To New Orleans
The Irish Channel historically has been, and is still today, a diverse
neighborhood filled with a charming array of residences that boast
the beauty and bright colors of New Orleans architecture. Established
as the riverfront of the American city of Lafayette in the 1830s, the
Irish Channel Historic District blossomed into a busy area of wharves
surrounded by lumberyards and cotton presses. Humbler buildings
pushed out grand early residences as the waterfront became
increasingly busy, although you can still find a mansion or two among
the charming rows of smaller frame homes. Construction of the New
Basin Canal brought many immigrants to the region, a population of
whom helped settled this neighborhood in the 1830s, and the great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s brought even more. Residents were mostly working-class Irish, Germans, Italians, Americans and Free People of Color during the mid-19th century.
The neighborhood has signi cant ties to the development of jazz in the city. According to the National Register’s listing of the Irish Channel as a Historic District in 1976, “The area gains its signi cance in music from the fact that many jazz musicians of German, French, Irish and Italian descent were born and reared here. All the members of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the rst jazz band to make a phonographic record and the rst to go to Europe, were from the Irish Channel. They were…jazz immortals who helped spread jazz throughout the world.”
The Irish Channel has been the center of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration since 1809. Marchers parade between oats while riders toss cabbages, carrots, potatoes and onions into the crowd — all the ingredients revelers need to make a stew. After the parade, people linger all day in the neighborhood’s bars, which have always been a part of life here, in good times and bad.
The Irish Channel was hit hard after World War II when FHA-insured mortgages were basically restricted to the new suburbs. Vast urban sections of American cities were quietly redlined, destined to decay. “Twenty thousand men went to war from the Irish Channel, but when the war ended, they couldn’t get the financing to move back in,” a property assessor once told preservation activist Camille Strachan. In the 1970s, young do-it-yourself renovators rediscovered the neighborhood, but the oil IRISH CHANNEL GARDEN DISTRICT crash of the ‘80s ended that short boom. Happily, neighborhood revitalization picked back up again in the 1990s, thanks to determined residents and organizations like the Preservation Resource Center, whose Operation Comeback and Rebuilding Together New Orleans departments rehabilitated neglected homes, helped nd homebuyers for blighted structures and assisted low-income and elderly homeowners with much-needed home repairs in the area. Today the Irish Channel is hot — it’s an incredibly desirable place to live and a fun place to relax with numerous restaurants and retail along Magazine Street.
The Classic Revival mansions and charming cottages of the Garden District are famous, known and recognizable around the world. What visitors rarely see, though, is the closeknit neighborhood that keeps this historic district alive and thriving. Neighbors here know and look after one another. They see familiar faces as they stroll under the live oaks near Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the early morning, or when they’re walking along Prytania Street at dusk. The same faces pop up daily in the Garden District’s co ee shops, and at the Rink, a circa 1884 skating rink that was converted a century later into a shopping arcade. Locals and visitors can dine at world famous Commander’s Palace, or a number of diverse eateries along Magazine Street.
Settled by American businessmen, most of them “Yankees” eager to escape the Creole-dominated politics of New Orleans, the Garden District was laid out in 1832 and incorporated as the City of Lafayette in 1834. Cotton brokers, agents and financiers built fortunes in the boom years leading up the Civil War, then established their families in elegant homes on the new city’s spacious lots. By the time New Orleans annexed the area as its fourth district in 1852, travel writers had already dubbed it the “Garden District” for its spacious, showy gardens. Many of the homes were designed by renowned architects such as Henry Howard and James Freret.
In 1939, residents formed the Garden District Association, a formidable force for preservation of the residential integrity and quality of life of the neighborhood. The Garden District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and today is a dynamic community grounded in a strong sense of tradition, with block upon block of stunning, and well maintained, historic architecture lining the streets.
Many thanks to the Preservation Resource Center for providing this wonderful information! (www.prcno.org)