Post-Mardi Gras respite in Algiers Point

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Louis Armstrong statue in Algiers

New Orleans is once again sobering up from the Mardi Gras madness. According to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, “to put it simply, Mardi Gras 2012 rocked.” With 97% hotel occupation rate and busy restaurants and businesses, that’s great news for the city still in the post-Katrina recovery. But those who are leaving NOLA (no doubt with a killer headache) right after Mardi Gras are missing out on some great places to explore beyond the French Quarter. One of those places is Algiers Point.

Anybody gazing across the Mighty Mississippi from Jackson Square has seen it on the other bank. Located directly on the other side of the river bend, Algiers Point is the second oldest neighborhood in the city and used to be a separate settlement until incorporation into New Orleans in 1840. All it takes to get there is just a short ferry ride – the same one featured in Denzel Washington’s 2006 movie Déjà Vu, nota bene the first major film to be shot in the city after its hurricane devastation. No worries, despite what you see in the opening scene the passage is quite safe =)

Crossing the Mississippi provides a whole new perspective on New Orleans. The familiar landmark of St. Louis Cathedral looks remarkable from the water, getting smaller and smaller as the ferry inches toward the Algiers shore. Algiers Point, the oldest part of the Algiers neighborhood, greets visitors with the stature of Louis Armstrong – and the atmosphere of a 19th century village, which can be a welcome respite from Bourbon Street’s din and debauchery.

Crossing the Mississippi to Algiers

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Algiers Point is a quiet, mostly residential neighborhood with an amazing stock of historic shotgun houses. These narrow (usually no more than 12 feet) rectangular dwellings are essentially a Southern equivalent of the Northeast’s row house, designed for the same reason: to maximize the use small urban lots. Most shotgun houses have a wood frame and siding and consist of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways.

Algiers Point shotgun house

There are several theories as to where their name “shotgun” comes from but my favorite explanation is that if you open all the doors in the house and fire a shotgun the pellet would pass cleanly from one end to the other without damaging anything in the house. The style most likely became popularized by the influx of Haitians in the early 19th century and continued in different architectural variations for decades.

Pretty in pink

“Camelback” shotgun houses, for instance, have a partial second floor – or the humpback – over the rear of the house. The reason for this peculiar design, as it often does, had to do with taxation rules. Because the second story was only partial, the city still taxed such houses as single-story.

Camelback shotgun house

Built extensively between the end of the Civil War and 1920s, after WWII many shotgun houses became dilapidated and were razed as part of various urban renewal plans, as city centers emptied for the suburbs. That makes all the colorful shotgun houses preserved in Algiers so remarkable. But there is more to see on a stroll along the neighborhood streets. For one, Holy Name Of Mary Catholic Church (500 Eliza Street), founded in 1848 the first Catholic parish in Algiers, surprises with its imposing structure in the midst of not-so-tall neighborhood. The present Gothic revival structure was built 1929 after the original wood-framed one deteriorated and was irreparably damaged by the hurricane.

Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church

A grassy lawn surrounding the church is a perfect place to take a break and breathe in the calm air of Algiers Point before heading back across the river. If you recovered enough for another beer, you can always linger at Crown and Anchor and a number of other super-friendly neighborhood bars. Sit back, relax, and enjoy…

And here is something to get you in the mood – groovy Algiers Stomp played by New Orleans’ legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band:

5 responses »

  1. Pingback: Charming Charleston | Sandstone and amber

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