Today’s Vieux Carré, also known as the French Quarter, is home to more than 4,000 residents, many of whom walk to work in the neighborhood or in the nearby Central Business District. It’s also the center of wellestablished and prominent citizen associations, home to one of the city’s best public schools, and the site of the oldest community theater and the oldest cathedral in the country.
Hollywood celebrities and software magnates have joined the residential mix, keeping the glamour up-to-date, but it’s the year-round local residents who keep the neighborhood vibrant. It’s a community that welcomes newcomers and where residents take the time to visit with neighbors on the street. Most “Quarterites” couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Intimate but anonymous, New Orleans’ oldest neighborhood has exerted a spell over writers and artists since the time of Mark Twain, Lafcadio Hearn and John James Audubon. By the 1930s, however, this once proud neighborhood of aristocratic Creoles had become an impoverished slum, and many called for its demolition. Instead, local activists fought for, and won, establishment of the Vieux Carré local historic district in 1936. Exterior changes to buildings are now governed by the Vieux Carré Commission, a city agency charged with ensuring the Quarter’s historic character.
French Quarter architecture is a mix of Spanish, French, Creole and American styles. Plastered walls and single chimneys reflect fire laws enacted after fire virtually destroyed the city in 1788 and 1794, while walled courtyardsâ“perfect for French Quarter partiesâ“are a gift of the Spanish influence. Cast iron balconies were added to many masonry buildings after 1850, when the Baroness Pontalba included them on her fashionable row houses near Jackson Square. These lacy galleries, along with plentiful stoops and porches on younger buildings, make the Quarter a great place for people-watching and every kind of person imaginable can be spotted on the sidewalks of the Quarter.