Most of this primarily residential area of New Orleans upriver from the Central Business District comprises what was once the independent city of Lafayette and the seat of Jefferson Parish. It was annexed to New Orleans in 1852, and today consists of four distinct neighborhoods. The area now known as the Lower Garden District—bounded by Lee Circle, Erato and Annunciation streets, and Jackson and St. Charles avenues—was laid out beginning in 1807 by Barthélemy Lafon. His scheme included a circular park, the Place du Tivoli (now Lee Circle); wide, tree-lined boulevards; squares; canals; a college, which Lafon referred to as a prytaneum, for Prytania Street; and a coliseum at Coliseum Square, an irregularly shaped park. The canals, school, and coliseum were never built, but nine of Lafon’s streets retain the names of the nine Greek muses. Development of Central City, from Carondelet Street to the Claiborne Canal (now Claiborne Avenue), began in the 1830s, primarily with rental property for Irish, German, and Jewish immigrants. By the early twentieth century the neighborhood was primarily African American and Dryades Street (now Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard) was an important shopping street with department stores patronized by customers not welcome in the stores on Canal Street, the shameful “separate-but-equal” legacy of Jim Crow laws.
In the nineteenth century, the Garden District referred to a much larger area of detached houses on tree-lined streets than today’s more narrowly defined area, officially bounded by Magazine and Carondelet streets and Jackson and Louisiana avenues. Benjamin Buisson laid these out between 1st and Toledano streets in 1832 with four lots per square instead of twelve, as in the Vieux Carré; in the two prosperous decades before the Civil War, fashionable architects designed mansions set in landscaped gardens for wealthy Anglo-Americans. Magazine Street separates these houses from the far more modest shotguns and cottages of the Irish Channel, given its name in the nineteenth century when many Irish immigrants lived here and worked in Garden District mansions or in industries along the riverfront. Wharves, railroad tracks, oceangoing ships, and warehouses (such as the former Amelia Cotton Press warehouse of 1882 at Tchoupitoulas and Felicity streets) line the riverfront behind the concrete floodwall that protects the city from the Mississippi River.
The ethnic mix in these neighborhoods (with the notable exception of the Garden District) has changed over the years; yet, surprisingly, the nineteenth-century character has largely remained. The houses and buildings included in this tour represent the most exceptional examples of the area’s rich architectural heritage.
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