Storyville, New Orleans

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One of the few surviving buildings from Storyville, 2005 photograph. 100 years earlier, the "New Image Supermarket" building housed Frank Early's saloon, where Tony Jackson regularly played.

Created to regulate prostitution and drugs, Storyville was the red-light district of New Orleans, Louisiana from 1897 to 1917. Established by municipal ordinance under the New Orleans City Council, Alderman Sidney Story, a City Councilman, wrote guidelines and legislation to control prostitution within the city. Storyville did not legalize prostitution, but rather signified Storyville, a sixteen block area of the city, as the part of New Orleans that it was not illegal in. The area was originally referred to as The District, but its nickname Storyville soon caught on. It was bound by the streets of North Robertson, Iberville, Basin, and St. Louis and was found between the French Quarter and Interstate 10. It was located by a train station, making it a popular destination for travelers throughout the city, and became a centralized attraction in the heart of New Orleans. Although most of its remnants are no longer visible, the neighborhood lies in Faubourg Treme and presently, the land is utilized for housing projects.

History of Storyville[edit]

Though developed under the proposed title The District, the nickname Storyville was in reference to City Councilman Sidney Story, who wrote the legislation and guidelines to be followed within the proposed neighborhood limits. The thirty-eight block area was bounded by Iberville, Basin, St. Louis, and N. Robertson streets.[1] His vision came from port cities that legalized prostitution and was officially established on July 6, 1897. Most of this former district is now occupied by the Iberville Housing Projects, two blocks inland from the French Quarter.

The District was set up to limit prostitution to one area of town where authorities could monitor and regulate the practice. In the late 1890s, the New Orleans city government studied the legalized red light districts of northern German and Dutch ports and set up Storyville based on such models. Between 1895 and 1915, "blue books" were published in Storyville. These books were guides to prostitution for visitors to the district's services; they included house descriptions, prices, particular services, and the "stock" each house offered. The Storyville blue-books were inscribed with the motto: "Order of the Garter: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense (Shame to Him Who Evil Thinks)." It took some time for Storyville to gain recognition, but by 1900, Storyville was on its way to becoming New Orleans largest revenue center.

Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap "cribs" to more expensive houses, up to a row of elegant mansions along Basin Street for well-heeled customers. New Orleans' cribs were 50-cent joints, whereas the more expensive establishments could cost up to $10. Black and white brothels coexisted in Storyville; but black men were barred from legally purchasing services in either black or white brothels. Following the establishment of these brothels, restaurants and saloons began to open in Storyville, bringing in additional tourists.[2]

The District was adjacent to one of the main railway stations, where travelers arrived in the city. It became a noted attraction.

Jazz did not originate in Storyville, but it flourished there as in the rest of the city. Many out-of-town visitors first heard this style of music there before the music spread north.[3] Some outsiders continue to associate Storyville with the origins of jazz. It was tradition in the better Storyville establishments to hire a piano player and sometimes small bands. Famous musicians who got their start in Storyville include Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, and Pops Foster.

At the start of World War I, the Secretary of War, Newton Baker did not want to have troops to have unwanted and immoral distractions while deploying.[2] The Navy had troops located in New Orleans and the city was pressed to close Storyville. Prostitution was made illegal in 1917 and Storyville was used for the purpose of entertainment. Most of its buildings were later destroyed and in 1930, its location was used to create the Iberville housing projects.

The Blue Book[edit]

In the early 1900s, a Blue Book could be purchased for 25 cents. Blue Books were created for tourists and those unfamiliar with this area of New Orleans and contained, in alphabetical order, the names of all the prostitutes of Storyville. It also included, in a separate section, the addresses of these prostitutes and separated them based on race. Prostitutes were identified as white, black, or octoroon. Landladies would be identified in bold font and information about popular houses, including interior and exterior pictures, were included. Additionally, they included advertisements for national and local cigar makers, distillers, lawyers, restaurants, drugstores, and taxi companies. The fees for general or specific services at the listed brothels were not included.11.[4]

Blue Books could be purchased throughout the District in various barbershops, saloons, and railroad stations. Primarily they were sold on the corner of Basin Street and Canal Street.

The first Blue Book of Storyville was made between 1895 and 1896. However, it wasn’t until 1909 that the first well-known edition of the Blue Books was published. Billy Struve was the main producer in New Orleans. Struve, a manager of Tom Anderson, the “Mayor of Storyville”’s, saloon published these books on the second floor of Lulu White’s saloon on the corner of Basin Street and Bienville. About sixteen editions were made up until 1915. [5]

Mahogany Hall[edit]

Storyville contained a large variety brothels and parlors to satisfy the diverse visitors of New Orleans. Mahogany Hall was the most lavish whorehouse in Storyville, operated by Lulu White, an important business woman of the District. Mahogany Hall was an octoroon hall, employing prostitutes of mixed races. It was located at 235 Basin Street.[6]

Mahogany Hall employed roughly forty prostitutes. Popular women of Mahogany Hall included Victoria Hall, Emma Sears, Clara Miller, Estelle Russell, Sadie Reed and Sadie Levy. Lulu White advertised these women to have beautiful figures and a gift from nature, gaining a reputation for having the best women around.

Mahogany Hall was originally called the Hall of Mirrors and was built of solid marble and had a stained glass fan window over the entrance door. It had four floors, five different parlors, and fifteen bedrooms, with attached bathrooms. The rooms were furnished with chandeliers, potted ferns, and elegant furniture. The house was steam heated and each bathroom was supplied with hot and color water. The interiors of the rooms of Mahogany Hall filled the ads in Blue Books and other advertising pamphlets of the time period.

The Hall was forced to close down in 1917 following the closure of Storyville. Originally built for $40,000, it did not sell until 1929, when it sold for $11,000. The hall became a House for the Unemployed in the mid-1940s until 1949 when it was finally demolished. However, the significance of the Hall can be found in various museums and in jazz tune “Mahogany Hall Stomp” by Spencer Williams.[6]

Notable People Associated with Storyville[edit]

Advertising flyer for the jazz pianist Tony Jackson, ca. 1910

Alderman Sidney Story[edit]

Notably the Father of Storyville, Alderman Sidney Story, an American politician, wrote the legislation to set up the District, basing his proposals around other port cities that limited prostitution. Storyville became the nation’s only legal red-light district, due to Ordinance No. 13,032, which forbade any and all prostitution in New Orleans outside of a tightly defined district in 1897.[7] The original ordinance, written by Story, read:

From the first of October, 1897 it shall be unlawful for any public prostitute or woman notoriously abandoned to lewdness to occupy, inhabit, live or sleep in any house, room or closet without the following limits: South Side of Customhouse [Iberville] from Basin to Robertson street, east side of Robertson street from Customhouse to Saint Louis street, from Robertson to Basin street.[8]

Story’s vision allowed authority to regulate prostitution without technically legalizing it. [1]

Lulu White[edit]

Lulu White was one of the most famous madams in Storyville, running and maintaining Mahogany Hall. She employed 40 prostitutes and sustained a four-story building which housed 15 bedrooms and five parlors. She often found herself in trouble with the law for serving liquor without a license and was known to get violent when another intervened in her practice.[2] Her clients were the most prominent and wealthiest men in Louisiana and she is remembered for her glamour and jewels “which were like the ‘lights of the St. Louis Exposition’ just as reported in her promotional booklet”[9]

Prior to leaving New Orleans, White lost $150,000 in her investment schemes following the closure of Storyville.

Others[edit]

Music of Storyville[edit]

Jazz music was not created in Storyville but gave musicians the opportunity to perform in the saloons, brothels, dance clubs, and cribs of Storyville. At the creation of Storyville, black and white musicians were segregated. The red-light district first opened to Negroes and mulattos who brought their musical background with them. As time went on and white musicians started to enter Storyville, they seemed to share common influences with the black performers. The segregation slowly started to diminish, and sharing their common interest brought the races together.[10]

The owners of the brothels, saloons, and cribs would hire musicians to entertain the clients. These audiences tended to not be very critical, giving a great deal of freedom for performers to experience with their musical styles. Many different forms and genres of music were created from this freedom, combining different influences such as African, French, and contemporary. With the closing of Storyville in 1917, the New Orleans musicians who had relied on the district for employment moved elsewhere. Many of these musicians moved to the next major urban center of jazz, Chicago. Musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, flourished here.[11]

Closure[edit]

In 1908, a train-route connecting Canal and Basin Street was completed, centralizing the location of Storyville in New Orleans. This new train station was located one block from the District, leading to citizens’ groups protesting its continuance. Prostitutes, often naked, would wave to the train’s passengers from their balconies.[12]

At the beginning of World War I, it was ordered that a brothel could not be located within five miles of a military base. The US Navy, driven by a reformist attitude at home, prohibited soldiers from frequenting prostitutes, based on public health. In October 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker said:[13]

These boys are going to France. I want them adequately armed and clothed by their government; but I want them to have an invisible armor to take with them . . . a moral and intellectual armor for their protection overseas.

Aided by the campaigns of the American Social Hygiene Organization, and with army regulations that placed such institutes off limits, he implemented a national program to close so-called "segregated zones" close to Army training camps.[13]

In the early days of the war, four soldiers were killed within the District within weeks of each other. Both the Army and Navy subsequently demanded that Storyville be closed down, with the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels citing the district as a "bad influence".[14]

The New Orleans city government strongly protested against closing the district; New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman said, "You can make it illegal, but you can't make it unpopular."[13][15] He then ordered the District be shut down by midnight of November 14, 1917. After, separate black and white underground houses of prostitution were set up around the city.

The District continued in a more subdued state as an entertainment center through the 1920s, with various dance halls, cabarets and restaurants. Speakeasies, gambling joints and prostitution were also regularly found in the area despite repeated police raids. Prostitution was made illegal throughout the city in 1917.

Storyville Today[edit]

Almost all the buildings in the former District were demolished in the 1930s during the Great Depression for construction of public housing, known as the Iberville Projects. While much of the area contained old and decayed buildings, the old mansions along Basin Street, some of the finest structures in the city, were also leveled. The city government wanted to change the area by demolition and new construction. Basin Street was renamed "North Saratoga" (its historic name was restored some 20 years later).

Today there are three known buildings that still from the Storyville time period: Lulu White’s Saloon, Joe Victor’s Saloon, and Tark “Terry” Musa’s store, formerly known as the Early Saloon.

Another building that still stands is now known as the Dauphine Orleans Hotel. Located inside the hotel today is the French Quarter Bar, but during the time of the red-light district, it was a bordello known as May Baily’s Place. The bar is decorated in remembrance of Storyville with portraits of madams and Victorian décor. Guests visiting what used to be May Baily’s Place report hauntings and sightings of what appear to be Civil War Soldiers and their well dressed “ladies-of-the-evening”.[16]

The red-light district is now being recognized in a musical called Storyville. It is a tribute to the New Orleans area that nurtured jazz prior to its closure. The York Theatre Company is currently performing the musical, with the playwright written by Ed Bullins and the music and lyrics written by Mildred Kayden.[17]

Representation in Other Media[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Madam: A Novel of New Orleans'' by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin (Penguin/Plume, 2014)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Asbury, Herbert (1938). The French Quarter. 
  2. ^ a b c "1903: Storyville, New Orleans' red-light district". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved April 20, 2014. 
  3. ^ Rose, Al (1978). Storyville, New Orleans. 
  4. ^ “Storyville Blue Books.” Storyville New Orleans. Accessed May 1, 2014. http://www.storyvilledistrictnola.com/bluebook.html.
  5. ^ "Storyville Blue Books". Storyville District Nola. Retrieved May 1, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Jarrell, Corey. “Miss Lulu White & The Girls of Mahogany Hall.” Corey @ I’ll Keep You Posted. October 17, 2012. Accessed May 1, 2014. http://illkeepyouposted.typepad.com/ill_keep_you_posted/2012/10/miss-lulu-white-.html.
  7. ^ Powell, Eric A. (November–December 2002). "Tales from Storyville". Archaeology 55 (6). Retrieved April 21, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Storyville". Knowla.org. Retrieved April 19, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Women of Storyville". Storyville District Nola. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Jazz Comes to Life". WM Edu. Retrieved April 12, 2014. 
  11. ^ Brister, Nancy.“Storyville and the Birth of Jazz.” Old New Orleans. Accessed April 30, 2014. http://www.old-new-orleans.com/NO_Storyville.html.
  12. ^ Landau, Emily. "Storyville." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published January 27, 2011. http://www.knowla.org/entry/739/
  13. ^ a b c Fred D. Baldwin. "No Sex, Please, We’re American". History Channel. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  14. ^ Stanonis, Anthony. (1997). "An Old House in the Quarter: Vice in the Vieux Carré of the 1930s", 1996, Loyola University New Orleans History Writing Award.
  15. ^ Williams, Thomas Harry (October 12, 1969). Huey Long. Knopf. p. 135. ISBN 978-0394429540. 
  16. ^ "Historic and Haunted French Quarter". Dauphine Orleans Hotel. Retrieved April 19, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Storyville Today". The Advocate. 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2014. 
  18. ^ John Ed Bradley, "The Talented Mr. Toye" Garden & Gun (April/May 2010). Retrieved June 13, 2011
  19. ^ Ruth Laney, "FBI Investigates Fake Clementine Hunter Paintings" Maine Antique Digest (February 2010). Retrieved June 13, 2010

Coordinates: 29°57′32.69″N 90°04′25.73″W / 29.9590806°N 90.0738139°W / 29.9590806; -90.0738139