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In and Around the Big Easy

First-time visitors are often struck by the European flavor of New Orleans, and little wonder. Louisiana was claimed for Louis XIV in 1699 and is the only state that was once a French royal colony. La Nouvelle Orleans was founded in 1718 and ruled by France and then Spain for nearly 100 years. It is the only U.S. city where French was the predominant language for over a century.

The city has more than 35,000 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, more than other U.S. city. Washington, D.C., the closest contender, has just over 20,000. Many are located in the 10-square-block area known as the French Quarter. St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral in the United States, was originally built in 1724 and rebuilt twice after a hurricane and a fire. The present church overlooking Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter was dedicated in 1794. The Old Ursuline Convent, also in the Quarter, dates to 1745 and is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley.

Lee Circle PHOTO COURTESY OF New Orleans CVB and Carl Purcell

As Americans settled here, they built beautiful antebellum mansions in the Garden District and Uptown, and a streetcar line that is the oldest continuously operating rail system in the world.

New Orleans is also known as the birthplace of jazz. Early jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver got their start in the nightclubs of Storyville, a red-light district that flourished from 1897 to 1917. The city's musical tradition remains strong as New Orleanians like Harry Connick Jr., the Neville Brothers, and Wynton and Branford Marsalis, along with events like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and French Quarter Festival, share these gifts with the rest of the world.

St. Louis Cathedral PHOTO COURTESY OF New Orleans CVB & Richard Nowitz

The city has a well-deserved reputation for food as well. Chefs at the city's more than 3,000 restaurants combine abundant natural resources such as seafood with Creole, Cajun and other cooking styles to create a unique cuisine. In 2003, Travel & Leisure readers rated New Orleans among the three best Top Cities for Food, along with Paris and New York City.

The French Quarter

The French Quarter is one of the most unique neighborhoods in the United States. This six by 13 block area is filled with America's finest examples of Spanish and colonial architecture. Yet the French Quarter is not a museum. It is a living neighborhood where residents continue to reside and work everyday!

You can visit the historic Napoleon House, 500 Chartres Street. This wonderful example of the French architectural tradition was offered to Napoleon as a refuge from his exile on St. Helena. Unfortunately the emperor passed away before getting a chance to visit.

A historic courtyard in the city's French Quarter. In 1925 the city passed an ordinance to preserve at least one-third of the Quarter.

Take in a quick history lesson at one of the many museums in the Quarter, such as the Old U.S. Mint, the Cabildo (where the Louisiana Purchase was signed), The Voodoo Museum, the Pharmacy Museum (the nation's first pharmacy), Hermann-Grima House (the finest example of American architecture in the Quarter), Beauregard-Keyes House, or the Historic New Orleans Collection.


New Orleans has many walking tours, but if you get tired of walking you can hitch a ride on a moving landmark, the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar line--the oldest continually operating streetcar line in America. For a mere $1.25 per person, some of the most historic and stately homes in New Orleans are on display, not to mention a whole new world of restaurants and attractions.

The St. Charles route has been a major avenue of public transit since 1835. Horses drew the early cars but the current electrified line began service in 1893. Many of the cars used today date as far back as 1923, which is one of the reasons the streetcars have made their way onto the National Register of Historic Places.

The night club Desire exemplifies the neo-architecture of the French Quarter. In 1794 a fire destroyed the area from Canal Street to Orleans and from the river to Bourbon Street.

A streetcar tour begins on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street on the edge of the historic French Quarter. Make sure to have exactly $1.25 because the drivers have no way of making change. The best time to begin your tour is usually mid-afternoon. During morning and evening rush hours the cars are often packed with business commuters and children on the way to and from school.

The first historic site on the line is Lafayette Square, the oldest public square in the city. It is located on the left between stops #3 and #4 and ironically contains no monument to its namesake. To the immediate right are the massive columns of Gallier Hall, formerly City Hall. The Greek revival building, dedicated in 1853, has received many U.S. presidents and other notable figures.

In the heart of the city's Garden District, Audobon Park is near completion as Phase 3 of the project winds down.

Although the St. Charles and Riverfront lines are the only two streetcar lines left in operation, the Canal Line is being restored after a 35-year absence. The addition of another line will be completed by 2004 and allow access to such attractions as City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Parks and Gardens

The Garden District officially begins at Jackson Avenue. There are numerous self-guided tours available for anyone who wants to wander through the historic neighborhood. Most of the prominent sites are featured in any New Orleans tour book and information is also available at any visitor's center in the city.

To the immediate left are the beautiful grounds of Audubon Park. The park extends all the way to the Mississippi River and is the perfect spot for a jog or an afternoon picnic.

Farther down and to the right are the Loyola and Tulane University campuses. Loyola is the largest Catholic University in the South and has been at this site since 1904. Tulane ranks among the top universities in the country, and its structures date back to 1834.

City Park sits on 1,500 acres and is home to the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world.

Once the site of Allard Plantation, facing Bayou St. John, City Park's 1,500 acres offer visitors a sample of the city's fine art and natural splendor. Home of the New Orleans Museum of Art and the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world, City Park whispers stories of duels at dawn and Creole romance beneath the surface of today's mecca of children's entertainment and leisure opportunities.

Longue Vue was the home of late philanthropists Edgar Bloom Stern, a New Orleans cotton broker, and his wife Edith, an heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune. The gardens are among the largest and last remaining public gardens designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman, the dean of American landscape design. Later modified by William Platt, the gardens complement the grand Spanish Court, which was inspired by the 14th-century Generalife Gardens of the Alhambra in Spain.

Opened in 1911 as the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art ranked in the top 25 percent of the nation's 140 largest and most important art museums.

Longue Vue House and Gardens is located at #7 Bamboo Road and is open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m. $10 for adults, $5 for young people 5-17, and free for children under five. For more information call 504-488-5488 or visit

Art and Culture

The New Orleans museum community offers many important and wonderful cultural attractions, including art museums, history and heritage sites, National Historic Landmarks, and historic houses. The National D-Day Museum is one of the area's newcomers, with more than one-half million visitors since opening in 2000. The New Orleans Museum of Art is recognized as one of the nation's top arts facilities and regularly hosts blockbuster exhibitions of international stature. The Louisiana State Museum is a complex of six revered and treasured National Historic Landmark buildings in the French Quarter, all of which house exhibitions specific to the culture, heritage and people of New Orleans and Louisiana. The Historic New Orleans Collection is a world-class research facility that also hosts exhibits on the unique and varied history of the city. And the list goes on and on.

New Orleans is considered the birthplace of jazz, often considered the United State's greatest contribution to world culture.

New Orleans also has a thriving contemporary arts community that hosts events, performances and exhibitions that continue the city's creative and historic legacy. Centered in the Warehouse Arts District, the area is anchored by the National D-Day Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (opening late 2003), Louisiana ArtWorks (opening 2004), and the Contemporary Arts Center. Along Julia Street, the area's main thoroughfare, 25 world-class art galleries individually host regularly changing exhibits by the city's most respected and collected artists, and collectively sponsor a monthly open house highlighting their offerings.

All that Jazz and More

The city's most recognizable art form, in all likelihood, is music, more specifically, jazz--the form considered America's singular most important contribution to art and for which New Orleans is most renowned. As the birthplace of jazz at the turn of the 20th century, the personalities at the center of its creation are internationally lauded. Legends such as Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Edward Kid Ory, and George McCullum, among others, all created jazz while growing up along the streets and in the music clubs of New Orleans. Today, luminaries like Wynton and Branford Marsalis carry the musical spirit of their forefathers, and the famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays nightly in its St. Peter Street home of more than 40 years, recalling for visitors the sounds of those who preceded them.

The Louisiana Territory (in yellow) at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Other indigenous sounds are also central to New Orleans' stature as the music capital of the world, including Cajun and zydeco, brass band music, rhythm and blues, gospel, funk, soul, rock n' roll, and blues. Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, Frankie Ford, Jessie Hill, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, and Harry Connick, Jr., are just a few of the many hit makers who have come from New Orleans and contributed to the local musical traditions heard resonating from the city's music venues on a nightly basis. Today, a new breed of musical performer has provided a renaissance of sorts while forging new ground in moving to the industry's forefront. These lively personalities include Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, Nicholas Payton, and James Andrews, and most of them perform regularly.

Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial

Two hundred years ago the United States was a new nation taking its first steps towards growth by attempting to buy the port of New Orleans from France. Those steps quickly turned into giant leaps when the United States instantly doubled in size at a bargain of four cents an acre. New Orleans is where it all began.

The Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial is a chance for us to rediscover the roots of the city as well as a chance for growth in our critically important tourism industry.

The courtyard behind St. Louis Cathedral. French engineer Adrien de Pauger designated this site for a church in conformity with the plan of the engineer-in-chief of Louisiana, LeBlond de la Tour. PHOTO COURTESY OF New Orleans CVB and Ann purcell

There will be a re-enactment of the ceremony that transferred the Louisiana territory from France to the United States on December 20, 1803. The president of the United States, the president of the French Republic, and King Juan Carlos of Spain have all been invited to commemorate this historic moment in world history.

Bicentennial events in New Orleans include:

  • Entergy IMAX Theater, Lewis and Clark: The Great Journey West, Jan 1- Dec. 31, 2003
  • Louisiana State Museum, One Nation Under God: The Church, The State and The Louisiana Purchase, Oct 17, 2003-April 18, 2004

Historic Homes

Riding through the Garden District provides a view of one historic home after another. Two notable addresses are homes owned by author Anne Rice at 2301 and 2524 St. Charles Avenue.

The Belfort Mansion, of Real World New Orleans fame, is located to the left at 2618 St. Charles. Yet another familiar building is the Columns Hotel (3811 St. Charles), a former brothel where the film Pretty Baby was filmed. The Columns is a well-known hot spot for early afternoon to late evening cocktails.

A rendering of the French Quarter. When the Spanish took control of the city they introduced the first streetlights, newspaper, theatre and police force.

Some other interesting homes are the Italianate Mansion at 5120 St. Charles (now a public library), the exact replica of the Gone with the Wind mansion (5705 St. Charles), and the house commonly referred to as the Wedding Cake House at 5809 St. Charles. The reason, as you'll see, is pretty obvious.

Historic New Orleans Cemeteries

No visit to New Orleans is complete without a tour of the city's oldest outdoor museums, its historic cemeteries. Often called Cities of the Dead, these cemeteries are noted for their unique, aboveground tombs. The tombs serve as monuments to the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and they, like the cemeteries themselves, are a major part of the city's unique heritage.

Save Our Cemeteries, Inc., offers authentic, accurate guided tours through two of New Orleans' oldest and most historically significant cemeteries, Lafayette No. 1 and St. Louis No. 1. Relive the romance, the tragedy, the memories of two centuries of New Orleans' history, brought to life by representatives of Save Our Cemeteries, Inc.


Lafayette Cemetery No. I is located in the historic Garden District. It is among the city's earliest and most significant aboveground burial sites. Once part of the Livaudais Plantation, Lafayette No. I was designated a city burial site in 1833, and has since been in continuous use. Distinguished by its intersecting avenues, designed to accommodate funeral processions, it was the city's first planned cemetery. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places by virtue of its significant history, location, and architectural importance, it retains its original size and configuration, and contains a variety of tomb types and styles.

Founded in 1789 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, St. Louis No. I is the burial ground of some of the most illustrious citizens of New Orleans, including Etienne Bore, pioneer in sugar development; Daniel Clark, financial supporter of the American Revolution; Paul Morphy, world famous chess champion; and other local and national figures. Notable structures include the famed oven wall vaults, the supposed resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, and the magnificent tombs of the French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish societies.

The Louisiana Superdome

Home of the New Orleans Saints, the NOKIA Sugar Bowl Classic, Tulane University Green Wave Football, the Bayou Classic and the NOKIA Sugar Bowl Prep Classic, the Superdome is recognized as a titan among sporting venues.

The stadium covers 13 acres and reaches 27 stories at its peak, 273 feet above street level. The Dome covers the world's largest steel-constructed room unobstructed by posts, and was the site of the world's largest indoor concert in 1981 when the Rolling Stones played to 87,500 fans.

The Louisiana Superdome has also hosted nine Super Bowls, more than any other facility of its kind.

In addition to hosting Superdome sporting events, the Dome excels in producing concerts, family shows, convention and trade shows, stage productions, exhibitions and nearly every type of mega-event. Non-sports activities account for 60 percent of the dates scheduled at the Dome.

PHOTO COURTESY OF New Orleans CVB and Richard Nowitz

A Sampling of New Orleans' Historic Homes:

  • Beauregard-Keyes House
    1113 Chartres Street
    Open Monday-Saturday, Guided tours on the hour from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens and students 504-523-7257

    Two famed personalities resided at this nineteenth-century Chartres Street raised cottage. Former Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard lived in the house for a period following the Civil War, and some of his family's furniture originally from the home is now on display. In the 1940s, novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes obtained the home and made it her winter residence for nearly a quarter-century. Many of her famous compositions, including Dinner at Antoines, were penned here. The home also features a magnificent landscaped courtyard showcasing an impressive variety of local flora.

One of the historic cemeteries with aboveground tombs. PHOTO COURTESY OF New Orleans CVB and Linda Reineke

  • Degas House
    2306 Esplanade Avenue
    By Appointment Only
    $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens, and $5 for children and students 504-821-5009

    This 1852 Esplanade Ridge Mansion was also a one-time home of French impressionist master Edgar Degas for two years in the 1870s. Degas painted over 20 works while residing at the home of his maternal relatives, the Musson family.

  • 1850 House
    523 St. Ann Street in the Lower Pontalba Building on Jackson Square Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
    $3 for adults, $2 for seniors, students and active military, and free for children 12 & under 800-568-6968 (toll-free)

    It was in 1850 that the Baroness Pontalba first opened the doors of the two magnificent rowhouse structures on what is now Jackson Square.

The streetcars have been a major avenue of public transit since 1835. PHOTO COURTESY OF New Orleans CVB and Carl Purcell

  • Herman-Grima and Gallier Houses
    820 St. Louis Street and 1118-1132 Royal Street Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. (last tour leaves at 3:30 p.m.) $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and young people 8-18, and free for children under 8 504-525-5661

    The Herman-Grima and Gallier Houses are two fully restored architectural masterpieces in the French Quarter. The Herman-Grima House recreates the gracious lifestyle of a prosperous Creole family in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, while the Gallier House was designed as a personal residence by one of the city's most renowned architects of the mid-1800s.

  • Madame John's Legacy
    632 Dumaine Street, one block off of Jackson Square Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
    $3 for adults, $2 for seniors, students and active military, and free for children 12 and under 800-568-6968 (toll-free)

The Louisiana Superdome. PHOTO COURTESY OF New Orleans CVB and Richard Nowitz

The oldest example of French Creole architecture in the Mississippi River Valley, dating to 1788, this Louisiana State Museum facility currently houses exhibits on the site's history, including artifacts from archaeological digs, and a display of contemporary regional folk art featuring works by Clementine Hunter and Sister Gertrude Morgan.

  • Pitot House
    1440 Moss Street, 504-482-0312
    Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (last tour at 2 p.m.) $5 adults, $4 seniors and students, $2 children under 12. Parties of 10 or more $3 per person

Located on Bayou St. John near City Park, this late-eighteenth century, West Indies-style plantation home was the country residence of the city's first American mayor, James Pitot, and is of a design not often found in the United States. The home also features various gardens, including ones growing varieties planted as cash crops in the 1840s.

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June 17, 2019, 8:33 am PDT

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