A Guide to the Historic French Quarter

A Guide to the Historic French Quarter

by Andy Peter Antippas

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Overview


Walking through the French Quarter can overwhelm the senses--and the imagination. The experience is much more meaningful with knowledge of the area's colorful history. For instance, the infamous 1890 "separate but equal" legal doctrine justifying racial segregation was upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court at the Cabildo on Jackson Square. In the mid-twentieth century, a young Lee Harvey Oswald called Exchange Alley home. One of New Orleans' favorite drinks--the sazerac--would not exist if Antoine Peychaud had not served his legendary bitters with cognac from his famous apothecary at 437 Royal. Local author Andy Peter Antippas presents a walking history of the Vieux Carre, one alley, corner and street at a time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626192805
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 10/29/2013
Series: History & Guide
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 594,584
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author


Andy P. Antippas is the director of The Street University and Gallery Spaces for the New Orleans Healing Center and owner of Barrister's Art Gallery since 1976. He has lived in New Orleans for more than thirty years and is a former professor of English at Tulane University.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Royal Street

The Gateway into the French Quarter

The most appropriate place to begin our stroll into the French Quarter is at the corner of Canal Street and Royal. In the early part of the twentieth century, this corner of Canal and Royal was called the "Monkey Wrench Corner" — where unemployed seaman (monkeys) would gather in hopes of borrowing money (wrenching) for food and lodging from their employed friends. In 1825, unlike the rest of the French Quarter (the Vieux Carré, the "Old Quarter"), most of Royal Street was already paved with discarded ships' ballast — everything outside the French Quarter was a quagmire green with weeds, rushes and palmetto. By the 1840s, Royal Street was confirmed as the main shopping and business locale, renowned for its banking institutions, hotels, cafés, shops and elegant residences, where many of the leading families lived. The street's architecture today is practically the same as it was then — a synthesis of Spanish, French and American. The charming irregularity of the old buildings, the balconies hung with lacy iron, the stately doorways and archways barely hiding patios and courtyards festooned with camellias, magnolias, heliotrope and jasmine all confirm the city's historical continuum.

Details about the unsurpassed architectural richness of the French Quarter are important, of course, but of equal interest are the businesses and the fascinating residents who inhabited the buildings. Almost every street in the French Quarter can boast compelling and sometimes bizarre stories of the men and women who shaped the complex texture of the French Quarter, and they will be noted on the itinerary. Some of the addresses have changed over the years or the buildings have been demolished or altered, but in the magical ambiance of the French Quarter, their ghosts persist.

Keep in mind, the numbers on the right, or the river side, are even; on the left, or the lake (Ponchartrain) side, they are odd. Each block is numbered in units of 100. (For example, the "200 Block" is the second block down from Canal.)

100 ROYAL (1833)

This building was the first in the city constructed of northern granite instead of the ballast stone from English trading vessels.

103 ROYAL, "SMALLEST NEWS AND POSTCARD STAND" (1908)

Mr. Wallace might have had a tiny newsstand, but his offerings were wide ranging. In addition to all the New Orleans postcard scenes, he covered entertainment with the Dramatic Mirror, Billboard, Variety, Show World and Stageland and pulp fiction with the Blue Book Magazine (Agatha Christie, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Gray). In the accompanying image, tucked between the postcard racks to Mr. Wallace's left is the Sagebrush Philosopher, a monthly published by M.C. "Bill" Barrow, a Wyoming writer read nationwide for his wit ("Live, laugh, love — there'll be a time when you can't"). The Saturday Evening Post in the corner is dated June 13, 1908. The Chicago Tribune cover features William Howard Taft, who had been nominated that week at the Republican Convention held in Chicago. The etched door window in the back reads, "The Jewel," an oyster bar located at 131 Royal. The tile insert on the street also reads, "The Jewel Café."

106 ROYAL (CIRCA 1800)

The home of M.E.M. Davis served as Andrew Jackson's headquarters in December 1814. This is where he planned his defense of New Orleans against the imminent attack of the British.

121 ROYAL (CIRCA 1830S)

Dr. Francisco Antommarchi, the Corsican physician who attended Napoleon during his exile at St. Helena, displayed the emperor's death mask in the building that formerly occupied this site.

126 ROYAL (1836), THE MERCHANT'S EXCHANGE

The ground floor was the U.S. Post Office in 1842; the second floor was strictly for business transactions until 1845, when it became the U.S. District Court. After the Civil War, the entire building became a gambling casino renowned throughout the United States as "Number 18 Royal Street."

140 ROYAL (1832)

The original building on the corner, rebuilt in 1948, now occupied by a drugstore, was designed by Jacques Nichols and Joseph Isadore de Pouilly for the Union Bank of Louisiana. It, too, became a gambling hall soon after the bank collapsed in 1849.

When the definitive history of gambling in the United States is written, it will document the fact that Las Vegas had its schooling in the casinos of New Orleans, which have shady traditions well back into the nineteenth century. The high point of gambling in New Orleans, however, was between 1938 and 1953. The queen of the casinos was the Jai Lai Club on Friscoville in old Arabi, in the Lower Ninth Ward. All of the New Orleans clubs were closed by the Kefauver hearings in 1953. Bugsy Segal opened Las Vegas in 1954.

214 AND 217 — 23 ROYAL

The photo in this section must have actually been taken in the first week of 1908. The Monteleone Hotel (214 Royal Street) on the left just opened, and the furniture store across the street (217 — 223), owned by W.G. Tebault, burned to the ground on January 7, 1908. Despite numerous fires in his furniture stores, Mr. Tebault was dubbed the "King of Royal Street." The mysterious Bactrian two-humped camel cutout suspended over the street is possibly announcing a circus event. Camels were a big attraction for circuses and often hauled the animal cage wagons when the circuses paraded through town. Camels summoned up the exotic, romantic spirit of Turkey, Egypt and the whole unknown Middle East. For this reason, in 1913, R.J. Reynolds chose a dromedary, the Arabian single-humped camel, as his cigarette logo. The Bactrian variety from central Asia was still a novelty. In 1855, when Jefferson Davis was U.S. secretary of war, he commissioned a ship to bring in camels for the army to use in Texas and the Southwest because the mules and horses couldn't survive the arid countryside. That first load carried thirty-three dromedaries and only two Bactrians. It wasn't until 1870 that Dan Castello's Great Circus and Egyptian Caravan introduced audiences to the two-humped variety.

For 1908, Billboard lists three tent events in New Orleans — Ringling Bros. and the Gentry Bros. — but both were later that year. The third was a show by New Orleans impresario Signor Faranta, aka Frederick William Stemple, a vaudevillian, contortionist, showman and Elk, who apparently had a traveling circus troupe as early as 1895 and regularly acquired animals at auction from bankrupt circuses. For example, according to Wisconsin Week of November 25, 1886, when W.W. Cole's circus went to auction in New Orleans on November 11, Faranta acquired four elephants ($7,150), a "white buffalo yak" ($200), three lions ($824), two white peacocks ($28) and a female Hippo ($1,500). Out of corrugated metal, in 1884, Faranta built something called the "Iron Building," for which there appears to be no extant illustration and virtually no documentation, although it is alleged to have held five thousand patrons. It was located prominently on the corner of Orleans and Bourbon Streets, much to the consternation of the black Order of Nuns, the Sisters of the Holy Family, which had just taken over the building next door, where the Quadroon Balls were held (although they did lease the space to him). The Iron Building is variously referred to as Faranta's Amphitheater, Pavilion or Circus. Since posters had always been the way circuses heralded their comings, hanging a huge cutout on Royal Street was a novelty and could have been pulled off only by someone well known in the community.

240 ROYAL STREET (CIRCA 1798)

This plastered brick building (actually two contiguous structures) was purchased by Fanchonette Robert, a free woman of color, in 1799 and is in an excellent state of preservation. New Orleans bricks were made from the sandy clay of the Mississippi and the mortar from burning clamshells. The mortar proved more stable than the crumbling brick, and it was often necessary to plaster over the exteriors.

301 — 05 — 07 ROYAL (1838)

Between 1841 and 1860, these were the showrooms and workshops of Prudent Mallard, born in S&232;vres, France, and one of New Orleans' greatest furniture designers in mahogany and rosewood. From 1924 to 1935(?), E. Hoffman Price, the California-born master SyFy, fantasy, horror, crime and adventure pulp magazine writer, lived at 305 Royal with his family and worked for Union Carbide. Writing in his spare time, he published his first story, many of which were set in the French Quarter's "dimly lit streets." Later, by June 1932, already an established writer, H.P. Lovecraft came to visit with him and see the city. It is certain that they talked all night while eating hot chili — what is mythical is the story that Price took Lovecraft to a brothel, where some of the ladies turned out to be Lovecraft fans. Lovecraft set one of his most famous stories, "The Call of Cthulhu," in a swamp just outside the French Quarter.

312 ROYAL (CIRCA 1828)

In 1839, this was the home of John Slidell, U.S. senator from Louisiana and later commissioner for the Confederacy to England. In 1861, Slidell and another Confederate envoy were on their way to England and France to win support for the Confederate cause. Their ship, the Trent, although a neutral British vessel, was seized by a Union warship, and the two men were arrested, an event referred to as the Trent Affair. The British were angry and threatened to support the Confederacy. The men were released.

334 ROYAL (1826)

The architect of this exceptionally beautiful building with Ionic columns was Benjamin F. Fox on behalf of the Louisiana Bank. When the bank closed in 1871, it briefly served as an auction house until the city acquired it. Then it served as the Mortgage and Conveyance Office and, still later, as the local American Legion station. It has been renovated for the use of the New Orleans Eighth District Police Department.

339 ROYAL (1800)

Although at the outset it was built as the home for a senior judge of the Spanish court, this building housed numerous banking enterprises: the Planter's Bank in 1811, the Bank of America of Philadelphia in 1820 and the New Orleans Gas Light and Banking Company in 1836. It has been the Waldhorn family antique shop since 1881.

A NOTE ON DUELING

The volatile mixture of temperaments in New Orleans made it dangerous to argue politics at the coffee shop or step on someone's boot at the opera. Duels were fought for all manner of slights. Usually the contests took place at either St. Anthony's Garden, behind the cathedral, or at the Dueling Oaks. There is the great story of the Creole gentleman who overheard a visitor from Europe, a hydrologist, comment disparagingly on the Mississippi River, saying how insignificant it was compared to the great rivers of Europe. The Creole gentleman immediately stepped forward and slapped him in the face, demanding satisfaction at the Dueling Oaks in what is now City Park. The next morning, the European left the field of honor with a slashed and profusely bleeding cheek.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, the Creoles, Spanish and French preferred the blade, and most fights were concluded with the infliction of even a minor wound. The combatants might drop their weapons, embrace and end up drinking buddies for life. However, when the Americans warmed up to dueling, they preferred pistols, rifles and, occasionally, shotguns, so the fatalities started to pile up. In 1855, the city tried to enforce the always existing, but always ignored, law against dueling, but it came to a natural halt during the Civil War. Still, it persisted later, until the 1880s. The last recorded duel occurred at the Oaks on June 22, 1889. When the first shots were fired, a policeman arrived and arrested both men. Of the two oaks lending the dueling grounds its name, one succumbed to disease and a hurricane, but the other survives. It is about three hundred years old and is located behind the New Orleans Museum of Art at the intersection of Dueling Oaks Drive and Dreyfous Drive. New Orleans City Park, the largest municipal park in the country, has the largest number of mature oaks in the world.

400 ROYAL (1908 — 10)

From 1997 to 2004, this exceptional Beaux Arts white granite and marble courthouse building occupying the square block underwent a $20 million restoration and once again houses the Supreme Court of Louisiana, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the state judicial administrator, the Law Library of Louisiana and an office for the state attorney general. The monument in front is of Edward Douglass White (1844 — 1921), ninth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and is known as "Big Green Ed." It is said that if you circle the statue counterclockwise a few times, no matter how badly you have misbehaved in the French Quarter that night you will not be arrested.

401 ROYAL (1821)

Formerly the Louisiana State Bank — note the bank's monogram on the wrought-iron balcony — this building was designed in 1820 by Benjamin Latrobe, the architect of the White House's South Wing. He died in the yellow fever epidemic and didn't live to see the building's completion.

413 ROYAL (1807)

Dominique Rouquette, whose initials appear on the balcony railing, was a wealthy importer of wines from Bordeaux and the first owner of this building. The architect was François du Jarreau, who also designed and built the adjoining building at 409 Royal in the same year. His son, Adrien Emmanuel Rouquette, was educated in Nantes, France. Rouquette gave up the practice of law to become a hermit missionary among the Choctaw Indians, living in the forests of St. Tammany Parish until his death in 1887. He was so revered that the Choctaw called him Chata Ima — "Like a Choctaw." He was an accomplished poet in French and English and met with Walt Whitman in 1875.

417 ROYAL (CIRCA 1801), THE "PATIO ROYAL" (A BRENNAN'S PROPERTY SINCE 1955)

This structure was built by Don José Faurie. In 1805, he sold it to Julian Poydras, the president of the Louisiana Bank, chartered in 1804 by Governor W.C.C. Claiborne as the first bank in the territory of the Louisiana Purchase. The railing on the balcony, with its beautiful supporting brackets, bears the bank's monogram in three places. In 1819, when the bank's charter expired, the building was sold to Martin Gordon and later, in 1841, to Judge Alonzo Morphy (the name was originally Murphy), father of Paul Morphy, the chess prodigy. Young Morphy learned to play watching his father and uncle. In 1850, at the age of twelve, he defeated a visiting Hungarian champion three times. He received his law degree but at nineteen was too young to practice, so he went to New York City to play chess at the First American Chess Congress, where he defeated everyone. When he traveled to Europe to find opponents, the English champion avoided him, offering lame excuses. Morphy then went to Paris and defeated the strongest French player and a visiting German champion as well. Between 1858 and 1862, he was regarded as the world's best player. He eventually developed an aversion for chess, and especially for chess players, and retired from competition. He became somewhat mentally unstable the last ten years of his life — the New York Sun's obituary said it was from all the blindfolded games he played. He died in this building at the age of forty-seven of "apoplexy"; that is, a stroke. He is buried in New Orleans at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, tomb 366. Visitors to his family tomb leave chess pieces behind in homage to one of greatest chess masters who ever lived.

437 ROYAL (1800)

This structure is particularly famous for accommodating Antoine Peychaud's apothecary. From his native Santo Domingo, Peychaud brought with him special bitters, which he added to cognac and served to his customers in an egg-shaped cup called a coquetier (or he used the cup to measure out the bitters and cognac). In any case, coquetier eventually became "cocktail."

441 ROYAL STREET (CIRCA 1800

Sicilian immigrant Louis Tortorichi founded this corner café and restaurant in 1900. Jax Beer began in 1913 in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1956, it sold its copyright to the New Orleans brewhouse on the Mississippi River across from Jackson Square, founded in 1891, which was, judging from the accompanying photograph, already brewing or distributing a Jax Beer. In 1974, Jax Brewery went bankrupt, and the brand was acquired by the Pearl Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas. The Jax building is now a shopping mall with a second-floor museum devoted to the history of Jax beer.

437 ROYAL (1800)

This structure is particularly famous for accommodating Antoine Peychaud's apothecary. From his native Santo Domingo, Peychaud brought with him special bitters, which he added to cognac and served to his customers in an egg-shaped cup called a coquetier (or he used the cup to measure out the bitters and cognac). In any case, coquetier eventually became "cocktail."

441 ROYAL STREET (CIRCA 1800

Sicilian immigrant Louis Tortorichi founded this corner café and restaurant in 1900. Jax Beer began in 1913 in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1956, it sold its copyright to the New Orleans brewhouse on the Mississippi River across from Jackson Square, founded in 1891, which was, judging from the accompanying photograph, already brewing or distributing a Jax Beer. In 1974, Jax Brewery went bankrupt, and the brand was acquired by the Pearl Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas. The Jax building is now a shopping mall with a second-floor museum devoted to the history of Jax beer.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "A Guide to the Historic French Quarter"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Andy Peter Antippas.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface 9

Acknowledgements 11

Introduction. A History of the French Quarter 13

1 Royal Street: The Gateway into the French Quarter 25

2 Jackson Square 65

3 The Moon Walk on the Mississippi River 73

4 Lower Royal Street to Esplanade Avenue 81

5 Esplanade Avenue to the U.S. Mint and the French Market 113

Bibliography 129

Index 133

About the Author 141

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