The grand address of the Creole upper class in the 19th century, Esplanade Avenue is a living gallery of 19th and early 20th century residential architecture. The oak-lined boulevard and surrounding neighborhoods, with proximity to both City Park and Bayou St. John and an excellent stock of historic housing, draw outdoor enthusiasts, families and singles. At the same time, the area’s association with The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is held each Spring in the nearby Fairgrounds, makes the Esplanade Ridge Historic District a favorite with artists, musicians, and music lovers.
Both the racetrack and the New Orleans Museum of Art are within walking distance, and public transit puts the downtown and uptown universities within easy reach. The shops and restaurants in the 3000 – 3200 blocks of Esplanade Ave. are a community haven to the residents. In 1822 City Surveyor Joseph Pilie mapped the “Esplanade Prolongment” along the high ground of the ancient Native American portage (where canoes had to be carried overground), but it would be years before the planned European-style boulevard connecting the Vieux Carré to the bayou would become a reality. Lawsuits and contentious landowners impeded its completion until the 1860s, when a trolley began providing regular transportation along its length.
Long before the street arrived, however, prominent New Orleanians were building country houses and manor homes along Bayou Road and on large parks dotted across the then-rural area that is now the historic district. Some enterprising plantation owners, meanwhile, built developments, or “faubourgs,” of their own between the bayou and the original city (now the Vieux Carré). The alignment of the streets in these separate faubourgs sometimes runs at odd angles to city streets like Esplanade and Ursulines, causing some irregularly shaped blocks. Demolition of landmark buildings and the construction of an elevated expressway through the area in the late 1960s drew a tough, determined group of residents together to fight for preservation. The Esplanade Ridge Historic District, comprised of the historic Faubourg St. John, Faubourg Pontchartrain and Tremé neighborhoods, was established through their efforts in 1980.
Strong residents’ organizations continue to police blighted housing and crime and to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood. They also give great parties, like the annual “Voodoo on the Bayou,” to support their community efforts and bring neighbors together. Residents rave about living here, and today it’s difficult for hopeful renovators to find blighted houses in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood.
Courtesy of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.