Spotlight on the Garden District: a neighborhood steeped in history | The last | Weekly gambit


Named for its large lots – at least by New Orleans standards – built with room for gardens, the Garden District is known for its historic mansions and oak-lined streets. In the spring, you can smell the fragrant gardenias, jasmine and privet in bloom.

Located between Touro and the separate Lower Garden District, the City’s Historic District Monuments Commission defines the Garden District boundaries as Magazine, Josephine, Carondelet, and Delachaise streets, with much of St. Charles Avenue carved into its own separate historic district.

However, as with everything in New Orleans, it is up for debate. For example, historian Robert Cangelosi, who teaches preservation studies at Tulane University, says he typically defines neighborhood boundaries as Magazine Street and St. Charles, Jackson and Louisiana avenues.

The area is home to a few private schools, including Louise S. McGehee and Trinity Episcopal, as well as several elaborate churches like Christ Church Cathedral and Our Lady of Good Counsel. Other neighborhood landmarks include Commander’s Palace, Lafayette Cemetery No.1 – one of the city’s oldest cemeteries – and the Magazine Street corridor lined with shops and restaurants.

Houses of the Garden District range in architectural style. About a third of the buildings in the neighborhood are Italianate in style, which begins in New Orleans in the 1840s and lasts until World War I, according to Cangelosi. He says the second most popular style is Colonial Revival, followed by Greek Revival. Some of the more modest houses in the area have Victorian facades.

“It’s this historic housing gem,” says Andrea St. Paul Bland of the Garden District Neighborhood Association. “Virtually all architectural styles from 1832 to 1950 are represented, all American architectural styles are represented in the Garden District.”

Cangelosi says that while the neighborhood has many houses built before the Civil War, most were built after the war. Some of the older homes have been in the same families for generations, and while there are many older people in the area, there have been young professionals with families who have moved in recent years, Bland says.

The district is much whiter and richer than the rest of the city. According to The Data Center, which compiled data from a 2015-2019 US community survey, 90.1% of residents were white, compared to 30.7% of residents of the parish of Orleans and 5% were black, compared to 58. , 9% of the residents of the parish.

The average household income in the Garden District is $ 200,399, compared to $ 71,938 for the parish as a whole. Similarly, 6.2% of neighborhood residents live in poverty, compared to 23.7% at the parish level.

According to The Data Center, the average rent (including electricity, gas, water, sewage and fuel) in the area is $ 1,470. Homeowners occupy 62.7% of units in the Garden District, and 40% of those who own property in the area own it and no longer pay off their mortgage.

History of the neighborhood

Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the French explorer who established the colony of New Orleans in the early 1700s, originally owned the lands that now make up the Garden District. It eventually came into the hands of Marie de Marigny, who sold it to American investors in 1832 and who in turn began dividing the land into large lots, Cangelosi says.

“They wanted to have homes away from their jobs,” says Bland. “Most of them were working in what is our real downtown now, and they wanted to have nice houses with some land around them and gardens. Hence, it became the Garden District.

Around this time, people from the northern United States, England and Ireland came to settle in the area. Jackson Avenue and Louisiana Avenue had horse-drawn carriages and steam streetcars that allowed people to work downtown.

Cangelosi says the original layout of the area included two houses facing one street and two houses facing another street, with no additional houses in the side streets. Over time, people sold their courtyards and transport houses, increasing the density of the area.

“There’s really only one block on Prytania Street that still maintains that urban setting there, which is quite different from the density of the Creole suburbs,” Cangelosi says.

Preservation profiles

Bland chairs the Neighborhood Association’s Profiles in Preservation project, which the group launched in September 2019 to deepen the history and historic houses of the neighborhood. She said she saw the need for a full history of the area by listening to local tours in the area.

“Thousands and thousands of people walked past my… house, and they looked up, and they saw a beautiful house, and they want to know more,” she said. “They have a tour guide… (but) I listened to what they say and it’s not based on facts. It’s just a bunch of malarkey, and they want to tell a good story so they make things up – ghosts, witches, vampires.

The association hired local historians Howard Hunter, Sally Reeves, Hilary Irvine, Heather Veneziano, Kelly Calhoun and Nora Goddard to research the neighborhood. Neighborhood residents can choose to participate in the program, which involves placing historical markers in front of their homes and creating their own hardcover book detailing the history of their home. So far, 80 households have signed up, according to Bland.

Bland says the next phase of the project is to launch an interactive app that presents a neighborhood map, where people can track down the history of a house and landmark and listen to someone from the neighborhood read it.

“I want people to know about New Orleans, our voices, what we sound like, how excited we are, telling stories about the inhabitants of the houses over time,” she says.

The association plans to roll out the app in September and publish a coffee table book on historic homes in the neighborhood in 2022.

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