The Classic Revival mansions and charming cottages of the Garden District are famous around the world, thanks to picture books and well-organized tours. What visitors rarely see, though, is the close-knit neighborhood that keeps this historic district alive and thriving. Neighbors here know and look out for one another. They expect to see familiar faces as they jog under the oaks near Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the early morning or when they take the dog for a ramble down Prytania Street at dusk. The same faces will likely crop up in the coffee shop or bookstore at The Rink, a neighborhood shopping arcade, or at one of the neighborhood restaurants along Magazine Street. Garden District residents can even call world-famous Commander’s Palace a neighborhood eatery.
The restaurant annually hosts the Garden District Association’s “Fall Affair” to raise funds for neighborhood projects. Settled by American businessmen, most of them “Yankees” eager to escape the Creole-dominated politics of New Orleans, the Garden District was laid out in 1832 and incorporated as the City of Lafayette in 1834. Cotton brokers, shipping agents and financiers built fortunes in theboom years leading up to the Civil War, then established their families in elegant yet restrained houses on the new city’s spacious lots. By the time New Orleans annexed the area as the fourth district of the city in 1852, travel writers had already dubbed it the “Garden District” for its capacious, showy gardens. A small group of favored architects, including Henry Howard, Lewis E. Reynolds and William Freret, won numerous commissions here, while other builders followed their lead and consulted the same pattern books.
Today’s Garden District is a dynamic community grounded in a strong sense of tradition. Some of its homes are still known by the names of the families that built them over a century ago, and official flags designating Mardi Gras royalty are a common sight here during Carnival season. At the same time, the area has met modern challenges by organizing for zoning and security measures to protect the neighborhood’s environment and buildings. In 1939 residents formed the Garden District Association, now a formidable force for preservation of the residential integrity of the area. A Garden District selftaxing district established in 1998 provides the neighborhood with extra security.