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Bourbon Street

A History

Richard Campanella

Publication Year: 2014

New Orleans is a city of many storied streets, but only one conjures up as much unbridled passion as it does fervent hatred, simultaneously polarizing the public while drawing millions of visitors a year. A fascinating investigation into the mile-long urban space that is Bourbon Street, Richard Campanella's comprehensive cultural history spans from the street's inception during the colonial period through three tu-multuous centuries, arriving at the world-famous entertainment strip of today.

Clearly written and carefully researched, Campanella's book interweaves world events -- from the Louisiana Purchase to World War II to Hurricane Katrina -- with local and national characters, ranging from presidents to showgirls, to explain how Bourbon Street became an intri-guing and singular artifact, uniquely informative of both New Orleans's history and American society.

While offering a captivating historical-geographical panorama of Bourbon Street, Campanella also presents a contemporary microview of the area, describing the population, architecture, and local economy, and shows how Bourbon Street operates on a typical night. The fate of these few blocks in the French Quarter is played out on a larger stage, however, as the internationally recognized brands that Bourbon Street merchants and the city of New Orleans strive to promote both clash with and complement each other.

An epic narrative detailing the influence of politics, money, race, sex, organized crime, and tourism, Bourbon Street: A History ultimately demonstrates that one of the most well-known addresses in North America is more than the epicenter of Mardi Gras; it serves as a battle-ground for a fund-amental dispute over cultural authenticity and commodification.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Hundreds of millions. That’s how many people, over the past two generations, have crammed themselves into a minor and rather middling artery in a secondary city on America’s Third Coast. They made it into one of the most famous streets in the nation, a brand that has diffused worldwide both nominally and phenomenologically, a metaphor in the English language, and the greatest sustained...

Part I: Origins

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1. A Straight Line in a Sinuous Space: Creating Rue Bourbon, 1682–1722

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pp. 3-16

There are no straight lines in nature. Nor are there any right angles. Rather, intricate arcs and fractures merge and bifurcate recurrently, like capillaries in a plant leaf or veins in an arm. Nowhere is this sinuous geometry more evident than in deltas, like that of the Mississippi River. Starting eighteen thousand years ago, warming global temperatures melted immense ice sheets across North...

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2. A Streetscape Emerges: Rue Bourbon and Calle Borbon, 1722–1803

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pp. 17-28

We stand at the intersection of Rue Bourbon and Rue Bienville in January 1732. Gazing southwestwardly, Rue Bourbon ends abruptly one block away, barricaded by an unimposing stockade lined with a loathsome moat “largely unfinished[,] only un pouce deep.”1 In the distant left is a smattering of “houses . . . built with wooded-front and mortar, whitewashed, wainscoted and latticed,” their...

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3. A Transect of Antebellum Society: Ethnicity, Race, Class, and Caste on Bourbon Street, 1803–1860

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pp. 29-44

Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans was officially incorporated as an American city with a government and legal status. Among the first orders of business: “a general survey of the inhabitants of this City and suburb.”1 Conducted by Matthew Flannery during May–August 1805, the enumeration determined that New Orleans and immediately adjacent areas had 8,475...

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4. A Smell So Unsavory: Managing Bourbon Street in the Mid-1800s

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pp. 45-53

New Orleans’s population, which doubled roughly every fifteen years throughout the early 1800s, exerted constant pressure on living space. Demand for new housing prompted a question in the minds of planters who owned agrarian land abutting the city: Can my plantation yield more profit by another season in agriculture or by subdivision for new homes? The closer the plantation lay to the inner...

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5. A Place to “See the Elephant”: Antecedents of Modern-Day Bourbon Street

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pp. 54-70

Collective memory benefits from an associated structural framework—that is, a place or object that evokes a mental image or recollection. As we individually cherish souvenirs and mementos to commemorate times past and loved ones lost, societies collectively save old buildings, erect monuments, name and rename streets, and protect historical cityscapes so that citizens may synchronize their...

Part II: Fame and Infamy

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6. How Bourbon Street Germinated: 1860s–1910s

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pp. 73-93

American cities changed after the Civil War, and New Orleans, its singularity notwithstanding, was no exception. The metropolis’s inner core, traditionally home to a wide range of classes and all three of the antebellum city’s social castes (free white, free people of color, and enslaved black), grew congested, industrialized, anonymous, raffish, and less appealing as a place to live. Prosperous families, many...

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7. How Bourbon Street Blossomed: 1910s–1920s

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pp. 94-104

When the Cosmopolitan Hotel opened on Royal and expanded onto Bourbon in 1892, it ushered in a new era of handsome high-rise hotels appealing to leisure travelers. The Grunewald opened the next year on Baronne near Canal, followed by the “million dollar[,] distinctly individual” Hotel De Soto (“Famous for its Creole Cuisine”) on Perdido in 1904 at the site of the old Pavillion concert...

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8. How Bourbon Street Flourished: Late 1920s–Mid-1940s

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pp. 105-140

In some ways, the “nightclub” represented the next in lineage after the concert saloons of the late 1800s. Both venues brought together entertainment and alcohol (legal or otherwise) in dark, stylized spaces scented with the possibility of sex. Unlike in concert saloons, however, an air of exclusivity circulated among nightclub patrons, constructed via fine attire, high prices, membership, a cover...

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9. How Bourbon Street Exploded: Late 1940s–Early 1960s

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pp. 141-200

The 1940s boom changed public opinion about the French Quarter. Previously most New Orleanians viewed the neighborhood as a quaint but shabby encumbrance to a city that needed to sanitize and modernize. Now they saw its iconic streetscapes and packageable fame as a mother lode waiting to be mined. If a modest-sized joint on The Street grossed $200 daily in summer and $800 to...

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10. How Bourbon Street Degenerated: Late 1960s–1970s

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pp. 201-221

Bourbon Street delocalized on a number of levels in the mid-1960s. Garrison’s raids flushed out the old-school nightclubs and Old World shenanigans, and a fair portion of the locals behind them. Federal civil rights legislation trumped local public accommodations laws, leading to the de jure desegregation of The Street. Working-class white neighbors fled for the suburbs, and in their stead...

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11. How Bourbon Street Stabilized: 1980s–Present

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pp. 222-250

The 1970s crisis, which everyone agreed marked The Street’s nadir, did not go unnoticed by New Orleans’s new chief executive. A progressive reformer with a strong civil rights record and a knack for modern urban planning, Mayor Moon Landrieu realized that the past administrations’ complicity with or insouciance toward the strip could not continue. Bourbon Street’s chronic problems had become...

Part III: Bourbon Street as a Social Artifact

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12. Locating Bourbon Street: Why Here?

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pp. 253-258

Bourbon Street happened when New Orleanians realized that their city’s “merry life,” as reported regularly in the nineteenth century by the likes of Henry Fearon, could be sold in the twentieth century to the traveling leisure class. It was forged into the marvelously lucrative perpetual gratification machine it is today through an ongoing civic wrestling match between enterprising plebian...

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13. Working Bourbon Street: How the Machine Runs

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pp. 259-282

More than 10 million people visited New Orleans in 2004. The numbers tumbled after Katrina but steadily recovered, and in 2012, 9 million visitors spent a record $6 billion despite a lingering recession. Roughly four-fifths of that transient humanity visits Bourbon Street; adding in local patronage, this equates to roughly 100 million people-hours and billions of potential dollars arriving into the...

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14. Challenging Bourbon Street: The Rise of the Anti-Bourbons

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pp. 283-291

In true capitalistic fashion, creative niches overlooked or underserved by Bourbon Street enticed entrepreneurs to compete with and drink from Bourbon’s beer. They gave rise to new places and spaces borne of the cultural negative space around Bourbon Street: the anti-Bourbons.
Jazz buffs who bristled at the nightly repertoire of tired standards, for example, found an alternative in a smattering...

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15. Hating Bourbon Street: On Iniquity and Inauthenticity

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pp. 292-303

Contemplating Bourbon Street as a social artifact creates an opportunity to peer back at the society that created this space. Mostly what we see is people who enjoy it, as a momentary indulgence if not a lifestyle, else they would not visit it by the millions, spend billions, and make it famous. Thousands more make a living there, and hundreds call it home. What we also see is people who hate Bourbon...

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16. Replicating Bourbon Street: Spatial and Linguistic Diffusion

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pp. 304-308

Perhaps the best evidence of Bourbon Street’s success is the fact that, like jazz, it has diffused worldwide. It’s a claim few other streets can make. As early as the 1950s, a nightclub named “Bourbon Street” operated in New York City, and apparently successfully, because in 1957 the Du Pont family formed a corporation to purchase it with plans to bring “Mambo City” entertainment to clubs named...

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17. Redeeming Bourbon Street: The Cheerful Defiance of Adversity

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pp. 309-312

Saturday evening, August 27, 2005, could have passed for a typical summer night on Bourbon Street. It had less than the normal weekend traffic but was still noisy, rambunctious, and open for business. Next morning, however, was different. The beer trucks didn’t arrive. No one hosed down the sidewalks. Plywood went up over doors and windows. Some rank-and-file Bourbonites, the type who live in the Bourbon...


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pp. 313-352


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pp. 353-368

E-ISBN-13: 9780807155066
E-ISBN-10: 0807155063
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807155059

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 33 halftones, 7 maps, 6 charts
Publication Year: 2014