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

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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.