A glance at ongoing and upcoming Canal Street redevelopment projects
This story, originally written by Danielle Del Sol, first appeared in Preservation in Print in October 2019.
I didn’t grow up in New Orleans, so I didn’t personally experience Canal Street in its heyday. But even those of us who are too young or too new to the city to have seen Canal Street back then still understand the important role it has played in the city’s history.
For much of the 20th century, children would go with their parents and grandparents, in their Sunday best, to shop and stroll. They’d arrive via streetcar to the grand boulevard lined with historic three-, four- and five-story buildings, some constructed prior to the Civil War, others built around the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps they’d visit an office, go to a movie or see the dentist. During Mardi Gras, they’d crunch in massive crowds to see the parades. It was the city’s most prestigious and bustling commercial district before shopping malls and big box stores all but eradicated the Main Street concept.
Of course, Canal Street was not accessible to all. Much of its history was defined by segregation, making equal access to the street’s amenities impossible for African Americans. Its prominence and racist policies made Canal a prime location for demonstrations during the Civil Rights era. Hundreds of protests between 1960 and 1964 led to the adoption of an Integration Agreement by many of the street’s businesses; the rest acquiesced after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act required them to do so.