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Arts & Culture

“Down in the Treme”

Canal Street at Basin and Rampart Streets, 1952

The popular new HBO series, “Treme” just wrapped up its first season, to a good bit of critical acclaim.  The show’s homebase, Faubourg Treme, is the neighborhood just north of the Quarter. A lot of action does happen in “The Treme,” but the show goes all over town, following the characters through their lives.

Map showing the train station and Treme, 1920

Faubourg Treme was defined in many ways by transportation. The old Carondelet Canal, which tied the Quarter to Bayou St. John and then Lake Pontchartrain, terminated with a turning basin at Basin Street. After the old canal was filled in and the New Basin Canal took over the water-connection, the railroad moved in. Railroad tracks ran down the Lafitte Corridor to Basin Street, where a passenger station was constructed at Canal and Basin.

The Southern Railway passenger terminal, Canal and Basin Streets

From 1910 until it was demolished in 1954, the Southern Railway terminal was the arrival point for many a visitor to the city. Crossing the lake on the train bridge near what is now Interstate 10, trains ran through Gentilly, down the Lafitte Corridor, then pulled into the terminal on Basin Street. Visitors would get off the train with Treme on one side and the Quarter on the other.

Storyville, looking out from the train station

Faubourg Treme was the site of an interesting social experiment in New Orleans from 1897 to 1917. One of the city’s aldermen, Sidney Story, proposed to create a district and limit prostitution in the city to that area. Story chose the part of Treme bounded by Iberville, Basin, St. Louis and Robertson streets.  The district became known as “Storyville.”

The photo above, “Down The Line” shows Storyville, looking out the back of the Southern Railway terminal, around 1915.  The buildings you see to the left of the station, on Basin Street, are the high-end brothels.  Since these brothels attracted a better-paying clientele, the owners would often hire bands to play in their downstairs drawing rooms.  Those bands began playing the music we now know as Jazz.

By the time of the entry of the US in WWI, however, Storyville became a problem for the city.  The Navy was moving a lot of soldiers and sailors through the port to Europe and the brothels proximity to the train station was an issue.  The city closed the establishments, eventually buying the land, demolishing the buildings and constructing a housing project there in the 1930s.  The Iberville projects remained until the storm and now the neighborhood is being refurbished/rebuilt to resume its role as affordable housing.

In the 1990s, middle-class New Orleanians began to move into and “gentrify” Treme.  Folks who work in the CBD and the Quarter found Treme to possess a lot of potential.  While it’s been a struggle for them to pull the neighborhood up by its bootstraps, they’re a strong and vocal community. The housing project remains closed as it’s being re-developed.  Krauss’ department store, visible in the top photo, is being converted into a condo development.  More middle-class folks have moved into Faubourg Treme, as the area is rising from the ashes, hopefully to rival its days “Down The Line.”

Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, and Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, both books in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.

Author of five books on the history of New Orleans, Edward Branley is a graduate of Brother Martin High School and the University of New Orleans. Edward writes, teaches, and does speaking engagements on local history to groups in and around New Orleans. His urban fantasy novel, "Hidden Talents," is available online and in bookstores. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, @NOLAHistoryGuy.

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