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Central Business District Neighborhood Snapshot

Census 2000 Data Tables: People & Household CharacteristicsHousing & Housing Costs, Income & Poverty, Transportation, Employment, Educational Attainment, Immigration & Language, Disabilities, Neighborhood Characteristics

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the Central Business District changed as radically as it did when it was developing during the 1820s and 1830s. Many of the old structures have been preserved and converted for new uses. Today this section of the city bustles with commercial, business, governmental, educational and recreational activities.

Some early history

The Central Business District of New Orleans was once the plantation of Jean Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville.

Bienville obtained the land from the Superior Council of Louisiana in 1719. The Jesuits purchased much of this land from Bienville over a period of years. This land was sold at auction in 1763 after the King of France expelled the Jesuits from Louisiana.

Photo by Richard Nowitz © New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau (
  New Orleans skyline

This land passed through several hands before it ended up in the hands of Bertrand Gravier who, following the great 1788 fire in the French Quarter, had a surveyor subdivide the plantation. Gravier renamed the subdivision Faubourg St. Marie in memory of his deceased wife. This area, later called Faubourg St. Mary, extended from Common Street to near Howard Avenue and from Tchoupitoulas Street to Rampart Street.

After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the influx of Americans to New Orleans increased, and Faubourg St. Mary became their community. In this area were the city’s earliest Protestant churches – Christ Episcopal in 1805 on Canal and Bourbon and First Presbyterian in 1819 on St. Charles at Gravier. As late as the 1820s, Faubourg St. Mary was like a big village settlement concentrated near the river. By 1835, the rows of red brick, American-style townhouses built here were considered the city’s best address.

Faubourg St. Mary becomes a business center

Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. (
Detail from the 1815 plan showing the french name of the suburb:Faubourg Ste. Marie.  

One of the early stimulants to the area’s business growth was the erection of the American Theater in 1824 by Englishman James Caldwell on Camp Street. This was the city’s first English-language theater and the first building with gas lighting.

With the popularity of gas lighting, a gas works was built on the site of the present Veterans’ Administration Hospital and remained there until the 1940s. The crowning glory of the area at the time was the construction of the elegant, domed St. Charles Hotel that opened in 1838 where Place St. Charles is today. The St. Charles Hotel became the social center of the American community. It burned down and was rebuilt twice over the years and finally demolished in 1974.

By the 1830s, omnibuses had begun running in Faubourg St. Mary. Many of the buildings built in the 1830s and 1840s were in the Greek Revival Style following the trend on the East Coast.

The New Basin Canal encourages growth away from the river

Between 1832 and 1838 the New Basin Canal, sponsored by the Canal Bank, was constructed. It ran up Julia Street, with its turning basin at Tivoli Circle (Lee Circle). The basin continued up Triton Walk (Howard Avenue). Canal Street became the commercial center of New Orleans, stealing the title from Chartres Street in the French Quarter. Irish immigrants arrived in New Orleans after 1830, and settled in Faubourg St. Mary. Saint Patrick’s Church was built for the Irish community in 1833 on Camp Street. St. Patrick’s Church is the only early Faubourg St. Mary church in existence today.

Image courtesy New Orleans Public Library ( Permission for reuse required.

  Steamship loading with cotton, circa late 1800s. [George Francois Mugnier Photograph Collection]  

In the 1850s, business grew rapidly. Louisiana's sugar and cotton plantations, which relied heavily on the work on enslaved Africans, were extremely productive and the trade of these commodities had become active and profitable. Carondelet Street became the center of the cotton and shipping businesses.

Canal Street was the location of the dry goods trade. In 1849, Daniel H. Holmes erected a large dry goods emporium on Canal Street and the street was soon filled with shops. The U.S. Custom House was built on Canal Street at this same time. Several fine houses were built in Faubourg St. Mary in the 1840s and 1850s, but most of the construction during this time was devoted to business.

Charity Hospital

Image courtesy New Orleans Public Library ( Permission for reuse required.
  African American WPA workers construct Charity Hospital. [WPA Photgraph Collection]

In 1815, Charity Hospital was built on Canal Street between Baronne Street and University Place, and in 1832 moved to its present location. In the 1930s, the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed hundreds of thousands of Americans to assist in reversing the economic depression. WPA hired crews to demolish the old Charity Hospital building.

New Orleans supported Cuban liberation from Spanish colonialism

Several bronze plaques mark a spot in the 500 block of Poydras Street where in 1850 Narciso Lopez raised the first U.S expedition to attempt to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule. New Orleans, more than other U.S. cities, was connected to Havana through trade and cultural exchanges. Throughout the decades, many Cubans in exile from the Spanish colonial government lived in New Orleans.

Although Sr. Lopez attempted to raise expeditions in other parts of the U.S., he succeeded only in New Orleans. The Cuban liberation flag was flown at this spot on Poydras street. So many New Orleanians were in favor of the liberation of Cuba that when one such expedition was caught in Cuba and members executed, New Orleanians rioted, attacking the Spanish consulate and other Spanish property in New Orleans.


Image courtesy New Orleans Public Library ( Permission for reuse required.

  Aerial view of Lafayette Square and vicinity, circa 1950s.[LA Photograph Collection]

The CBD boomed from 1870 - 1929

During the Civil War, construction came to a standstill, and the decline in Faubourg St. Mary lasted through the Reconstruction period.

Once control of the state returned to local leadership, activity returned to the Central Business District.

In 1870, New Orleans became a deep water port and business greatly increased. Skyscrapers began to rise in the 1880s, electric lighting was introduced in 1883 and the first electric streetcar ran in 1893. The building regarded as the city’s first skyscraper is the Hennen Building, now the Latter & Blum building at Carondelet and Common. It was the first 10-story building in town.

By 1899, Canal Street was paved with asphalt and furnished with subsurface drainage. By the early 1900s, the New Orleans downtown skyline had quite a few skyscrapers. The business boom lasted until the Stock Exchange Crash of 1929, after which a long period of decline hit the Central Business District.

Pythian Temple inspires the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club


Aid and Pleasure club fact
Neighborhood-based Benevolent Aid Societies were the first form of insurance for African Americans. Members paid small dues and in return received financial assistance with expenses associated with illnesses or deaths.

This theater on the corner of Gravier and Saratoga was erected by a group of African American businessmen about 1908.

In 1909, one of the city’s Benevolent Aid Societies attended a skit at the Pythian Temple about a Zulu king and his tribe. They were inspired by this skit to organize the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the very next year they initiated the now-famous Zulu parade on Mardi Gras morning.

Many important and influential jazz musicians played at the Pythian Temple’s roof top garden. Sidney Bechet played soprano saxophone here with A.J. Piron's band before Mr. Bechet left New Orleans to tour Europe at the tender age of 17. Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra and Kid Rena's Jazz Band also played at the Pythian Temple’s roof top garden. The Pythian Temple still stands, though hidden behind a 1950s glass facade.

Read more about these famous musicians:

Sidney Bechet’s biography by Red Hot

The Sidney Bechet Society, Ltd.

Description of Papa Celestin’s Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra by Red Hot

Henry “Kid” Rena’s biography by red Hot


Image courtesy New Orleans Public Library ( Permission for reuse required.

On September 30, 1963 more than 10,000 black New Orleanians, along with 300 white citizens, marched from Shakespeare Park to City Hall to protest the failure of city leaders to act against discrimination in the Crescent City. [Marion James Porter Collection]  

Desegregation and white flight

In the 1960s, civil rights groups took to the streets to protest the discrimination that was common practice in Canal Street stores. When the abolishment of segregation was finally enforced, white flight began.

As the suburbs expanded, many businesses left the Central Business District and relocated on the outskirts of New Orleans.

The Oil Boom comes to the CBD

In the 1970s, commercial development started to increase in the Central Business District. Fueled by the oil boom, Poydras Street emerged as the new heart of the downtown office district in the early 1980s.

By the late 1980s, when the price of oil crashed, the over-built office market along Poydras Street lost many tenants. The old Canal Street shopping district has suffered from competition from suburban malls and the loss of a number of established stores.

Unlike other cities, however, many of the old buildings have been converted to beautiful hotels in response to the city’s growing tourist business. New CBD malls with big national stores cater to tourists as much as locals.


Information about the history of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club from Mardi Gras New

African Americans in New Orleans: The Music

“Cuban Influences On New Orleans Music” Essay by Jack Stewart

1999 Land Use Plan New Orleans City Planning Commission

Magill, John. “From Plantations to Office Towers: a History of Downtown.” New Orleans Magazine. June 1995. pp 94-102.

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).

More Information:

Description of the Central Business District on, a nonprofit working to revitalize New Orleans through positive population growth.

Preservation Resource Center’s listing of target neighborhoods
The Central Business District link gives a brief description of the CBD and contact information for residents development groups working in the area.

Realtor Tommy Crane’s web site
Tommy Crane’s description of the Central Business District.

New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park
The National Park Service sponsors this web site. It lists several theaters, music companies and publishing companies located in the Central Business District that contributed to the proliferation and recording of jazz and pre-jazz music strains.

Census 2000 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