Category Archives: Mardi Gras

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.

 

 

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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