This story appeared in the October/November issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
The 8th annual Tremé Fall Festival on Oct. 21 will feature local craft and food vendors, musical performances and a Second Line. Founded by the Friends of Tremé Culture, proceeds from the festival help cultural and musical groups remain active in the community, as well as provide funding for much-needed repairs for St. Augustine Catholic Church, the oldest African American Catholic parish active in the United States. Since the festival’s inception, more than $80,000 has been raised for cultural sites around Tremé, including St. Augustine Church.
Tremé Fall Fest is one of “the most culturally authentic festivals in New Orleans,” the Friends of Tremé Culture says on its website. “It is in the heart of the Tremé neighborhood. It is dedicated to public good.”
St. Augustine Catholic Church
1210 Governor Nicholls Street
Dedicated on Oct. 9, 1842
Formerly the site of Claude Tremé’s plantation, this church parish was founded by free people of color in 1841 and dedicated in 1842. St. Augustine has long been a center of cultural life in Tremé. Notably, the Jazz Masses that the congregation hosts each Sunday attract locals and visitors every week. On the church grounds is the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. This monument, depicting a large cross made of iron chains, was installed in 2004 and is dedicated to all those who lost their lives while enslaved.
The church has faced difficulties in the recent past, especially after Hurricane Katrina, when the archdiocese nearly closed St. Augustine. But parishioners rallied to keep the church open. Then, in 2021, the church was severely damaged by Hurricane Ida. Today, the historic building still needs repairs to the roof, the interior and exterior masonry, plasterwork, a new HVAC system and restoration of the cross on the steeple, which fell over after the hurricane. According to the church, Phase One of the Church and Rectory Restoration Plan is estimated to cost around $2.5 million, with Phase Two projected to cost a similar amount.
Backstreet Cultural Museum
1531 St. Philip St.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum moved to its current location in the summer of 2022. It hosts one of the largest collections in the world of items and memorabilia related to Mardi Gras Indians, the Skull and Bones Gang and other African American masking traditions. The museum also films and documents Carnival celebrations, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure club gatherings and other events. The Backstreet Cultural Museum was founded by the late Sylvester “Hawk” Francis in 1999 and originally was located in the garage of his home.
New Orleans African American Museum
1417-18 Governor Nicholls St.
The New Orleans African American Museum is dedicated to preserving the art, culture and history of African Americans in New Orleans, as well as those who are part of the greater African diaspora. Exhibits include all types of African American art. The museum opened in 1996 in the historic Meilleur-Goldwaite House, built in 1828 on Governor Nicholls Street. Recently, much of the campus has been undergoing renovations.
Former home of Straight University
1423 North Claiborne Ave.
This Greek Revival-Italianate house is the former Straight University Boarding House and Dining Hall, built between 1866 and 1871. It is the last remaining building associated with Straight University, one of the first African American universities in the state of Louisiana. The Preservation Resource Center acquired the building and conducted an extensive renovation, sparing the formerly blighted house from demolition. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Straight University was founded in 1869 to provide higher education for African Americans after emancipation. It later joined with other institutions to become today’s Dillard University.
2306 Esplanade Ave.
This Italianate house was the home of famed French impressionist painter Edgar Degas, who lived here from 1872 to 1873 and completed 18 paintings during his time in New Orleans. The home is included in the French Ministry of Culture’s list of Maisons des Illustres or Houses of the Illustrious. Out of the 236 homes on the list, the Degas House is just one of four not within France and one of only two within the United States. In December 2022, President of France Emanuel Macron stopped for a lengthy visit at the house during his trip to New Orleans. In addition to being a bed and breakfast, the Degas House also runs tours and has a small museum on site.
Information from the Preservation Resource Center’s free walking tour brochures. Explore more.