"a world of 'honky-tonks' and 'dives,' 'palaces,' and 'cribs,' sordid indeed, but militantly gay and carefree. Jazz and swing music are said to have originated in the dance halls and saloons of New Orleans' red light district."
Opening quote: Federal Writers' Project,
New Orleans City Guide, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938

The first of the tenderloin districts to gain notoriety was the "Swamp", an area between South Robertson and South Liberty streets. A man could wander into the Swamp, and for a picayune (about 6 cents) get a bed for the night, a drink, and a woman. During the late 1850s and early 1860s the Swamp declined. Meanwhile, the part of Basin St. that would become the main thoroughfare of Storyville continued to rise. Minnie Ha Ha, Kate Townsend, and Hattie Hamilton were the early queens of this district, all in pre-Storyville days.

For 20 years, the red-light district of 'Storyville' surrounded the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Storyville covered 16 square blocks in its entirety (Iberville to St. Louis and North Robertson to North Basin Streets - just northwest of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1).

1.-It began in 1897 when City Councilman Sidney Story 's city ordinance was inacted designating a confined area for legal prostitution as a means of controlling and regulating prostitution in New Orleans. "For years, the area between North Rampart and North Claiborne, existed as a haven for jazz and brothels" and at one point housed as many as 2000 prostitutes.
2.-Many important jazz musicians performed in these bordellos, including Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, Buddy Bolden, Paul Barbarin, Kid Ory, Freddy Keppard, Bunk Johnson, Henry "Red" Allen, and Manuel Perez.
3.-In 1917, the Department of the Navy convinced the city to close down the district "in an effort to curb vice because of the proximity of armed-services personnel."
4.-In 1940 that the remains of Storyville were demolished and in its stead the Iberville Housing Project was built, on the north and western edges of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, bounded by Iberville, Claiborne, St. Louis and Basin Streets. This project resulted from the nationwide effort by the Public Works administration to clear slums and construct low rent housing projects.

- 1. John R. Kemp, New Orleans: An Illustrated History, Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, © Copyright Ownership, 1981, 135.
- 2. Al Rose, Storyville, (Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, © Copyright Ownership, 1974), p. 73.
- 3. Leonard V. Huber, New Orleans: A Pictorial History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. New York: American Legacy Press, © Copyright Ownership, 1971, 211.
- 4. Office of Policy Planning, Iberville Project Neighborhood Profile
(City of New Orleans: The Historic New Orleans Collection, © Copyright Ownership, December 1978).
Project Work
University of Pennsylvania, © Copyright Ownership, 2002/2003

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Alderman Sidney Story, a distinguished citizen, proposed a much needed piece of legislation in 1897. The city council passed Story's ordinance in 1897, which stated that prostitution was limited to the area between North Robertson and North Basin streets, and from Customhouse (Iberville street) to St. Louis streets.

The downtown red light district was soon dubbed the name Storyville after its creator, Alderman Sidney Story. On New Year's Day, 1898, the area of Storyville became the city's new legal experiment. "The entire city looked forward to an era of improvement and stability as a result of the new law.

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532-540 N. Rampart (corner Toulouse), now the Vieux Carre Rest House. In the late 1890s, the four connected buildings--just across the street from what would soon be Storyville--were occupied by women who rented "furnished rooms," sometimes a euphemism for houses of prostitution.

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Basin Street parallels Rampart Street one block inland from the boundary of the French Quarter, running from Canal Street down 5 blocks past Saint Louis Cemetery. It currently then turns lakewards, flowing into Orleans Avenue.

The name comes from the turning basin of the Carondolet Canal formerly located on the street, where it now turns on to Orleans by the Municipal Auditorium.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century railroad tracks paralleled the Canal and then turned on to Basin Street, running up the "neutral ground" (as street medians are called locally) to one of the city's main railroad depots on Canal Street.

From the 1890s through World War I, the back side of Basin Street was the front of the Storyville red light district, with a line of high end saloons and mansions devoted to prostitution.

After Storyville's closure, Basin Street was temporarily renamed North Saratoga (although the historic name was returned some 20 years later).

Basin Street formerly continued on the other side of Canal Street to Commons Street, today known as Elk's Place, which after 2 blocks becomes Loyola Avenue on the upper side of Commons. The equivalent street paralleling Rampart one block back on the other side of Louis Armstrong Park in the Treme neighborhood is Saint Claude.

Basin Street was commemorated in the Basin Street Blues composed by Spencer Williams in 1926 and recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1929.

Almost all the buildings in the former District were demolished in the 1930s to clear the land for the building of the public housing project. While much of the area contained old and decayed buildings, the old mansions along Basin Street, some of the finest structures in the city, were leveled too. The city government wished to do all it could to blot the notorious district from memory. Basin Street was even renamed "North Saratoga" (although the historic name was returned some 20 years later).

The relocation of the 817 families that lived there took over four months. Ironically, the Iberville Project was originally intended for white servicemen. Shortly after Iberville was complete, eighty-seven families of non-commissioned army and navy officers were temporarily housed in the project.

Development of Iberville
In the depths of the Great Depression, many families became homeless and many others were at risk of homelessness. Nationwide, there was great concern about this situation, which led to the passage of the United States Housing Act of 1937. The Housing Act, also known as the Wagner Bill, instituted the United States Housing Authority within the Department of the Interior. Its mission was to provide public housing for low-income families. The Housing Authority was to contract with local housing officials to construct dwellings. New Orleans became the first city in the United States to benefit under the Wagner Act. The Iberville Development was the third of six low-rent public housing developments in New Orleans that were funded by the Wagner Bill.

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Iberville Housing Project
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Although at one time Iberville was the home to servicemen and later working class families, the exodus of industry from the inner-city plunged housing development residents into deep poverty. At an estimated household income of $7,279, today (Census 2000) Iberville is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New Orleans.

Iberville today consists of seventy-three two and three story dwelling units containing 858 apartments, and it is considered one of the smaller housing developments in New Orleans. The Housing Authority of New Orleans is currently working to substantially modernize the Iberville Development.

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The Iberville development neighborhood is also home to the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery #1. Built in 1789, when New Orleans was under Spanish control, this cemetery used the wall vault system that was popular in Spain at that time. This method was also practical, because graves below ground had to be very shallow - because of the high water table, caskets would actually float. The richest families had the most ornate tombs, almost like little houses with cast iron fences.


Storyville, New Orleans Red-Light District 1897-1917


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