he would slowly go insane.

 

 

 

The elaborate Italian Society tomb has made popular when the movie Easy Rider featured during the acid trip scene. As a result of that, filming was banned there for many years.

The elaborate Italian Society tomb was made popular when the movie Easy Rider featured it during the acid trip scene. As a result, filming was banned at the cemetery for many years.

There are several “benevolent society” tombs in the cemetery. Such societies were formed to support immigrants. There are society tombs from cultures such as Portugal, Spain, France, China, and Italy.

Dieu Nous Protege Society Tomb; a society for free people of color.

Dieu Nous Protege Society Tomb; a society for free people of color.

Overall, the St. Louis #1 is quite pleasant and intriguing within the confines of its walls. What is a little creepy, however, is how many graves no longer remain in the cemetery. The iconic “Varney” tomb, with its pyramid shape and ball top, greets visitors at the main entrance, yet it once was the half-way point of the cemetery. So, you can assume that you might be walking over corpses when you cross Basin Street and its neutral ground. Actually, many cemeteries are smaller than their original sites (such as Greenwood Cemetery along Canal Boulevard). In fact, St. Peter Street in the French Quarter was one of the original cemeteries of the city. With the development of condos and hotels, construction workers have unearthed skeletons as late as 2011.

This memorial honors the fallen veterans of the Battle of New Orleans. There is also a society tomb in the Catholic section for veterans of this war.

This memorial honors the fallen veterans of the Battle of New Orleans. There is also a society tomb in the Catholic section for veterans of this war.

Each cemetery in New Orleans tells countless stories, including the expansion of the city. Typically, cemeteries marked the outskirts of the current development. Florence says, “To track the growth of the New Orleans, one must start at the river. The story of New Orleans burial begins here as well, on the natural levee.”

Only in New Orleans where “death” can be synonymous with “growth.”  Happy Halloween!

Old tombs easily fall into disrepair or neglect. Organizations, like Save Our Cemeteries, do a great civic duty to the city in helping restore and preserve our history.

Old tombs easily fall into disrepair or neglect. Organizations, like Save Our Cemeteries, do a great civic duty to the city in helping restore and preserve historic tombs.

Sources

City of the Dead: A Journey Through St. Louis Cemetery #1. Robert Florence. 1928.

http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-1/

“15 Coffins Unearthed When Property Owner Digs for Pool on Edge of the French Quarter.” John Pope. Nola.com. http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2011/11/15_coffins_unearthed_when_prop.html

Poydras Street

The Gist: Poydras Street is named after Julian Poydras de Lalande, who was a poet, landowner, philanthropist, and a prominent statesman.

A portrait of Julian Poydras. Many sources have different spellings for his first name, such as "Julien" and "Julian." State Library of Louisiana via Knowla.org

A portrait of Julian Poydras. Many sources have different spellings for his first name, such as “Julien” and “Julian.” State Library of Louisiana via Knowla.org

Yesterday

Poydras Street was one of the original streets in New Orleans’s first subdivision, the Faubourg Ste. Marie. Originally calling it “Ville Gravier,” Bertrand Gravier owned this area that was once the site of Bienville’s own plantation, and this area grew due to the American migration into New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase. It was Julian Poydras de Lalande, however, who supposedly persuaded Gravier to undergo this development after the 1788 fire. He promised to buy multiple lots, one of which was at the intersection of (what is now) Tchoupitoulas and (what then became) Poydras Street [Chase 71-72]. Poydras was originally from France and owned a plantation in Pointe Coupee, northwest of New Orleans near the False River. A jack-of-all-trades of sorts, he dabbled in banking, poetry, and politics. It is argued that Louisiana literature actually begins with Julian Poydras. Germaine Beinvenu, while asserting that Louisiana literature should begin with the French explorers’ reports and journals, admits that “nevertheless, it is not until the appearance of Poydras’s poems in the Spanish colonial period that [scholars] detect the first works written for a literary purpose” [27]. Poydras also was influential in the political arena. He chaired the Louisiana Constitutional Convention in 1812, which was the only state convention that was conducted in French. He also started the Female Orphan Society in 1817, which cared for orphans and widows that were left destitute from the yellow fever epidemic.

Though built in the 1970s, One Shell Square still stands as the tallest building in New Orleans at 697 ft. It is not uncommon to see modern skyscrapers mixed in with historic buildings such as the one on the left.

Though built in the 1970s, One Shell Square still stands as the tallest building in New Orleans at 697 ft. It is not uncommon to see modern skyscrapers mixed in with historic buildings such as the one on the left.

Today

Poydras Street is just as active and eclectic as the life of the man it is named after. It can be said that this street is the epicenter of the Central Business District of New Orleans. More colloquially referred to as the “CBD,” New Orleanians no longer know of this area as the Faubourg Ste. Marie. Poydras street begins near the Mississippi River near Harrah’s Casino, and ends (generally) at the Mercedes Benz Superdome. These two facilities are top revenue producers for the city. Overall, Poydras Street has become synonymous with business and professionalism for good reason because several skyscrapers house countless corporations, law firms, and other organizations. The Hale Boggs Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is at the intersection of Camp Street and houses several government offices. The New Orleans Center closed down its shopping mall after Hurricane Katrina, and has since been cleared to make way for Champions Square, where the Who Dat Nation prepare themselves for Saints games. City Hall is also along Poydras at the intersection of Loyola Avenue, and it is a blemish on the urban landscape of the thoroughfare. Of course, I am referring to the old building itself. As far as what goes on inside City Hall…well, I leave that for you to decide.

Tomorrow

Overall, the future of Poydras Street and the CBD looks rather bright. Businesses continue to thrive and relocate to this bustling commerce district. For example, the Recovery School District recently moved their headquarters into an office on Poydras Street in order to improve their overall operations. Although not on Poydras Street, the Poydras Home (at the Uptown intersection of Jefferson and Magazine) is undergoing expansion and renovation. Now operating as a retirement community, the Poydras Home was originally the Female Orphan Society that was established by Julian Poydras.

Countless people say “Poydras” everyday in conversation in New Orleans. While they mainly refer to the actual street and not the man, Poydras’s legacy lives on in the prosperity of the city nonetheless.

intersection

Sources

Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children. John Chase. 1949.

“The Beginnings of Louisiana Literature.” Germaine Beinvenu. Louisiana Culture from the Colonial Era to Katrina. Editor, John Lowe. 2008.

The Historic New Orleans Collection. “Between Colony and State: Louisiana in the Territorial Period.” http://www.hnoc.org/pdf/LA_territorial.pdf

“Recovery School District shifts home base to Poydras Street in New Orleans.” Nola.com. http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2012/08/recovery_school_district_shift.html

“Ground is Broken for Poydras Home Expansion in Uptown New Orleans.” Annette Sisco. Nola.comhttp://blog.nola.com/new_orleans/2012/05/ground_is_broken_for_poydras_h.html

www.poydrashome.com

www.knowla.org

Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. http://www.gnocdc.org/orleans/1/47/snapshot.html

Milne Boulevard

Milne Boulevard.

Milne Boulevard.

The Gist: Milne Boulevard is named after a Scottish landowner, Alexander Milne, who owned most of the lakefront area. (He is not to be confused with the British author Alan Alexander Milne.)

Yesterday: At one time, New Orleans was basically swampland, and the land near Lake Pontchartrain is no exception. What’s interesting about the development of this area of New Orleans (Lakeview and Gentilly roughly) is that its development happened opposite of the way the original city developed. The original city’s site was focused primarily on the Mississippi River for its economic and agricultural advantages, and the city sprawled out from the river. The areas near the lakefront grew from its proximity to the Lake Pontchartrain. Many of the early inhabitants were drawn to the lake’s lush fisheries and luxurious boating opportunities. And, these areas remained mostly rural and swampy until the end of World War II.

Capuchin priests originally owned the land and then sold it to a Spanish nobleman, Don Almonester y Roxas, who has a street named after him, too. Eventually, Alexander Milne, acquired the swampy area and began his own town by the 1830s, which became known as Milneburg. Milneburg was not anywhere near where the present-day Milne Boulevard is. Instead the town was located near the University of New Orleans and its Research and Technology Park. John Chase says, “This odd Scot declared the swampland to be exceedingly healthy, and proved it by living to be eighty.” Ironically, selling parts of his precious swampland as real estate is what really made him rich along with a brick-making business.

The area around current-day Milne Boulevard was not much more than a resort at West End, a lighthouse, and the New Basin Canal, which was dug mostly by Irishmen. Thousands of them died due to sickness and poor working conditions.

Although most of Lakeview's homes have been restored since Hurricane Katrina, it is not uncommon to see a house being reclaimed by nature.

Although most of Lakeview’s homes have been restored since Hurricane Katrina, it is not uncommon to see a house being reclaimed by nature.

Today:

The massive swamp that Alexander Milne enjoyed is now an extensive metropolitan area that comprises the neighborhoods of Lakeview, Gentilly, Pontchartrain Park, and Lake Vista. The latter two actually sit on top of artificial land that was pumped in for development. If you go to the UNO Research and Technology Park, you’ll see the old abandoned Milneburg Lighthouse that once sat in the lake itself. The New Canal Lighthouse (along Lakeshore Drive) is now a museum operated by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, whereas the New Basin Canal was filled in as a massive neutral ground in the 1950s. Lakeview still attracts New Orleanians who have a vested interest in Lake Pontchartrain whether it is boating, biking, jogging, fishing, or swimming.

But, just as the lake waters brought development to the area, they would destroy it during Hurricane Katrina. Lakeview residents were severely flooded when the 17th Street Canal levee breached from the pressure of the lake surge.

As for Milne Boulevard, it runs from Robert E. Lee Boulevard through Lakeview until it stops at Kenilworth right before the I-610. It later resumes a few more blocks until ending at the railroad tracks before Greenwood Cemetery.

The front view of Lakeview School from Milne Boulevard. It was built in 1913 and then rebuilt in 1915 after a fire. It has been sitting idle since being damaged in the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The front view of Lakeview School from Milne Boulevard. It was built in 1913 and then rebuilt in 1915 after a fire. It has been sitting idle since being damaged in the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Tomorrow:

Projection of the future would be impossible without considering what is being done today. Overall, the rebuilding process in Lakeview has been impressive, especially considering most (if not all) homeowners were left high-and-dry (pardon the ironic phrasing) by the insurance companies’ “flood vs. wind” policies. Two new restaurants, Brisbi’s and The Blue Crab, have recently opened on the lakefront, which used to be bustling with eateries and recreational activities.

At Milne and Brooks, the Lakeview School (the area’s first school) sits festering in its Katrina shell; however, a developer has recently purchased the building with the plans for a condo or assisted living. According to WWL, Scurlock Development bought the early 1900s structure for $1.2 million. Mixed feelings always exist among neighbors. Some people feel like it will change the dynamics of the area, whereas others just want something done about the building that, quite frankly, looks like a haunted orphanage from the Soviet Union. Also, according to WWL, neither the development company nor the city council had much to say about the new venture. So, nothing may be happening for all we know.

However, with the way New Orleans politicians roll, big things may, in fact, be in play.

An ominous rear-view from Lakeview School.

An ominous, rear view of Lakeview School.

Sources:

• John Chase. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children. 1949.

http://www.neworleansonline.com/tools/neighborhoodguide/lakeview.html

• Paul Murphy. WWL TV. http://www.wwltv.com/news/Private-Developer-Buys-Abandoned-Lakeview-School–217170981.html

Esplanade Avenue

 

The neutral ground is rather large near the river, whereas it is narrow as you near Bayou St. John.

The neutral ground is much larger starting at the river, but it becomes a narrow strip of monkey grass at N. Miro Street near the Gayarre Place statue.

The Gist:  Esplanade Avenue gets its name from a Spanish military esplanade that ran from Fort St. Charles (where the U.S. Mint building is today) to Fort St. John (which used to be at the intersection of Barracks and Rampart).

Yesterday: Like most things New Orleans, it’s not a simple story. As most American stories begin, it starts with the Native Americans. What we know now as the “Esplanade Ridge” is a naturally high ground that the Indians used for portage between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain via Bayou St. John. Once John Law’s Company of the West planned the layout of New Orleans, this area was mandated that it be left undeveloped to allow for common defense of the new town. During the French colonial period, this area became later known as the “City Commons,” which was a plantation that was commonly owned and operated by five different owners. So, it did not go over well with the landowners when the Spanish came to power and decreed that the land be used directly for defense and built Fort St. Charles at the river and Fort St. John at (what is today) the intersection of Barracks and Rampart. They sued the Spanish King to no avail. By 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase commenced, the Spanish fortifications had fallen into disrepair. Since the area originally belonged to the French, the U.S. reasoned that the land was now theirs. Fort St. Charles had some influence leading up to the Battle of New Orleans, but the city did away with it by 1821.  The U.S. Congress than decreed that the old “City Commons” be divided up into new subdivisions to allow for expansion. The descendants of the “Creole” people of New Orleans expanded out from the French Quarter, since the American Sector was beyond Canal Street. It later became an avenue of great architecture and wealth, very similar to the American St. Charles Avenue. Several Catholic schools, such as St. Aloysius (which later merged with Cor Jesu to form Brother Martin in Gentilly), were established along the “Promenade Publique” as it was commonly called.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. The U.S. Mint building would then take the place of Fort St. Charles; therefore, the city would give that building to the federal government. Ironically, Major P.G.T. Beauregard, who would later side with the Confederacy and command the forces at Fort Sumter, suggested extensive repairs be made to both stabilize and “fire proof” the building (Christovich 15). Once the Civil War broke, the city then seized the mint back from the federal government. Once General Farragut captured New Orleans, General Ben Butler occupied it, and the union seized the mint back from the city. As time went on, Esplanade Avenue would soon have a rail-line connecting the river to Bayou St. John, so residents could travel to the “pleasure gardens […] on sites of early plantations at the bayou” (Christovich xix). The elegance and atmosphere of this street would attract several artists including French Impressionist Edgar Degas.

 

This area was an old Indian Market. Several other triangular parks adorn Esplanade Avenue.

Esplanade splits left and Bayou Road splits right just after N. Miro Street. Gayarre’ Place was once near an old Indian Market. Several other triangular parks are along Esplanade Avenue as a result of centuries of boundary line disputes.

 

Today: Esplanade Avenue runs from the Mississippi River and ends at Bayou St. John. It borders unique neighborhoods such as the Vieux Carre, the Fauborg Marigny, and the Treme. It has something for everyone. Lavish homes, museums, quaint B & Bs, music venues, horse races, festivals, dive bars, coffee shops, green space, cemeteries, and dining establishments. The U.S. Mint building is now a Louisiana State Museum and its grounds host several musical festivals such as Satchmo Summer Fest and the Cajun-Zydeco Music Festival. Esplanade is the entrance to the booming music scene on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. Every spring, the Crescent City Classic route follows most of Esplanade into City Park, and over 20,000 runners gaze at its unique features as they run by. The Degas House is a B & B that has been restored to honor the artist’s and the neighborhood’s history. Just a few blocks off the main street, the historic Fair Grounds Race Course run horses from Thanksgiving to March and host the immensely popular New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that kicks off the last weekend in April and ends the first weekend in May.

Esplanade crosses Bayou St. John and ends at a small traffic circle on Wisner Boulevard, which soon turns into North Carrollton (going towards the river). The circle revolves around a statue of General P.G.T. Beauregard who once lived on the avenue and would later promote the Louisiana Lottery. Where the attractive gardens once were beyond the bayou, City Park gives residents the opportunity to have picnics, play sports, and bicycle among many other activities. The New Orleans Museum of Art is one of the grand views from the foot of Esplanade Avenue. Although a rail line no longer runs the length of the avenue, the City Park line (a part of the Canal Streetcar line) ends at the park, so residents can still access Esplanade and the bayou.

 

Cresson House (built around 1902). Several houses along Esplanade Avenue are unique.

Cresson House (built around 1902). Several houses along Esplanade Avenue are unique.

Tomorrow: Also, like most things New Orleans, the story isn’t over. In the book, New Orleans Architecture: The Esplanade Ridge, Christovich writes that Esplanade Avenue “is beautiful, it is grand, it is shabby and often frayed; it is struggling for new definition and survival” (xx). The eclectic avenue is all of those things and continuing to redefine itself. Paths to Progress, an intergovernmental partnership, is resurfacing many streets throughout New Orleans. The construction has ended on Esplanade, making the portion between the bayou and Claiborne Avenue one lane traffic to allow more parking area and a bike lane. Wheelchair curbs were also installed. Some residents have complained about the inconvenience of the construction and remain skeptical of the new development. Many believe that the one lane traffic will cause gridlock traffic, especially during Jazz Fest. That remains to be seen, of course, next year. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “esplanade” as being “a flat, open stretch of pavement or grass used as a promenade.” And, just as it originally began as a public space, New Orleanians still can enjoy Esplanade Avenue via foot, bike, or automobile.

 

Primary Source:  New Orleans Architecture: The Esplanade Ridge. Mary Louise Christovich, Sally Kittredge Evans, and Roulhac Toledano.

General Pershing Street

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General John Pershing

The Gist:  General Pershing was the most celebrated and revered U.S. general in World War I. It was later decided that Berlin Street be renamed for him during the war.

Yesterday

This street was not originally named General Pershing considering it was part of a subdivision that predates the Great War by about 80 years.  At this time, what we call the “Riverbend” part of Uptown was simply Carrollton, a separate township that was established in 1833. Carrollton developers, Laurent Millaudon and Samuel Kohn, sought to divide up part of the Bouligny Plantation since it would be on the stopping point of an upcoming railroad line, halfway to Carrollton.  They wanted to be the first to jump on what could become prime real estate. At this point in time, there was a resurgence of French interest or, as John Chase calls it, the “French craze.” The developers used this as a marketing strategy, essentially. Hence, the original street was called Berlin Street in honor of Napoleon’s victory over the Prussians.

Today

General Pershing Street is what we Americans call it today, and it remains to be prime real estate. Just as the “French craze” honored the French emperor, the anti-German craze of World War I sought to rename Berlin Street for the American war hero, John “Black Jack” Pershing, as a result of “confused flushes of patriotism” (Chase 147). World War I history is not typically America’s strong subject, so I’ll put it like this: the American Revolution had George Washington, the Civil War had U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, and World War II had Dwight D. Eisenhower. Well, World War I had John Pershing.  In fact, he could be regarded as the primary mentor for men like Eisenhower, McArthur, and Patton. Pershing got his nickname “Black Jack” because he led African-American troops who became known as the original “Buffalo Soldiers” in the Spanish-American War. In response to Pancho Villa’s raids, Pershing commanded the forces that invaded Mexico in pursuit of the elusive Villa.  And then, of course, the First World War immortalized him.

The street itself is mostly within the Uptown region of New Orleans and remains predominantly, if not all, residential. It stretches from the Mississippi River, paralleling Napoleon Avenue, to the Broadmoor area.  Beyond Broad Street, General Pershing Street slingshots to the left (if you are going towards the lake) and parallels Fountainebleau Drive for a few blocks.

Image

Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans French Immersion School (left); St. Henry’s Catholic Church (right).

Tomorrow

Near General Pershing and Magazine, Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans, a French immersion school, promotes multilingual development in children. The French language was once dominant in New Orleans, but many New Orleanians have forfeited their mother tongue for English over the last century. The French/Spanish “creoles” are rolling over in their watery graves for sure. However, maybe this school can help restore the French language to the area.

It is also worth noting the complex relationship between the Germans and New Orleans. Past residents insisted that they rename Berlin Street in order to dishonor the Germans during the war. But, the Germans had an enormous influence of the Louisiana colony that New Orleanians will never give them credit for.  Perhaps, that’s just the result of growing up in a post WWI and WWII America. One example, the Germans perfected “French bread” as we know it, and the name Leidenheimer is blatantly not French.  There’s much more to the Germans’ story, and I’ll go more into that in later posts.  But, perhaps we can learn about the other European cultures that made the city what it is, instead of blindly giving credit to the French, who (other than founding the colony on a basis of lies) did less than other Europeans (especially the Spanish and the Germans) to establish and develop New Orleans.

Canal Street

Canal Street

Canal Street

The Gist: Canal Street was named after a navigational canal that never actually came to fruition. It was also the original “neutral ground,” which is what New Orleanians call street medians.

Yesterday
Contrary to common belief, Canal Street was never a major navigation canal that was later filled in. There was once a stagnant ditch near there, which gave city developers the idea. Congress designated the wide area for a canal in 1807, but the Orleans Navigation Company basically screwed the pooch. As a street, it separated the “Creoles” from the vile Americans but yet provided a neutral area for commerce between the two clashing cultures. Many store employees were commonly bilingual. It would become home to America’s first movie theater in 1896 as well as department stores such as D.H. Holmes. Canal Street has been a common setting in literary works by authors such as George Washington Cable, John Kennedy Toole, Kate Chopin, and Walker Percy.

Today
Canal Street now runs from the Mississippi River to the Mid-city cemeteries. Towards the river, the street continues to be a retail hub for New Orleans and still separates two distinct worlds: the French Quarter and the Central Business District. On one side, historic brick buildings display ironwork balconies and Spanish architecture, whereas the CBD contains modern office buildings and skyscrapers. The traffic is typically congested due to construction work, buses, tourists, streetcars, and poorly-timed streetlights. Near the I-10 overpass, the street still suffers from blight due to Hurricane Katrina and the bad economy. The Joy Theatre and the Saegner Theatre have reopened since the storm. Streetcar tracks run inside the “neutral ground” of Canal Street. Ironically, the tracks were dismantled in the mid-20th century in an attempt to modernize the city with bus lanes. In 2004, the line was restored once the City of New Orleans realized they screwed the pooch on that one. Towards the lake, Canal Street is mainly residential with several local businesses, schools, bars, and restaurants. This part of Canal Street severely flooded during Katrina, yet many parts have rebuilt since then.

Tomorrow
The upcoming massive medical district, which includes the new VA hospital and University hospital, has the potential not only to provide residents with medical options and employment opportunities but also to boost the city’s economy and create a viable industry for the future.

N.O. Street Smarts

papa joesI’ve always been interested in how New Orleans got some of its street names. New Orleans history is also one of my passions, so I felt I should start looking into it and sharing it with other New Orleanians.

Do you know who Claiborne was? How did Canal Street get its name? I certainly asked myself these types of questions long enough. I’m ready to start looking for some answers. Given the eclectic street names in this town, I shouldn’t run out of material any time soon.