Category Archives: New Orleans history

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

 

 

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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