The French Quarter, also known as Vieux Carré, is the oldest and most famous neighborhood in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. When La Nouvelle Orléans ("New Orleans" in French) was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the city was originally centered on the French Quarter, or the Vieux Carré ("Old Square" in French) as it was known then. While the area is still referred to as the Vieux Carré by some, it is more commonly known as the French Quarter today, or simply "The Quarter. 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 Quarter is subdistrict of the French Quarter/CBD Area.
The National Historic Landmark district is stated to be 85 square blocks.
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.
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 (GPS +29.95748 -090.06310 ). 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.
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.