French Quarter in New Orleans
The French Quarter, also known as Vieux Carré, is the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. When New Orleans (La Nouvelle-Orléans in French) was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the city was originally centered on the French Quarter, or the Vieux Carré ("Old Square" in French) as it was known then. While the area is still referred to as the Vieux Carré by some, it is more commonly known as the French Quarter today, or simply "The Quarter." The district as a whole is a National Historic Landmark, and contains numerous individual historic buildings. It was affected relatively lightly by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as compared to other areas of the city and the greater region.
The French Quarter is located at and has an elevation of 3 ft. According to the United States Census Bureau, the district has a total area of 0.66 sqmi. 0.49 sqmi of which is land and 0.17 sqmi (25.76%) of which is water.
The most common definition of the French Quarter includes all the land stretching along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (12 blocks) and inland to North Rampart Street (seven to nine blocks). It equals an area of 78 sq. 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. 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.
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.
In the early 20th century the Quarter's cheap rents and air of age and 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.
On December 21, 1965, the "Vieux Carre Historic District" was designated a National Historic Landmark. Preservation activities were led by Jacob Haight Morrison (1905–1974), a lawyer who headed the Vieux Carré Property Owners association. He was the half-brother of Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison (1912–1963)
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 nearby. More of the neighborhood became developed for the benefit of tourism. The French Quarter remains a combination of residential, hotels, guest houses, bars, and tourist-oriented commercial properties.
Impact of Hurricane Katrina
At the end of August 2005, the majority of New Orleans was flooded due to levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina. The French Quarter, like most parts of town developed before the late 19th century, was one of the areas to remain substantially dry, since it was built on dry land that predated New Orleans' levee systems and sits 5 feet (1.5 m) above sea level. Some streets experienced minor flooding, and several buildings experienced significant wind damage. Most of the major landmarks suffered only minor damage. The Quarter largely escaped the looting and violence after the storm; nearly all of the antique shops and art galleries in the French Quarter, for example, were untouched.
Mayor Ray Nagin officially reopened the French Quarter on September 26, 2005 to business owners to inspect property and clean up. Within a month, a large selection of French Quarter businesses were back open. The Historic New Orleans Collection's Williams Research Center annex was the first new construction completed in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina.
Landmarks and attractions
Jackson Square (formerly Place d'Armes), originally designed by architect and landscaper Louis H. Pilié (although he is only given credit for the iron fence), is an open park the size of a city-block located at the center of the French Quarter ( GPS +29.95748 -090.06310 ). After the Battle of New Orleans it was named after victorious general Andrew Jackson; an equestrian statue of Jackson is in the center of the park.
The square originally overlooked the Mississippi River across Decatur Street, but the view was blocked in the 19th century by the building of larger levees. The riverfront was long given to shipping, but the administration of Mayor Moon Landrieu put in a scenic boardwalk along the river across from the Square; it is known as the "Moon Walk" in his honor. At the end of the 1980s additional old wharfs and warehouses were demolished to create Woldenberg Park, extending the riverfront promenade up to Canal Street.
On the opposite side of the square from the River are three 18th‑century historic buildings which were the city's heart in the colonial era. The center of the three is St. Louis Cathedral. The cathedral was designated a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI. To its left is The Cabildo, the old city hall, now a museum, where the finalization of the Louisiana Purchase was signed. To the Cathedral's right is The Presbytere, built to match the Cabildo. The Presbytère, originally intended to house the city's Roman Catholic priests and authorities, was turned into a courthouse at the start of the 19th century, and in the 20th century became a museum.
On the other two sides of the square are the Pontalba Buildings, matching red-brick block long 4‑story buildings built in the 1840s. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; the upper floors are apartments that are the oldest continuously rented such apartments in the United States.
Directly across from Jackson Square is the Jax Brewery building, the original home of a local beer. After the company ceased to operate independently, the building was converted into several businesses, including restaurants and specialty shops. In recent years, some retail space has been converted into riverfront condominiums. Behind the Jax Brewery lies the Toulouse Street Wharf, the regular port of the steamboat Natchez.
From the 1920s through the 1980s the square was known as a gathering place of painters, young art students and caricaturists. In the 1990s the artists were joined by tarot card readers, mimes, fortune tellers, and street performers.
Live music has been a regular feature of the entire quarter, including the Square for more than a century. Formal concerts do take place, albeit rarely, and musicians are known to play for tips.
Diagonally across the square from the Cabildo is Café du Monde, open 24 hours a day, well known for the café au lait, coffee spiced with chicory, and beignets, served there continuously since the 19th century. It is a custom to blow the powdered sugar onto anyone who is going there for the first time, while making a wish.
The most well known of the French Quarter streets, Bourbon Street, or Rue Bourbon, is known for its drinking establishments. Most of the bars frequented by tourists are new but the Quarter also has a number of notable bars with interesting histories.
The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street has kept its name even though for almost a century absinthe was illegal in the United States.
Pat O'Brien's Bar is well-known for both inventing the red cocktail, Hurricane, as well as having the first Dueling Piano Bar. Pat O'Brien's is located at 718 St. Peter Street.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street. The tavern's building, built sometime before 1772, is one of the older still standing structures in New Orleans (the Ursuline Convent, for example, is older) and has been called the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States. According to legend the structure was once owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte, though as with many things involving Lafitte, no documentation of this exists.
The Napoleon House bar and restaurant is in the former home of mayor Nicholas Girod; the name comes from an unrealized plot to rescue Napoleon I from his exile in St. Helena and bring him to New Orleans.
The original Johnny White's bar is a favorite of bikers. In 2005 an off-shoot called Johnny White's Hole in the Wall, along with Molly's at the Market, drew national media attention as the only businesses in the city to stay open throughout Hurricane Katrina and the tribulations of the weeks after the storm.
The Bourbon Pub and Oz, both located at the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann, are the two largest gay clubs in New Orleans. Café Lafitte in Exile, located at the intersection of Bourbon and Dumaine is the oldest continuously running gay bar in the United States. These and other gay establishments sponsor the raucous Southern Decadence Festival during Labor Day weekend. This festival is often referred to as New Orleans' "Gay Mardi Gras". St. Ann Street is often called "the Lavender Line" in reference to it being on the edge of the French Quarter's predominately gay district. While there is a gay population throughout the French Quarter, the portion of the Quarter that is northeast of St. Ann Street is generally considered to be the Gay District.
New Orleans and its French Quarter are one of only a few places in the United States where possession and consumption of alcohol in open containers is allowed on the street.
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 only slightly less 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 also been in business for more than 30 years and is recognized for its popular Monsoon drinks.
There are several types of accommodations in the French Quarter ranging from large international chains to bed and breakfasts to time share condominiums to small guest houses with only one or two rooms. Hotel Maison De Ville and the Audubon Cottages were built as a townhouses in 1800. The Audubon Cottages were home to Antoine Amedée Peychaud during its history. Tennessee Williams (with the French Quarter providing the setting for arguably his most famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire) was a frequent guest and the hotel works to maintain its historic ambiance.
Residents are within the jurisdiction of the New Orleans Public Schools.
- New Orleans Square
- Harriet Joor: The City of Iron Lace
- National Historic Landmarks Program: Vieux Carré Historic District
- QuarterCrawl.com: An up-to-date list of what's open in the French Quarter
- Vieux Carré:A Creole Neighborhood in New Orleans, a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
- WikiTravel:New Orleans/French Quarter