This is a bit from a recent Richard Campanella article about the history of Duncan Plaza. Supposedly everything is in line to build the new City Hall there. I'm still not clear on how much, if any, of the public green space will be preserved in the process. An acute hostility toward the homeless has local leadership exhibiting a nasty tendency to close off as much public space as possible these days. But we'll see.
Campanella's article focuses on Duncan Plaza but it is really about the surrounding neighborhood too. The "backatown" area of interest in this case extends, roughly, from S Rampart to Claiborne and from Tulane Ave to where the Superdome is now. Prior to the 20th Century, this was barely a neighborhood at all. It was only after the development of the modern drainage system that it began to take shape. Campanella tells a little bit of that story here.
Yet as the city grew, the area became densely populated, mostly on account of its proximity to the urban core, and also because mechanized drainage had partially drawn down swampwaters, allowing development to extend further inland.
By the mid-to-late 1800s, the area became part of the 3rd Ward, though locals continued to call it the back-of-town, among them Louis Armstrong, who grew up here. Later in life, Armstrong recollected how “the neighborhood was consisted of Negroes, Jewish people and lots of Chinese, (who) moved into a little section of their own and called it China Town,” now 1100 Tulane Avenue. Others dubbed the area “the Battleground,” though it would later become appreciated for its key role in the development of jazz and other cultural contributions.
Wary of the neighborhood, the city in the early 1890s selected the block adjacent to today’s Duncan Plaza for a new criminal courthouse, police station, parish prison and morgue. In 1893, workers completed construction of the fortresslike compound on South Saratoga Street, marking an early attempt to use this area to centralize governmental functions.
Throughout the early 1900s, this area ranked among the most diverse and spirited parts of the city, with such landmarks as the Knights of Pythias Temple, said to be the largest Black-owned building in the nation, and the South Rampart corridor, known as “the Harlem of New Orleans” for its rich cultural life.
Anyway as many people know, the historical character of the neighborhood is greatly diminished now. Its few remaining exemplars, the jazz history landmarks on Rampart are falling apart. Much of it is surface parking. Some of that was turned into the "South Market" condos where nobody lives. And, of course, the Plaza Tower is there. Nobody lives there either. Or if they do, they'd better look out.
The city is currently in litigation with the building's owner. Earlier this month, Jaeger's company sued the city after an administrative law judge agreed to assess $180,000 in allegedly lost parking revenue due to street closures near the skyscraper. Anthony Davis, who recently became the city's new director of Code Enforcement, said the city is moving ahead with securing a demolition contract now, "so we’re not waiting around to see what the result of the litigation is going to be — we’re ready to go."
Jaeger has received the heftiest fine levied by code enforcement so far since its new crackdown began — $220,000 for 11 violations, on top of the fine for lost parking revenue. In September, Jaeger attorney Mike Sherman said that the building had been under contract to an undisclosed investor since early August.
In an email, Jaeger said that the city's comments about demolition create an additional challenge for the sale of the property and "send the wrong message."
Jaeger said the buyer is still hoping to move forward with the purchase but is facing financing challenges.
"If demolished, I believe the sites will become a surface parking lot and it is highly unlikely that those sites will ever be developed," he wrote, referring to Plaza Tower and another property he owns on the dirty dozen list, the Canal Street Hotel. He said that the Plaza Tower has been secured with netting at a cost of $1.5 million.
Anyway, as we've noted many times now, the Twentieth Century is over. And there's a feeling that the little world we made out of the swamps is returning there soon.