The French Quarter, also known as Vieux Carré, is the most well-known and the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. With many of the buildings constructed in the late 18th century, this historic district holds some of the most beautiful and famous buildings in the United States.
This spotlight on the history, culture, and design can help anyone to understand the beauty of one of NOLA’s most popular neighborhoods:
Numerous buildings in The Quarter still date from before 1803, a time when New Orleans was bought as part of the Louisiana Purchase. In the 19th and 20th centuries, different styles of construction were added to the area. The 1920s saw efforts to preserve historic architectural styles and buildings from demolition. Much of the architecture was built in the late 1700s during the period of Spanish rule. Yet, during the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, followed by another in 1794, much of the old French colonial architecture was destroyed, giving the Spanish rulers to rebuild much of the buildings. The Spanish overlords introduced styles such as flat tiled roofs, colorful fire-resistant stucco, as well as requiring all structures be physically adjacent and close to the curb to act as a firewall. As a result, colorful walls and iron-wrought balconies and galleries, from the late 1700s and early 1800s, are characteristic of the French Quarter’s design.
As English-speaking American started moving into the neighborhood after the Louisiana purchase, they built communities upriver, across modern-day Canal Street. The boulevard in between both communities initiated a blending of the new settlers and Francophone Creoles.
By 1917, the era of French Creole culture had ended with an inundation of crime and the closure of the French Opera House with many of the French Creole families moving uptown or to the University area. However, it started to attract a bohemian artistic community due to its cheap rents and air of decay, an aesthetic trend of the 1920s. These new residents helped to form the Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) in 1925 to help revitalize the district, with more regulatory power to preserve its buildings given to the advisory body in the 1940s.
The World War II period and the local military bases brought thousands of servicemen and war workers to the neighborhood. The new visitors made Bourbon Street’s nightlife more prominent with more risque and exotic entertainment. Today, it’s New Orleans’s most famous strip.
There are many National Historic buildings preserved in the French Quarter. Some famous and beautiful architecture include:
Visited by both locals and travelers, the most well-known landmarks include Antoine’s and Tujague’s which have been operating since the 19th century. Be sure to check out, cultural staples like Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s, Broussard’s, and Brennan’s too! The Gumbo Shop is another traditional restaurant with a casual vibe.
Among the historic buildings in New Orleans, there are several which speak to the culture and design of the district:
- St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square
- Madame John’s Legacy
- Miltenberger Houses
- Gallier House
- Preservation Hall
- The Audubon Cottages
Today, the district is designated as a National Historical Landmark, an attractive district for locals, and a prime tourist destination. Thankfully, the district was largely unharmed during Hurricane Katrina and it remains a central gateway to New Orleans past and present.