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 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 originally built in the late 1700s during the period of Spanish rule. During the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, followed by another in 1794, much of the old French colonial architecture was destroyed, allowing the Spanish rulers to rebuild many of the buildings. The Spanish overlords introduced styles such as flat tiled roofs, colorful fire-resistant stucco, and required all structures to be physically adjacent to each other and close to the curb, acting as a firewall. As a result, colorful walls, along with iron-wrought balconies and galleries are characteristic of the French Quarter’s design from the late 1700s and early 1800s.
As English-speaking Americans started moving into the neighborhood after the Louisiana Purchase, they built communities upriver, across from modern-day Canal Street. The boulevard in between both communities created 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. As a result, many of the French Creole families moved uptown to the University area. However, it also started to attract a bohemian, artistic community due to its cheap rents and air of decay, which became an aesthetic trend of the 1920s. These new residents formed the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) in 1925 to help revitalize the district. To preserve its buildings, more regulatory powers were 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, introducing more risque and exotic entertainment. Today, it’s New Orleans’ most famous strip.
There are many National Historic buildings preserved in the French Quarter. Some famous and beautiful architecture to check out 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 history.
Check out the rest of my Neighborhoods series!