The French Quarter in New Orleans

Monday, 30 April 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Living, Working, Building

Bourbon Street © flickr.com - Lars Plougmann/cc-by-sa-2.0

Bourbon Street © flickr.com – Lars Plougmann/cc-by-sa-2.0

The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré or the Vieux Carre Historic District, is the oldest section of the city of New Orleans. After New Orleans (La Nouvelle-Orléans in French) was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, it developed around the Vieux Carré (“Old Square” in English), a central square. The district is more commonly called the French Quarter today, or simply “the Quarter,” related to changes in the city with American immigration after the Louisiana Purchase. Most of the extant historical buildings were constructed in either the late 18th century, during the city’s period of Spanish rule, or during the first half of the 19th century, after U.S. annexation and statehood. The district as a whole has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, with numerous contributing buildings that are separately deemed significant (buildings and architecture of New Orleans). It is both a prime tourist destination and attractive for local resident (4,000 are living permanently in the quarter). Katrina flood damage was relatively light in the Quarter as compared with other areas of the city and the greater region.

The most common definition of the French Quarter includes all the land stretching along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (13 blocks) and inland to North Rampart Street (seven to nine blocks). It equals an area of 78 square blocks. Some definitions, such as city zoning laws, exclude the properties facing Canal Street, which had already been redeveloped by the time architectural preservation was considered, and the section between Decatur Street and the river, much of which had long served industrial and warehousing functions. Any alteration to structures in the remaining blocks is subject to review by the Vieux Carré Commission, which determines whether the proposal is appropriate for the historic character of the district. Its boundaries as defined by the City Planning Commission are: Esplanade Avenue to the north, the Mississippi River to the east, Canal Street, Decatur Street and Iberville Street to the south and the Basin Street, St. Louis Street and North Rampart Street to the west. The National Historic Landmark district is stated to be 85 square blocks. The Quarter is subdistrict of the French Quarter/CBD Area. Adjacent neighborhoods are: Faubourg Marigny (east), Mississippi River (south), Central Business District (west), Iberville (north), and Tremé (north).

When Anglophone Americans began to move in after the Louisiana Purchase, they mostly built on available land upriver, across modern-day Canal Street. This thoroughfare became the meeting place of two cultures, one Francophone Creole and the other Anglophone American. (Local landowners had retained architect and surveyor Barthelemy Lafon to subdivide their property to create an American suburb). The median of the wide boulevard became a place where the two contentious cultures could meet and do business in both French and English. As such, it became known as the “neutral ground”, and this name is used for medians in the New Orleans area. Even before the Civil War, French Creoles had become a minority in the French Quarter. In the late 19th century the Quarter became a less fashionable part of town, and many immigrants from southern Italy and Ireland settled there. (In 1905, the Italian consul estimated that one-third to one-half of the Quarter’s population were Italian-born or second generation Italian-Americans.)

Pontalba Buildings © Jan Kronsell/cc-by-sa-3.0 Jackson Square © Sami99tr/cc-by-sa-3.0 Example of late 18th-century Spanish architecture, built after the Great Fires of 1788 and 1794 © Elisa.rolle/cc-by-sa-3.0 Chartres Street between St. Philip and Dumaine © flickr.com - Ken Lund/cc-by-sa-2.0 Bourbon Street © Jan Kronsell/cc-by-sa-3.0 Bourbon Street © flickr.com - Lars Plougmann/cc-by-sa-2.0 Royal Street at Dumaine © Jan Kronsell/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Example of late 18th-century Spanish architecture, built after the Great Fires of 1788 and 1794 © Elisa.rolle/cc-by-sa-3.0
In 1917, the closure of Storyville sent much of the vice formerly concentrated therein back into the French Quarter, which “for most of the remaining French Creole families … was the last straw, and they began to move uptown.” This, combined with the loss of the French Opera House two years later, provided a bookend to the era of French Creole culture in the Quarter. Many of the remaining French Creoles moved to the University area. In the early 20th century, the Quarter’s cheap rents and air of decay attracted a bohemian artistic community, a trend which became pronounced in the 1920s. Many of these new inhabitants were active in the first preservation efforts in the Quarter, which began around that time. As a result, the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) was established in 1925. Although initially only an advisory body, a 1936 referendum to amend the Louisiana constitution afforded it a measure of regulatory power. It began to exercise more power in the 1940s to preserve and protect the district. Meanwhile, World War II brought thousands of servicemen and war workers to New Orleans as well as to the surrounding region’s military bases and shipyards. Many of these sojourners paid visits to the Vieux Carré. Although nightlife and vice had already begun to coalesce on Bourbon Street in the two decades following the closure of Storyville, the war produced a larger, more permanent presence of exotic, risqué, and often raucous entertainment on what became the city’s most famous strip. Years of repeated crackdowns on vice in Bourbon Street clubs, which took on new urgency under Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison, reached a crescendo with District Attorney Jim Garrison‘s raids in 1962, but Bourbon Street’s clubs were soon back in business.

The plan to construct an elevated Riverfront Expressway between the Mississippi River levee and the French Quarter consumed the attention of Vieux Carré preservationists through much of the 1960s. On December 21, 1965, the Vieux Carre Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark. After waging a decade-long battle against the Vieux Carré Riverfront Expressway that utilized the newly passed National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, preservationists and their allies forced the issue into federal court, eventually producing the cancellation of the freeway plan in 1969. The victory was important for the preservation of the French Quarter, but it was hardly the only challenge. Throughout the 1960s, new hotels opened regularly, often replacing large sections of the French Quarter. The VCC approved these structures as long as their designers adhered to prevailing exterior styles. Detractors, fearing that the Vieux Carré’s charm might be compromised by the introduction of too many new inns, lobbied successfully for passage in 1969 of a municipal ordinance that forbade new hotels within the district’s boundaries. However, the ordinance failed to stop the proliferation of timeshare condominiums and clandestine bed and breakfast inns throughout the French Quarter or high-rise hotels just outside its boundaries. In the 1980s, many long-term residents were driven away by rising rents, as property values rose dramatically with expectations of windfalls from the planned 1984 World’s Fair.

The neighborhood contains many restaurants, ranging from formal to casual, patronized by both visitors and locals. Some are well-known landmarks, such as Antoine’s and Tujague’s, which have been in business since the 19th century. Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s, Broussard’s, and Brennan’s are also venerable. Less historic—but also well-known—French Quarter restaurants include those run by chefs Paul Prudhomme (K-Paul’s), Emeril Lagasse (NOLA), and John Besh. Port of Call on Esplanade Avenue has been in business for more than 30 years, and is recognized for its popular “Monsoon” drink (their answer to the “Hurricane” at Pat O’Brien’s Bar) as well as for its food. The Gumbo Shop is another traditional eatery in the Quarter and where casual dress is acceptable. For a take-out lunch, Central Grocery on Decatur Street is the home of the original muffaletta Italian sandwich. The French Market is the oldest of its kind in the United States. It began where Café du Monde (famous for its beignets) currently stands and has been rebuilt and renovated a number of times.

Accommodations in the French Quarter range from large international chain hotels, to bed and breakfasts, to time-share condominiums and small guest houses with only one or two rooms (hotels on Canal Street). The Audubon Cottages are a collection of seven luxuriously-appointed Creole cottages, two of which were utilized by John James Audubon in the early 19th century when he worked in New Orleans for a short time. The Hotel St. Pierre is a small hotel also consisting of historic French Quarter houses, with a courtyard patio. The French Quarter is well known for its traditional-style hotels, such as the Bourbon Orleans, Hotel Monteleone (family-owned), Royal Sonesta, the Astor, and the Omni Royal Orleans. These hotels offer prime locations, beautiful views, and/or historic atmosphere.

Read more on FrenchQuarter.com, French Market, Wikitravel French Quarter, Wikivoyage French Quarter and Wikipedia French Quarter (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.








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