New Orleans' Spanish French Quarter: Background information when reading Empire of Sin

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Empire of Sin

A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans

by Gary Krist

Empire of Sin by Gary Krist X
Empire of Sin by Gary Krist
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 432 pages
    Jun 2015, 432 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

New Orleans' Spanish French Quarter

This article relates to Empire of Sin

Print Review

Nestled on page 69 of Empire of Sin is a surprising blink-and-you-might-miss-it sentence in parentheses: "Spain did, however, rebuild much of the central city after two devastating fires, which is why the architecture of the French Quarter is actually Spanish."

St. Louis CathedralIn 1718, John Law, a Scottish financier who had established a private bank in France two years earlier, established a "burg" at France's request to be called New Orleans. Jean Baptiste Bienville, a French Canadian naval officer who was also the governor for Law's Company of the Indies, created a military-style grid of seventy squares that would become the French Quarter. Of the original French Quarter, the layout of the streets and central square remain, as well as the charity hospital, Ursuline Convent, St. Louis cathedral, and street names such as Bourbon.

In 1762, at the end of the French and Indian War, King Louis XV secretly gave control of western Louisiana and New Orleans to his cousin, King Carlos III of Spain. Spain didn't do much with the territory, sending few colonists over, but two enormous fires in 1788 and 1794 sealed their contribution to the city, when almost all of the French Quarter burned down. Spanish architecture was introduced in the rebuilding process, which included walled courtyards, wrought-iron balconies, a few stately mansions, residences built close together with narrow passageways between them, and building codes requiring brick, tile and slate. Madame John's Legacy, built in 1789, is the oldest surviving residence in New Orleans, with the style of a Creole Plantation House and a raised veranda.

Spanish architectureCotton and sugar helped the French Quarter rise to immense prosperity in 1830. New Orleans became a booming city, and the French Quarter was the center of banking and the retail trade. Bourbon Street was hailed as one of the most fashionable streets in the city, owing to elegant mansions lining its route. But in the 1840s, Americans who had established themselves across Canal Street in 1803 began winning their rivalry with the French/Creoles, leading to the decline of the French Quarter, as major stores moved to Canal Street, and the Garden District became more widely regarded than Bourbon Street.

Bourbon StreetThen, the state-sanctioned Vieux Carré (the French Quarter's actual name) Commission roared to life in 1936, dedicated to preserving the French Quarter's unique character. And in the 1950s the commission succeeded in securing it "National Historic Landmark" status. The preservation battle still goes on, as tourism triggers commercial development; and artists, writers and the original Italian, Sicilian, and French families leave the French Quarter because of rising costs.

St. Louis Cathedral, courtesy of Sami99tr
Typical spanish architecture in the French Quarter, courtesy of
Bourbon Street, courtesy of Jan Kronsell

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to Empire of Sin. It originally ran in November 2014 and has been updated for the June 2015 paperback edition.

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