Hispanic roots have long been intertwined in the history of New Orleans, dating as far back as the 18th century. Throughout the past 300 years, New Orleans has witnessed several influxes of Hispanic immigrants from around the world, welcoming people from Spain, Central and South America, and the Caribbean that ultimately helped create the cultural melting pot that has influenced and shaped the city’s food, music, architecture, and economy.
The historically significant impact that Hispanic people have made can be seen throughout the city – sometimes in the most unlikely places. We’ve uncovered some of the most noteworthy influences and sites to help you understand the city’s complex, yet fascinating history.
1. The French Quarter
It’s easy to associate New Orleans with the French. After all, the city’s oldest and most notable neighborhood is called The French Quarter, so this might seem counter-intuitive to see this as a Spanish site. However, aside from a handful of buildings that still stand today, The French Quarter is known for being the most architecturally Hispanic neighborhood in the country.
Two separate fires devastated the French Quarter while it was under Spanish control, destroying most of the buildings that were built by the French. The Great Fire of 1788 happened during Good Friday of that year, which prevented the serving priest of the time from being able to sound the church bells to warn the city of the spreading flames. Additionally, the colonial wood buildings and lack of fire walls between them essentially helped the flames spread and engulf over 800 buildings. The Spanish rebuilt the entire city with new fire codes that required buildings to be built out of brick and up to the street with enclosed central courtyards and alleyways between them. The structures built during that era still stand today, with sound engineering and architecture reflecting design that is ubiquitous in Spain.
2. The Cabildo and the Presbytère
St. Louis Cathedral is sandwiched in between two identical buildings known as the Cabildo and the Presbytère. They were built during the Spanish era and served as Spain’s administrative buildings in Louisiana. They still stand today as museums that pay homage to many significant events in Louisiana’s history. The Cabildo was the center of New Orleans government until 1853, when it became the headquarters of the Louisiana State Supreme Court, where the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision originated in 1892. The Presbytère, originally called Casa Curial or “Ecclesiastical House,” was built on the residence, or presbytère, of Capuchin monks. The building was originally used for commercial purposes until 1834 when it became a courthouse. It became part of the Louisiana State Museum in 1911.
3. The Central Business District/Faubourg Ste. Marie
One thing that resulted after the Great Fire was New Orleans’ first suburb – Faubourg Ste. Marie, presently known as The Central Business District. Many of the streets and sites in the CBD can also be attributed to the Spanish era. Magazine, for instance, was a result of a business deal between former Louisiana Governor Esteban Rodríguez Miró and General James Wilkinson of Kentucky. In a failed attempt to get a monopoly on the Mississippi River for his tobacco trade, Wilkinson was eventually given a facility in which he could store his inventory. His almazon, or magazin (Spanish for warehouse), was erected on a street that was named Calle de Almazon, and was later changed to Magazine Street by Americans. This was the beginning of what would eventually be the Warehouse District as commerce and trade continued to flourish in New Orleans.
4. The Port of New Orleans
Under Spanish rule, the city experienced an economic boom and became a major hub for trade and commerce after Spain signed Pickney’s Treaty in 1795. The agreement gave Americans navigation rights to the Mississippi River and The Port of New Orleans, which allowed trade and commerce along the inland region. The area witnessed unprecedented economic growth, and the Port is still ranked among one of the busiest ports in the nation today. Other economic impacts that the Spanish made to New Orleans was the addition of the Carondelet, which connected commerce and trade within the city, and the solidification of the sugar processing industry.
5. Spanish Plaza
Spanish Plaza, located along the Mississippi River, was a gift presented from Spain in 1976 to commemorate the history shared between the Spanish and New Orleans. The pedestrian plaza, which has a fountain surrounded by tiles with seals representing the 52 provinces of Spain, took over a decade to erect. Although the fountain was a gift, the $2.3 million price tab was split between New Orleans and Spain as a sign of goodwill. Today, Spanish Plaza is the scene for many events and concerts on the Riverfront and is still surrounded by retail – appropriately at the site of where trade and commerce began to explode during Spanish control in the late 1700s.