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Madame Vieux Carré

Madame Vieux Carré: The French Quarter in the Twentieth Century

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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    Madame Vieux Carré
    Book Description:

    Celebrated in media and myth, New Orleans's French Quarter (Vieux Carré) was the original settlement of what became the city of New Orleans. InMadame Vieux Carré, Scott S. Ellis presents the social and political history of this famous district as it evolved from 1900 through the beginning of the twenty-first century.

    From the immigrants of the 1910s, to the preservationists of the 1930s, to the nightclub workers and owners of the 1950s and the urban revivalists of the 1990s,Madame Vieux Carréexamines the many different people who have called the Quarter home, who have defined its character, and who have fought to keep it from being overwhelmed by tourism's neon and kitsch.

    The old French village took on different roles--bastion of the French Creoles, Italian immigrant slum, honky-tonk enclave, literary incubator, working-class community, and tourist playground. The Quarter has been a place of refuge for various groups before they became mainstream Americans.

    Although the Vieux Carré has been marketed as a free-wheeling, boozy tourist concept, it exists on many levels for many groups, some with competing agendas.Madame Vieux Carrélooks, with unromanticized frankness, at these groups, their intentions, and the future of the South's most historic and famous neighborhood. The author, a former Quarter resident, combines five years of research, personal experience, and unique interviews to weave an eminently readable history of one of America's favorite neighborhoods.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-359-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-1)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
  6. CHAPTER 1 1900–1920 The Quarter Faces a New Century
    (pp. 3-21)

    Let us step back to a time gone, but still, it seems, just around the next corner in this one special place. Its inhabitants believed in passing fancies, followed street mobs, and listened to long speeches. They were quick to laugh, quick to cry, and sometimes quick to anger—a people whose world was compassed by a small city, and set therein, a small village. Complete unto itself, it provided all the needs of most of its dwellers.

    The blocks between Canal And Esplanade and between North Rampart and the Mississippi River were Paved with rough square stones, called Belgian...

  7. CHAPTER 2 1920–1930 The Firebird of Preservation
    (pp. 22-35)

    Preservation of the old, the worn-out, and the frowsy was not an American trait just after World War I. Progress led forward on the wheels of automobiles and the wings of biplanes. The new vernacular of architecture was the skyscraper, the sprawling factory, and the tract house of muddled nineteenth-century style. The old was to cheerfully give way to the new by the good offices of the wrecking ball and bulldozer. Concrete and steel would be the new sinews of the alabaster cities.

    A very few people, such as author Grace King, William Ratcliffe Irby, and Lyle Saxon, saw the...

  8. CHAPTER 3 1930–1946 The Struggle for the Tout Ensemble
    (pp. 36-57)

    The New York stock market crash of October 1929 sent out ripples—some faster, some slower—across the country. For many reasons, the South was slow to feel the effects. The South was still largely agrarian and had suffered from depressed crop prices throughout the 1920s. Poor southerners had not been able to buy stocks on margin and so were not immediately affected by the calamity in far-off New York. Then, too, the Mississippi valley flood of 1927 had caused deep, long-lasting damage to parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and northern Louisiana.¹

    Like much of the South, New Orleans had less...

  9. CHAPTER 4 1946–1961 Official Vices and Dissenting Voices
    (pp. 58-76)

    Chep Morrison was unlike any mayor New Orleans had seen. Some former mayors had been readily accessible; Martin Behrman (mayor 1904–1920 and 1925–1926) often drove his own horse and buggy around the city,¹ and Maestri, at least in his first phase, popped up all over town.² Morrison was not simply visible; in the opening days of his mayorship, he was seen collecting garbage during a strike and stoking the incinerator.³ Although not a native of the city, he knew how to play the factions of the Democratic machine and in his first term was nationally recognized as a...

  10. CHAPTER 5 1961–1971 Culture and Counterculture
    (pp. 77-92)

    Monitoring the status quo of the Quarter is a daunting task. Even in such a small enclave, the dense streetscape, the gates and porte cocheres conceal much. Before the 1960s, it depended largely on the Vieux Carré Commission staff noticing changes in walkabouts, neighbors bringing complaints to the VCC, and the review of building and demolition permits. From 1961 to 1966, Tulane’s School of Architecture led a collaboration to produce the Vieux Carré Survey, the first comprehensive inventory of the entire enclave.¹ A file was created for each building, with photographs, chain of title, record of VCC actions, and other...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Interlude “Goin’ Down by My Mama’s”: Transportation and the Quarter
    (pp. 93-105)

    The Vieux Carré was originally laid out for pedestrians, horses, and horse-drawn wagons. A few hitching posts may still be seen, bent from many collisions with automobiles. The compact size—about a mile from one end to the other—makes the enclave eminently walkable. The Quarter is one of the last urban areas that may be walked through for sheer pleasure. In the aquarium of the long summer, air-conditioned bars and restaurants offer many waypoints to cool off and refortify. Friends are met on the banquettes, and journeys may be sidetracked.

    Today it is still possible, on foot, to obtain...

  12. CHAPTER 7 1971–1978 Moon Rise
    (pp. 106-122)

    The 1970s would be a time of tremendous change in the Vieux Carré and in New Orleans. The first half of the decade saw the beginning of a fundamental change in the character of Decatur Street, the reworking of Jackson Square, and the renovation of the French Market. The second half of the decade would see the ascendency of black political power and the beginning of the end of Louisiana’s oil boom.

    Post-Reconstruction Louisiana had been a poor state until the discoveries, beginning in the 1920s, of major oil and natural gas fields. Those on land were joined, after 1947,...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Interlude Odd Folks
    (pp. 123-132)

    Port cities around the world are known as havens. Havens for those at the end of the road. Havens for those whose road never started, and, taking root in a landscape of transient people and relative mores, they find refuge from the busybody world beyond.

    The Vieux Carré has been a city of refuge for many such people over three centuries. The physical shelter may be just a barstool, a pool table to sleep on, or an overhanging balcony to keep the rain off. The Quarter really excelled at psychic shelter. For as long as the Quarter has existed, it...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Interlude Tourism
    (pp. 133-152)

    Mass tourism and the Quarter began a long dance in the twentieth century. Even before Saxon and Flo Fields arrived in the teens, the contrast between the archaic old village and the Edwardian spirit of progress was being sold as “charm.” In 1907, the Illinois Central Railroad, in itsNew Orleans for the Tourist, advised: “One must not, for instance, wander through the French Quarter and make a mental note to the effect that it is a region of narrow streets lined on either side with time-worn, old-fashion, low-storied buildings making an appearance that will not compare with the broad...

  15. CHAPTER 10 1978–1994 The Long Slide Down
    (pp. 153-183)

    Sometime around 1974, New Orleans became a majority black city.¹Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization, edited by Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon,² is a concise study of the emergence of black political power in the city. It is interesting to contrast Chai’s 1971 study with the Hirsch and Logsdon volume, which cuts off at 1992. In the span of twenty-one years, the city’s political leadership was dominated by elected black officialdom, with businesspeople—mainly from the tourist industry—and ministers of leading black churches also claiming important wedges of the pie chart. It is important to note that...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Interlude The Lakeside, Strike Three
    (pp. 184-191)

    The area of North Rampart Street abutting the Quarter had fallen on hard times after the construction of the Iberville housing project in 1940. Removed from the oversight of the VCC in 1946, it had fallen into a political and social limbo. Across North Rampart lay the Faubourg Tremé, a long-established black middle-class neighborhood. Opposite the Quarter side of Orleans Avenue lay Congo Square. Before the Civil War, this had been a place for slaves to socialize and dance the bamboula, an echo of which may be heard in the works of New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–1869)....

  17. CHAPTER 12 Interlude Time and Life in the Quarter
    (pp. 192-199)

    Time is different in New Orleans and especially so in the Quarter. Yes, there are calendars and clocks, but in the main, they are simply onlookers, not pacesetters of life as elsewhere. Time here ebbs, flows, loops back on itself, passes slower than molasses and faster than a schnapps shooter. The rising of the sun signals the end of a night in the bars. The phases of the moon track the temperature of passion. The varying date of Mardi Gras was devised as a religious mechanism long before New Orleans existed. It is very New Orleans that its primary holiday...

  18. CHAPTER 13 1994–2000 A Dance Before the Rain
    (pp. 200-225)

    Mississippi, New Orleans’s morally dour, sometimes sour, and ever-conservative eastern neighbor, had authorized casino gambling, on a local-option basis, in 1990.¹ Other communities, such as Deadwood, South Dakota, had authorized gambling, hoping to emulate the riches of Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Natives of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which forms part of New Orleans’s solar system, thought perhaps a few casinos would arrive. To the astonishment of all, twelve casinos were in operation by 2004.²

    The casinos offered cheap all-you-can-eat buffets, killing some longtime local eateries. The casinos built hotels and theaters for shows, albeit not the typical Vegas fare....

  19. CHAPTER 14 2000 and On Into the New Century
    (pp. 226-244)

    The Vieux Carré and its full-time residents live on an island shrinking in intangible but palpable ways. As condos displace apartments, the number of year-round residents has dropped to historic lows. At this writing, the number of permanent residents seems somewhere in the low thousands.

    The Vieux Carré’s status as the crown jewel of the city’s tourist trade keeps that aspect on the mind of the city government. It also pushes residential concerns into the background. The small permanent population, a minority in its own district,¹ has little electoral clout.

    By the end of the twentieth century, physical preservation was...

  20. NOTES
    (pp. 245-288)
    (pp. 289-310)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 311-316)