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From Dusk to Dawn: A Depression Era Guide To New Orleans


French Quarter

And then there is the French Quarter, that Vieux Carre or Old Square which lies below Canal Street and along the Mississippi River. Once the walled city of Nouvelle Orleans, it remains today one of the most interesting spots in the United States.

Here one finds the narrow streets with overhanging balconies, the beautiful wrought-iron and cast-iron railings, the great barred doors and tropical courtyards. Many of these fine houses are more than a century and a quarter old, and they stand today as monuments to their forgotten architects. For it must be remembered that New Orleans was a Latin city already a century old before it became a part of the United States; and it was as unlike the American cities along the Atlantic seaboard as though Louisiana were on another continent. Louisiana was closely allied to France and Spain, and had almost nothing to do with the American Revolution; it became a part of the United States through purchase. Even today New Orleans American city though it is still retains a definite Latin quality.

Dividing the older downtown section of the city from the uptown or American section lies Canal Street, a magnificent thoroughfare, one of the widest streets in the United States, and reputed to be one of the four best-lighted streets in the world. In winter it is full of the usual urban bustle of the American city, but in summer, when life becomes slow and lazy, Canal Street at night presents a charming picture. It is rather like a slow-motion moving picture as white-clad men and women stroll along the brightly lighted thoroughfare, stopping to imbibe the ever-popular iced drinks, then continuing the evening promenade.

THAT portion of New Orleans lying north of Canal St. is called, paradoxically, the downtown section of the city. In this area lies the French Quarter, or Vieux Carre (pronounced Vee-yuh Car-ray). The literal meaning of the term is Old Square, but since this section was originally the nucleus or principal part of New Orleans, and was occupied for the greater part by French-speaking people, it has become known as the French Quarter.

The visitor will find in the French Quarter a strange and fascinating jumble of antique shops, flop houses, tearooms, wealthy homes, bars, art studios, night clubs, grocery stores, beautifully furnished apartments, and dilapidated flats. And he will meet debutantes, artists, gamblers, drunks, streetwalkers, icemen, sailors, bank presidents, and beggars. The Vieux Carre is definitely the place in New Orleans where people go to live their
own lives.

French Quarter Architecture

The architecture found in the Old Square is at variance with that of other sections of the country. But this is not surprising, since the architects of New Orleans, foreign-born and trained, had little in common with American traditions of the Atlantic seaboard. The architecture of the section is a subject that has appealed to numerous writers and has attracted scores of artists who have made the Vieux Carre their home. And the dungeon-like entrances, the narrow, winding stairways, and the flag-paved courtyards attract thousands of tourists yearly.

Before 1800 there were few architects of note in New Orleans, but during the first half of the igth century the city boasted men widely recognized in this field. Among these were Latrobe, the De Pouillys, the Galliers, and the Dakins, all of whom were born in Europe and received their architectural training abroad. Most of the buildings erected under the direction of these men were of European styles, or fusions of two or more styles. The Spanish and French influences were, of course, predominant.

The wrought-iron and cast-iron lacework decorating the galleries of these old buildings gives the architecture of New Orleans its great distinction. Vines, flowers, fruits, or Cupid s bow and arrow are favorite designs. In many of them may be seen the initials of the original owner hammered into the ironwork. Most of the structures are built of cement-covered brick, painted in light tones with the shutters and woodwork a rich green. Practically all of the older buildings include cool, shaded courtyards which are approached from the street through tunnel-like entrances paved with flags or brick. Palms, banana trees, and other semi-tropical shrubs are found growing in most of the patios.


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