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This information is pre-Katrina.
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French Quarter Neighborhood Snapshot

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The French Quarter is a unique neighborhood in New Orleans that reminds many of cities in Europe. With its history evident everywhere, the French Quarter is a festive and charming place. Visiting it is like taking a step back in time.

The Quarter is also known as the Vieux Carre:

vieux= old
carre is probably a corruption of "quartier"
quartier = quarter, section of town
Vieux Carre= old section of town

Some early history

Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. (

  1720 map by Mr. de la Tour showing the Quarter.

In 1682, a French explorer named Cavalier de la Salle came upon a piece of high land near the Mississippi river where Indians had lived for centuries. He planted a cross in their settlement and claimed it for the King of France. In 1718, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, sieur de Bienville founded the city of New Orleans at this spot. The city developed slowly because of the swamps and vegetation, but once it was cleared and drained, the new city was laid out in a grid pattern with the Place d’Armes (Jackson Square) occupying the center portion of the town facing the levee. The Place d’Armes was a military parade ground in the eighteenth century.

The street names, most of which have remained the same since being laid out, reflect the great deference the French paid to their nobility at that time. Chartres, Bourbon, Burgundy, Conti, Toulouse and Dumaine were all titles of the sons or sons-in-law of King Louis XIV. St. Louis Street honored the king; St. Philip Street honored his brother Philip and Orleans Street was his family name. Iberville Street was named for Pierre Le Moyne sieur d’Iberville who colonized the Mississippi Gulf Coast for Louis XIV.

Image courtesy Antique Digest  
Painting by Sr. de Salazar ca. 1795, a portrait of Capt Julien Vienne and his son, Julien George Vienne with his puppy.  

Jose Francisco Xavier de Salazar

Considered to be the first artist of Louisiana, Jose Francisco Xavier de Salazar was born in Mexico and actively painted in New Orleans from 1782 to 1802. His home in the French Quarter burned down in the 1788 fire.

Art collectors highly prize Salazar portraits, which are very rare. The one pictured to the left sold for over $100,000 in 1999.

The Louisiana State Museum has a sizable collection of Salazar portraits.

Read more about Jose Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza

“Record Louisiana Portrait Sold” by Priscilla Weldon St. Germain

Louisiana State Museum’s page on Jose Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza

Early New Orleans architecture

Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. (

  Plan showing the boundaries of the great conflagration of New Orleans on the 21st of March 1788.  

Early architecture in New Orleans was crude. In 1727, a church was built on the site of the present St. Louis Cathedral. The church of brick and wood was destroyed in the fire of 1788. The fire, which happened on Good Friday, destroyed over 800 structures – most of the French Quarter at that time. The extent of the damage was due in part to the priests’ refusal to sound the alarm of fire by ringing the church bells on Good Friday.

In 1794, a second fire swept through the French Quarter destroying over 200 buildings this time.

St. Louis Cathedral was completed in 1795 and is still standing today. The Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street was built in 1734. It reflects the French architectural style of that period. One of the early developers in the city was Don Andres Almonaster y Roxas, who came to Louisiana when Spain gained control of the area in 1763. About 1770, Almonaster built retail blocks on the east and west sides of the Place d’Armes. The development became a popular shopping area. In 1795, the Cabildo was erected next to St. Louis Cathedral to house the colony’s Spanish government. In 1815, the Presbytere was built on the opposite side of the St. Louis Cathedral. It is a twin to the Cabildo.

Early 19th century architecture in New Orleans featured Creole Cottages and Spanish/French colonial homes with balconies and central courtyards. Most buildings were stuccoed. Place d’Armes became Jackson Square in honor of Andrew Jackson.

Almonaster’s daughter, Baroness Micaela de Pontalba built her rowhouses flanking Jackson Square on the east and west in 1850. These elegant residences brought renewed popularity to the French Quarter, which had lost some of its status to the Garden District and other developing suburbs.


Image courtesy New Orleans Public Library ( Permission for reuse required  
Detail from a Francois Lacroix clothing store billhead, 1840.[The World of Francois Lacroix exhibit]  

Francois Lacroix, one of the largest landowners in New Orleans

Francois Lacroix was one of the most extraordinary African Americans in New Orleans in the 19th century. He gained enormous wealth through his stores and land holdings. On Charter Street in the French Quarter, along with his partner Etienne Cordeviolle, he owned one of the most fashionable clothing stores in the city around 1840.

After his death in 1876, the hundreds of lots of land that he owned around New Orleans were put up for sale and the settling of his estate took more than 25 years.

Laborers in the French Quarter

In the late 19th century, Italian immigrants flocked to the French Quarter to work at low paying jobs in the markets, as peddlers and unskilled laborers and the French Market became the Italian market. Black laborers were the backbone of waterfront businesses. They possessed the majority of the lowest paid jobs where working conditions were the worst (such as loaders, freight handlers, and coal shifters) and about half of the higher paid jobs in the longshore and screwmen’s trades.

J&M Recording Studio

Cosimo Matassa, an Italian American, opened J&M Recording Studio at 838 North Rampart Street at age 18. From 1945 to 1969 he recorded a great number of songs by African American artists including, among many others, Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," Sugar Boy Crawford's "Jock-A-Mo", Dave Bartholomew’s “My Ding-a-Ling”, and Ray Charles’ “Feelin Sad”. Some early rock n’ roll and rhythm & blues fans claim that Mr. Matassa should be in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame for his work engineering dozens of such songs.

Read more about J&M Recording Studio

"BackTalk with Cosimo Matassa," Offbeat interview with Cosimo Matassa in which he describes growing up in the French Quarter

101 songs engineered by Cosimo Matassa, an article from Louisiana Music Commission

Photo by Richard Nowitz © New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau (
  The French Quarter at sunset.

French Quarter today

According to the 2000 Census, the French Quarter has seen a slight increase in residents, which is quite a change from the last 50 years.

The French Quarter does suffer from a greatly amplified image of crime. However, the reality is that the crimes that happen in the French Quarter could happen anywhere in the city. Bourbon Street is still slightly raucous and naughty, while Royal and Chartres streets maintain their dignity but can still be loose and festive.

Of course, no history of the French Quarter is complete without a note about Lucky Dogs. Lucky Dogs are hot dogs sold from weenie-shaped carts that have operated on street corners in the French Quarter since 1947. Lucky Dogs are a real New Orleans tradition and in the past few years have spread beyond the French Quarter to the New Orleans Airport and several locations outside the city.


African American’s in New Orleans: Making a Living

“The Vieux Carre: Of Thorns and Sweet Jasmine.” New Orleans Magazine. April 1997, p 17.

Masciere, Christina. “Feeling Lucky: Tales from the Cart.” New Orleans Magazine. January 1998. pp 31-35.

Warner, Coleman. “French Quarter’s Residential Base Holding On.” Times-Picayune. Census 2000 Neighborhood Case Studies. A10-11. July 4, 2001.

Neighborhood Profiles Project Document prepared by the City of New Orleans Office of Policy Planning and the City Planning Commission. Published December 1980. Study available at the Williams Research Center (non-circulating collection).

Carll, Angela. “French Quarter History.” The Times-Picayune.

For more information:

1999 Land Use Plan New Orleans City Planning Commission

Preservation Resource Center’s listing of target neighborhoods
Vieux Carre link gives a brief description of French Quarter and contact information for several residents and property owners’ groups in the neighborhood.

Realtor Tommy Crane’s web site
Tommy Crane’s description of the French Quarter.

French Quarter web site
This web site provides a map, information about hotels, walking tours, museums, Mardi Gras, and much more.

The world of François Lacroix, a travel website.
Description of the French Quarter., a travel website
Description of the French Quarter.

French Quarter Festival Website
This web site provides information about the French Quarter Festival and the Satchmo Summer Fest, such as dates, scheduled performers, and a map of the stages.

Data Tables: People & Household CharacteristicsHousing & Housing Costs, Income & Poverty, Transportation, Employment, Educational Attainment, Immigration & Language, Disabilities, Neighborhood Characteristics

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Last modified: October 4, 2002