Creating the Big Easy

Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945

Anthony J. Stanonis
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 344
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Creating the Big Easy
    Book Description:

    Between the World Wars, New Orleans transformed its image from that of a corrupt and sullied port of call into that of a national tourist destination. Anthony J. Stanonis tells how boosters and politicians reinvented the city to build a modern mass tourism industry and, along the way, fundamentally changed the city's cultural, economic, racial, and gender structure. Stanonis looks at the importance of urban development, historic preservation, taxation strategies, and convention marketing to New Orleans' makeover and chronicles the city's efforts to domesticate its jazz scene, "democratize" Mardi Gras, and stereotype local blacks into docile, servile roles. He also looks at depictions of the city in literature and film and gauges the impact on New Orleans of white middle-class America's growing prosperity, mobility, leisure time, and tolerance of women in public spaces once considered off-limits. Visitors go to New Orleans with expectations rooted in the city's "past": to revel with Mardi Gras maskers, soak up the romance of the French Quarter, and indulge in rich cuisine and hot music. Such a past has a basis in history, says Stanonis, but it has been carefully excised from its gritty context and scrubbed clean for mass consumption.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4158-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The City of Myths
    (pp. 1-27)

    Randall Kenan’s observations at the end of the twentieth century suggest the power of New Orleans’s mythology. The myths identified by Kenan accentuate local uniqueness in a nation of homogenizing mass consumerism. Stories about the past, touched with fictitious embellishments, have defined New Orleans’s relationship to the modern world. An intertwined set of images and assumptions about New Orleans has penetrated the national consciousness. But how and when did the mythology emerge? For what purposes was it propagated? Why has it seeped so deeply into the American mind?

    An examination of the years between the First and Second World Wars,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 A CITY OF DESTINY: New Orleans Businessmen and Modern Tourism
    (pp. 28-69)

    Members of the Convention and Tourist Bureau (C & T Bureau), a department of the New Orleans Association of Commerce, proudly unveiled a new slogan in 1922: “New Orleans—America’s Most Interesting City.” Through the distribution of one hundred thousand stickers bearing the phrase, to be used on packages mailed throughout the United States and the world, local businesses hoped to relegate to the scrap heap the familiar descriptions of New Orleans as the “City That Care Forgot” and the “Paris of America.” These old slogans needed correction if not erasure from the public mind. References to Paris or carefree attitudes...

  6. CHAPTER 2 NEW ERA NEW ORLEANS: The Great Depression, Taxation, and Robert Maestri
    (pp. 70-103)

    In late 1932, New Orleans Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley addressed an appreciative crowd of welfare workers, who honored him for his efforts to boost employment through municipal projects. Walmsley expressed gratitude at their thankfulness, but his tone reflected the gloom Americans felt as the depression reached new depths. He pondered, “While, of course, I feel that prospects are not very bright and there isn’t much hope at present for us all, I am not going to say, as it has been said in the past that the depression will be over in the next thirty days and that prosperity is...

  7. CHAPTER 3 A NEW BABYLON: Vice and Gender in New Orleans
    (pp. 104-140)

    In 1925, after months of living in New Orleans, a young William Faulkner put to ink his initial impression of the port city. The sketch likened the city to a “courtesan, not old and yet no longer young, who shuns the sunlight that the illusion of her former glory be preserved.” She surrounded herself with dull mirrors and worn furniture, a decor that conveyed an “atmosphere of a bygone and more gracious age.” Her deteriorating residence reflected the taming of the city’s flamboyant nightlife, which had centered on elaborate Storyville brothels. The closure of the red-light district and the victory...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER 4 FRENCH TOWN: The Reconstruction of the Vieux Carré
    (pp. 141-169)

    As the nation demobilized after the Great War, New Orleanians in the newly founded Vieux Carré Society prepared their campaign to preserve the city’s oldest neighborhood. Success hinged on the society’s efforts to convince the Commission Council, the city’s governing body, to pass an ordinance establishing safeguards for the historic district. The idea outraged a large number of businessmen such as William Schultz who in the early 1920s failed to see the profitability of a tourism-oriented city. He considered any plan for preservation “inconceivable.” Infringement of property rights seemed outrageous. Property had long possessed near-sacred status in the United States....

  10. CHAPTER 5 A CITY THAT CARE FORGOT: The Reinvention of New Orleans Mardi Gras
    (pp. 170-194)

    Tourists and locals packed city streets in expectation of the first Mardi Gras parade of the 1947 season. The Krewe of Cynthius slowly rolled down the traditional New Orleans parade route of St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street, where it would then turn onto Bourbon Street and then onto Orleans Street on its way to the debarkation site at the Municipal Auditorium. Patrons of French Quarter bars eagerly waited. Many repeatedly darted out into the street to check if the first float was yet in view. Even the buildings heralded the arrival of Mardi Gras royalty. Robert Tallant, a local...

  11. CHAPTER 6 OLD NEW ORLEANS: Race and Tourism
    (pp. 195-234)

    As Fat Tuesday dawned in 1930, a rowdy bunch of Tulane University athletes crowded into a rented truck to sing, drink, and make merry havoc in the New Orleans streets. Groups of revelers commonly meandered in wagons or trucks or on foot to celebrate Mardi Gras. They started innocently, but after sipping some bootleg alcohol, the college boys quickly took to another tradition of Jim Crow New Orleans, the harassment of blacks. The white Tulane students threw eggs at black bystanders. Several black pedestrians retaliated by cursing at the students as they drove down St. Philip Street in the French...

  12. EPILOGUE: Boomtown
    (pp. 235-244)

    For a brief period during the Second World War, the New Orleans Item entertained readers with a running dialogue about the virtues and sins of tourism. The language used in letters to the editor by several of the more than one hundred thousand out-of-towners who flooded into nearby military bases or area industries often wounded local pride. “New Orleans never was more than a dingy river town with mouldy ruins, into which French frugality placed bars and cafés, to charge exhorbitant prices. Its culture and color has been manufactured in miserly style and promoted with cheap imitation of the most...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 245-282)
    (pp. 283-302)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 303-317)