French Quarter

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French Quarter: upper Chartres street looking down towards Jackson Square and the spires of St. Louis Cathedral.
French Quarter: upper Chartres street looking down towards Jackson Square and the spires of St. Louis Cathedral.

The French Quarter is the oldest and most famous section of the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, stretching along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (12 blocks) and back from Decatur Street to Rampart Street (7 blocks). The area is also known as the Vieux Carré ("Old Quarter" in French) and the Barrio Latino ("Latin Neighborhood" in Spanish). To many it is simply called "The Quarter."



Most of the buildings date from before New Orleans became part of the USA, although there are some late 19th century and early 20th century buildings in the area as well. Since the 1920s the historic buildings have been protected by law and cannot be demolished, and any renovations or new construction in the neighborhood must be done according to regulations to match the period historic architectural style.

Elaborate ironwork galleries on the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets
Elaborate ironwork galleries on the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets

Despite the name, much of the architecture was built during the Spanish rule over New Orleans rather than the French. A great fire in 1794 destroyed much of the Quarter's old French colonial architecture, leaving the colony's new Spanish overlords to rebuild it according to more modern tastes -- and strict new fire codes, which mandated that all structures be physically adjacent and close to the curb to create a firewall. The old French peaked roofs were replaced with flat tiled ones, and now-banned wooden siding with fire-resistant stucco, painted in the pastel hues fashionable at the time. As a result, colorful walls and roofs and elaborately decorated ironwork balconies and galleries from both the 18th century and 19th centuries abound. (In southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between balconies, which have no roof over them, and "galleries," which do.)

Long after the U.S. purchase of Louisiana, descendants of French colonists lived in this part of town, and the French language was often heard there as late as the start of the 20th century.

When the Americans began to move in after the Louisiana Purchase, they mostly built just upriver, across modern day Canal Street. The median of the wide boulevard became a place where the two contentious populations could meet and do business. As such, it became known as the "neutral ground", and this name persists in the New Orleans area for medians.

In the late 19th century the Old Quarter became a less fashionable part of town, and many immigrants from southern Italy settled in the section. In the early 20th century the Quarter's cheap rents and air of age and neglected decay attracted a bohemian and artistic community.

On December 21, 1965, the "Vieux Carré Historic District" was designated a National Historic Landmark.

In the 1980s many long-term Quarter residents were evicted or 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 and commercial properties.

Impact of Hurricane Katrina

At the end of August 2005, the majority of New Orleans was flooded due to levee breaches caused by Hurricane Katrina (see: Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans). The French Quarter, like most of the 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 metres) above sea level. [1] Some streets experienced minor flooding, and a several buildings experienced significant wind damage. Most of the major landmarks suffered only minor damage and most have since reopened or are scheduled to reopen [2]. The Quarter largely escaped the looting and violence after the storm highlighted by large national and international media outlets; nearly all the fine antique and art shops in French Quarter, for example, were untouched. [3]

Mayor Ray Nagin officially reopened the French Quarter on September 26, 2005 to business owners to inspect property and clean up. [4] Within a month, a large selection of French Quarter businesses were back open.

Jackson Square

Jackson Square (formerly Place des Armes) is a city-block sized open park, at the old center of the city. 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.

On the opposite side of the square are three 18th‑century historic buildings which were the city's heart in the colonial era. The center of the three is Saint Louis Cathedral. The Cathedral was designated a minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II. 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 Presbytère, built to match the Cabildo. The Presbytère originally housed the city's Roman Catholic priests and authorities, it was then 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 North America.

Directly across from Jackson Square is the Jax Brewery building, the original home of a favorite 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 luxury condominiums.

From the 1920s through the 1980s the square was famous as a gathering place of painters of widely varying talents, including proficient professionals, talented young art students, hacks, and dreadful caricaturists. In the 1990s the artists were largely driven away by tarot card readers, mimes, and fortune tellers.

Live music is a regular feature of the square. Occasional formal concerts are held here, but for a century or more musicians playing for tips have set up in the square, the subject of unending controversy with nearby residents.

Diagonally across the square from the Cabildo is Café du Monde, open 24 hours a day, well known for the café au lait with chicory and beignets served there continuously since the 19th century.

The Rue Bourbon or Bourbon Street is a famous street, named after the royal family of France
The Rue Bourbon or Bourbon Street is a famous street, named after the royal family of France

Other French Quarter sights

Other well known sights in the French Quarter include the French Market; Bourbon Street (some eight blocks of the upper portion of this street are heavily given over to catering to young hard-drinking tourists); and Royal Street (with elegant antique shops and art galleries).

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street. The tavern's building, built sometime before 1772, is believed to be the oldest standing structure in New Orleans and 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.

Surrounding neighborhoods

Up river from the Quarter is the city's Central Business District. Away from the river is the Treme neighborhood. Down river is the Faubourg Marigny.

Additional historic views

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