The district as a whole is a National Historic Landmark, and it contains numerous individual historic buildings. It was relatively lightly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The most common definition of the French Quarter includes all the land stretching along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (12 blocks) and inland to Rampart Street (seven to nine blocks). It equals an area of 78 sq. blocks. Some definitions, such as city zoning laws, exclude the properties facing Canal Street, which had already been redeveloped by the time architectural preservation was considered, and the section between Decatur Street and the river, much of which had long served industrial and warehousing functions. Any alteration to structures in the remaining blocks is subject to review by the Vieux Carré Commission, which determines whether the proposal is appropriate for the historic character of the district. The National Historic Landmarked district is stated to be 85 square blocks.
Many of the buildings date from before New Orleans became part of the United States, although there are some late 19th century and early 20th century buildings in the area as well. Since the 1920s the historic buildings have been protected by law and cannot be demolished, and any renovations or new construction in the neighborhood must be done according to regulations to match the period historic architectural style.
Most of the French Quarter’s architecture was built during the Spanish rule over New Orleans. The Great New Orleans Fire (1788) and another great fire in 1794 destroyed most of the Quarter’s old French colonial architecture, leaving the colony’s new Spanish overlords to rebuild it according to more modern tastes — and strict new fire codes, which mandated that all structures be physically adjacent and close to the curb to create a firewall. The old French peaked roofs were replaced with flat tiled ones, and now-banned wooden siding with fire-resistant stucco, painted in the pastel hues fashionable at the time. As a result, colorful walls and roofs and elaborately decorated ironwork balconies and galleries from both the 18th century and 19th centuries abound. (In southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between “balconies”, which are self supporting and attached to the side of the building, and “galleries” which are supported from the ground by poles or columns.)
Long after the U.S. purchase of Louisiana, Francophone creole descendants of French and Spanish colonists lived in this part of town, and the French language was often heard there as late as the start of the 1920s.
When Anglophone Americans began to move in after the Louisiana Purchase, they mostly built just upriver, across modern day Canal Street. Canal Street became the meeting place of two cultures, one francophone creole and the other anglophone American. (Local landowners had retained architect and surveyor Barthelemy Lafon to subdivide their property to create an American suburb). The median of the wide boulevard became a place where the two contentious cultures could meet and bilingually do business. As such, it became known as the “neutral ground”, and this name persists in the New Orleans area for medians.
In the late 19th century the Quarter became a less fashionable part of town, and many immigrants from southern Italy and Ireland settled in the section. In the early 20th century the Quarter’s cheap rents and air of age and neglected decay attracted a bohemian and artistic community.
On December 21, 1965, the “Vieux Carre Historic District” was designated a National Historic Landmark. This was in response to the planned Vieux Carré Riverfront Expressway. Preservation activities were led by Jacob Haight Morrison, IV (1905-1974), an attorney who headed the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Association, Inc. He was the half-brother of Mayor deLesseps Story “Chep” Morrison, Sr. (1912-1963)
In the 1980s many long-term Quarter residents were driven away by rising rents as property values rose dramatically with expectations of windfalls from the planned 1984 World’s Fair nearby. More of the neighborhood became developed for the benefit of tourism. The French Quarter remains a combination of residential, hotels, guest houses, bars and tourist-oriented commercial properties.
At the end of August 2005, the majority of New Orleans was flooded due to levee breaches after Hurricane Katrina (see: Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans). The French Quarter, like most parts of town developed before the late 19th century, was one of the areas to remain substantially dry, since it was built on dry land that predated New Orleans’ levee systems and sits 5 feet (1.5 metres) above sea level. Some streets experienced minor flooding, and several buildings experienced significant wind damage. Most of the major landmarks suffered only minor damage and many have since reopened. The Quarter largely escaped the looting and violence after the storm; nearly all of the antique shops and art galleries in the French Quarter, for example, were untouched.
Mayor Ray Nagin officially reopened the French Quarter on September 26, 2005 to business owners to inspect property and clean up. Within a month, a large selection of French Quarter businesses were back open. The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center annex was the first new construction completed in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina.
Jackson Square (formerly Place d’Armes), originally designed by architect and landscaper Louis H. Pilié (although he is only given credit for the iron fence), is an open park the size of a city-block located at the center of the French Quarter. After the Battle of New Orleans it was named after victorious general Andrew Jackson; an equestrian statue of Jackson is in the center of the park.
The square originally overlooked the Mississippi River across Decatur Street, but the view was blocked in the 19th century by the building of larger levees. The riverfront was long given to shipping, but the administration of Mayor Moon Landrieu put in a scenic boardwalk along the river across from the Square; it is known as the “Moon Walk” in his honor. At the end of the 1980s additional old wharfs and warehouses were demolished to create Woldenberg Park, extending the riverfront promenade up to Canal Street.
On the opposite side of the square from the River are three 18th‑century historic buildings which were the city’s heart in the colonial era. The center of the three is St. Louis Cathedral. The Cathedral was designated a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI. To its left is the Cabildo, the old city hall, now a museum, where the finalization of the Louisiana Purchase was signed. To the Cathedral’s right is the The Presbytere, built to match the Cabildo. The Presbytère originally housed the city’s Roman Catholic priests and authorities, it was then turned into a courthouse at the start of the 19th century, and in the 20th century became a museum.
On the other two sides of the square are the Pontalba Buildings, matching red-brick block long 4‑story buildings built in the 1840s. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; the upper floors are apartments that are the oldest continuously rented such apartments in the United States.
Directly across from Jackson Square is the Jax Brewery building, the original home of a local beer. After the company ceased to operate independently, the building was converted into several businesses, including restaurants and specialty shops. In recent years, some retail space has been converted into riverfront condominiums.
From the 1920s through the 1980s the square was famous as a gathering place of painters, young art students and caricaturists. In the 1990s the artists were joined by tarot card readers, mimes, fortune tellers and street performers.
Live music has been a regular feature of the entire quarter, including the Square for more than a century. Formal concerts do take place, albeit rarely, and musicians are known to play for tips.
Diagonally across the square from the Cabildo is Café du Monde, open 24 hours a day, well known for the café au lait, coffee spiced with chicory and beignets served there continuously since the 19th century. It is a custom to blow the powdered sugar onto anyone who is going there for the first time, while making a wish.
Other well known sights in the French Quarter include the French Market; Bourbon Street (The most famous of the French Quarter streets, which includes a row of bars and clubs much visited by tourists); and Royal Street (with elegant antique shops and art galleries). The French Quarter is famous, or perhaps notorious, for its drinking establishments. Most of the ones commonly patronized by tourists on upper Bourbon Street are more recent businesses in old buildings, but the Quarter also has a number of notable bars with interesting histories.
The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street has kept its name even though for almost a century absinthe was illegal in the US.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street. The tavern’s building, built sometime before 1772, is one of the older still standing structures in New Orleans (the Ursuline Convent, for example, is older) and has been called the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States. According to legend the structure was once owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte, though as with many things involving Lafitte, no documentation of this exists.
The Napoleon House bar & restaurant is in the former home of mayor Nicholas Girod; the name comes from an unrealized plot to rescue Napoleon I from his exile in St. Helena and bring him to New Orleans.
The original Johnny White’s bar is a favorite of bikers. In 2005 an off-shoot called Johnny White’s Hole in the Wall, along with Molly’s at the Market, drew national media attention as the only businesses in the city to stay open throughout Hurricane Katrina and the tribulations of the weeks after the storm.
The Bourbon Pub and Oz, both located at the intersection of Bourbon and St.Ann, are the two largest gay clubs in New Orleans. Café Lafitte in Exile, located at the intersection of Bourbon and Dumaine is the oldest continuously running gay bar in the United States. These and other gay establishments sponsor the raucous Southern Decadence Festival during Labor Day weekend. This festival is often referred to as New Orleans’ Gay Mardi Gras. St. Ann Street is often called “the Velvet Line” in reference to it being on the edge of the French Quarter’s predominately gay district. While there is a gay population throughout the French Quarter, the portion of the Quarter that is northeast of St. Ann Street is generally considered to be the Gay District.
The French Quarter is one of only a few places in the United States where possession and consumption of alcohol in open containers is allowed on the street.
The neighborhood contains many restaurants, ranging from formal to casual, patronized by both visitors and locals. Some are well known landmarks, such as Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Tujague’s, which have been in business since the 19th century; Arnaud’s and Brennan’s are only slightly less venerable. Less historic, but also well-known French Quarter restaurants include those run by famous chefs Paul Prudhomme (“K-Paul’s”) and Emeril Lagasse (“NOLA”).
There are several types of accommodations in the French Quarter ranging from large international chains to bed and breakfasts to time share condominiums to small guest houses with only one or two rooms. Hotel Maison De Ville and the Audubon Cottages were built as a townhouses in 1800. The Audobon Cottages were home to Antoine Amedée Peychaud during its history. Tennessee Williams (with the French Quarter providing the setting for aruguably his most famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire) was a frequent guest and the hotel works to maintain its historic ambiance.
“Mardi Gras” (French for Fat Tuesday) is the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is the final day of Carnival, the three day period preceding the beginning of Lent, the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday (some traditions count Carnival as the entire period of time between Epiphany or Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday). The entire three day period has now come to be known in many areas as Mardi Gras. Perhaps the cities most famous for their Mardi Gras celebrations include New Orleans, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama and Sydney, Australia. Many other places have important Fat Tuesday celebrations as well. Carnival is an important celebration in most of Europe, except in the United Kingdom where pancakes are the tradition, and also in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city in addition to the celebrating locals for the parties and parades. The starting date of festivities in New Orleans is March 3, 1699, when a group of French explorers set up camp on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about 60 miles downriver from the site that would become New Orleans. Since that day just happened to be Mardi Gras, a major event on the French calendar, the group’s leader, Pierre Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville dubbed the spot, in the spelling of the time, La Pointe du Mardy Gras. The Rex organization put a marker at the Louisiana site 300 years later. An account from 1743 notes that the custom of Carnival balls was already established by that date (during the time Bienville was still governor). Processions and masking in the streets on Mardi Gras Day took place, and were sometimes prohibited by law, but were quickly renewed whenever such restrictions were lifted or enforcement waned. In 1833, Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner, raised the money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration. On Mardi Gras of 1857 the Mistick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. Comus is the oldest continuously active Mardi Gras organization and started a number of continuing traditions (for example, the use of floats in parades) and is considered the first Carnival krewe in the modern sense. In 1875 Mardi Gras was declared a legal holiday by the state of Louisiana. War, economic, political, and weather conditions sometimes led to cancellation of some or all major parades, especially during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, but celebration of Carnival has always been observed in the city.
1972 was the last year in which large parades went though the narrow streets of the city’s old French Quarter neighborhood; larger floats and crowds and safety concerns led the city government to prohibit big parades in the Quarter. In 1991 the New Orleans city council passed an ordinance that required social organizations, including Mardi Gras Krewes, to certify publicly that they did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, in order to obtain parade permits and other public licenses. In effect, the ordinance required these, and other, private social groups to abandon their traditional code of secrecy and identify their members for the city’s Human Relations Commission. In protest, the 19th century krewes Comus and Momus stopped parading. Proteus did parade in the 1992 Carnival season but subsequently also suspended its parade for a time. In 2000, Proteus returned to the parade schedule. Two federal courts later declared that the ordinance was an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights of free association, and an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the groups subject to the ordinance. The Supreme Court refused to hear the city’s appeal from this decision. Today, many krewes operate under a business structure; membership is basically open to anyone who pays dues to have a place on a parade float.
The effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in late 2005 caused many to question the future of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. The city government, essentially bankrupt after the storm, pushed for a massively scaled back celebration to limit strains on city services. However, many krewes insisted that they wanted to and would be ready to parade, so negotiations between krewe leaders and city officials resulted in a compromise schedule scaled back but less severely than originally suggested. The 2006 New Orleans Carnival schedule included the Krewe du Vieux on its traditional route through Marigny and the French Quarter on February 11th, the Saturday 2 weekends before Mardi Gras, then several parades the Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th a week before Mardi Gras, followed by 6 days of parades Thursday night through Mardi Gras Day. Other than Krewe du Vieux and two Westbank parades going through Algiers, all New Orleans parades were restricted to the Saint Charles Avenue Uptown to Canal Street route, a section of the city which escaped significant flooding (some krewes unsuccessfully pushed to parade on their traditional Mid City route, despite the severe flood damage suffered by that neighborhood). Restrictions were placed on time parades can be on the street and how late at night they can end. Louisiana State troopers and National Guards assisted with crowd control for the first time since 1979. Many floats had been partially submerged in the floodwaters for weeks; while some krewes repaired and removed all traces of these effects, others incorporated flood lines and other damage into the designs of the floats. Most of the locals who worked on the floats and rode on them were significantly impacted by the storm’s aftermath, and many had lost most or all of the possessions in their homes, but enthusiasm for Carnival was even more intense than usual as an affirmation of life. The themes of many costumes and floats had more barbed satire than usual, with commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in the devastated city, with references to MREs, Katrina refrigerators and FEMA trailers, along with much mocking of FEMA, local, and national politicians.
The date can vary from as early as February 3 to as late as March 9. As it is the last day before the start of Lent, the date is dependent on that of Easter.
Shrove Tuesday (and Mardi Gras) will occur on the following dates in the following years:(carnevale)
2008 — 5 February
2009 — 24 February
2010 — 16 February
2011 — 8 March
2012 — 21 February
2013 — 12 February
2014 — 4 March
2015 — 17 February
2016 — 9 February
2017 — 28 February
2018 — 13 February
2019 — 5 March
2020 — 25 February
2021 — 16 February
2022 — 1 March
2023 — 21 February
2024 — 13 February
2025 — 4 March
2026 — 17 February
2027 — 9 February
2028 — 29 February
2029 — 13 February
2030 — 5 March
2031 — 25 February
2032 — 10 February
2033 — 1 March
2034 — 21 February
2035 — 6 February
2036 — 26 February
2037 — 17 February
2038 — 9 March
2039 — 22 February
2040 — 14 February
2041 — 5 March
2042 — 18 February
2043 — 10 February
2044 — 1 March
2045 — 21 February
2046 — 6 February
2047 — 26 February
2048 — 18 February
2049 — 2 March
2050 — 22 February