Did You Know?

The French Quarter

Vex Care or Vieux Carré, is the French term for Old Square

The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré, is the oldest Neighborhood  in the city of New Orleans. It was founded as a military-style grid of seventy squares in 1718 by French Canadian naval officer Jean Baptiste Bienville.

The French Quarter of New Orleans charted a course of urbanism for parts of four centuries. The French Period legacy endures in the town plan and central square, church of St. Louis., Ursuline Convents and in street names such as Bourbon, Royal, Bienville, Orleans, and Chartres. The Quarter has a mixed legacy of Creole culture.

Founded by the French Then Ceded to the Spanish

The French claimed Louisiana in the 1690s, and Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville was appointed Director General in charge of developing a colony in the territory, and founded New Orleans in 1718. In 1721, the royal engineer Adrien de Pauger designed the city’s street layout. He named the streets after French royal houses and Catholic saints, and paid homage to France’s ruling family, the House of Bourbon, with the naming of Bourbon Street. 

New Orleans was ceded to the Spanish in 1763 following the Seven Years War. Fire in 1788 and another in 1794 destroyed 80 percent of the city’s buildings. Today the oldest buildings date back to the late 1790s.

The Architecture is a Blend of Creole and Spanish

The Spanish introduced strict new fire codes that banned wooden siding in favor of fire-resistant brick, which was covered in stucco, painted in the pastel hues fashionable at the time. The old French peaked roofs were replaced with flat tiled ones. However, the largely French population continued to build in familiar styles, influenced by colonial architecture of the Caribbean, such as timber balconies and galleries.

I find it interesting that in southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between “balconies,” which are self-supporting and attached to the side of the building, and “galleries,” which are supported from the ground by poles or columns.

The development of New Orleans famous ornate cast iron “galleries” began with the two story examples on the Pontalba Buildings on Jackson Square, completed in 1851. As the most prominent and high class address at the time, they set a fashion for others to follow, and multi-level cast iron galleries soon replaced the old timber French ones on older buildings as well as gracing new ones.

When Americans began to move in after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, they mostly built on available land upriver, across modern-day Canal Street. This thoroughfare became the meeting place of two cultures, one Creole and other American.The median of the wide boulevard became a place where the two contentious cultures could meet and do business in both French and English. As such, it became known as the “neutral ground,” and this name is used for medians in the New Orleans area.

Southern Economy

During the 19th century, New Orleans was similar to other Southern cities with an economy based on selling cash crops, such as sugar and tobacco. By 1840, newcomers whose wealth came from these enterprises turned New Orleans into the third larges city in the country. The city’s port was the nation’s second largest, withNew York City being the largest.

Even before the Civil War, French Creoles had become a minority in the French Quarter. 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 the early 20th century, the Quarter’s cheap rents and air of 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. 

Meanwhile, World War II brought thousands of servicemen and war workers to New Orleans as well as to the surrounding region’s military bases and shipyards. Many of these sojourners paid visits to the Vieux Carré. The nightlife and vice had already begun to coalesce on Bourbon Street in the two decades following the closure of Storyville. WWII war produced a larger, more permanent presence of exotic, risqué, and often raucous entertainment on what became the city’s most famous strip.

Now, Mardi Gras, and the important historical effects of African enslavement make the historic French Quarter what it is today.

Debora Ragland Buerk
The Write Stuff
Looking at life from a different POV.