The smell hits you blocks away from Bourbon Street’s famous bars. Open drug use, crime, graffiti and trash are pervasive in the French Quarter, turning the city’s crown jewel into a tarnished trinket. The one aspect of the Vieux Carré that still shines is its historic architecture.
That asset must be vigorously protected, and we appreciate the opportunity to work with District C Council member Freddie King III, who has pledged to rewrite an ordinance he drafted that would have stopped for one year the prosecution of any violation cited by the Vieux Carré Commission, a state-enabled agency enshrined in the Louisiana Constitution. King attended a town hall meeting at the Preservation Resource Center on May 22, where he listened to hundreds of constituents, who stressed the importance of preserving the French Quarter.
As residents and business owners there struggle to operate amidst high crime and filth in the neighborhood, we understand the frustration when faced with bureaucracy for simple procedures, such as repainting a building. But, as King acknowledged, the Vieux Carré Commission doesn’t have the jurisdiction or responsibility for tackling those quality-of-life problems. What it does do is ensure the historic architectural integrity of the neighborhood so that it is preserved for all New Orleanians to enjoy.
The Vieux Carré Commission was established during a similar time of high crime and struggle in the French Quarter. In the 1920s, the historic architecture — much of which was already more than a century old by then — was decaying. With few solutions for fighting blight and scared by some high-profile demolitions in the area, a group of determined city residents gathered together to urge the city to establish the Vieux Carré Commission to protect the only intact French and Spanish Colonial settlement remaining in this country.
This effort was passed by voters statewide as an amendment to the Louisiana Constitution in 1936. Importantly, that amendment established into law not only the protection of the Quarter’s buildings, but also its tout ensemble, in other words, the character of the entire neighborhood.
The concept of the tout ensemble was underscored in the landmark case City of New Orleans vs. Pergament, decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The judges ruled that, “The purpose of the ordinance is not only to preserve the old buildings themselves, but to preserve the antiquity of the whole French and Spanish quarter, the tout ensemble, so to speak, by defending this relic.” Tout ensemble — which means, literally, “all together” — is recognized nationwide as a term for preserving the whole of a neighborhood.
Can you imagine what the tout ensemble of the French Quarter would be without the Vieux Carré Commission in place to preserve it? Preservationists look forward to having a seat at the table as King rewrites his ordinance, to ensure that solutions to the neighborhood’s problems can be identified without sacrificing its architectural protections.
Danielle Del Sol
Executive Director of the Preservation Resource Center
Executive Director of the Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents & Associates
Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans (PRC) preserves New Orleans’ historic architecture, neighborhoods and cultural identity through collaboration, empowerment and service to our community. Founded in 1974, PRC is a non-profit organization that has restored more than 1,500 properties citywide and has assisted countless individuals with their own renovation efforts through its programs. PRC provides resources and education to convey the economic, cultural and aesthetic importance of historic architecture in New Orleans and throughout the world. For more information about PRC and its revitalization efforts, call 504.581.7032 or visit www.prcno.org. Connect with PRC on Facebook; Twitter and Instagram.