Tricentennial Reading List (New Orleans Streets) with Sally Asher (Part 1)

Sep 4, 2018

  •  Hope & New Orleans: A History of Crescent City Street Names, by Sally Asher
  • Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children, by John Churchill Chase
  • New Orleans Streets: A Walker’s Guide to Neighborhood Architecture, by R. Stephanie Bruno
  • Cityscapes, by Richard Campanella
  • Bourbon Street, by Richard Campanella
  • The Incomparable Magazine Street, by John Magill, photos by Margot Landen

Transcript:

Susan Larson: Sally, what are your favorite books about New Orleans Streets?

Sally Asher: There's so many. Most people consider the godfather of the street names, which is Frenchmen Desire Good Children- 

Susan: One of the best titles ever. 

Sally: - one of the best titles. What a lot of people don't know, though, that a lot of what he wrote was based on a series that Meigs Frost wrote, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, who would write about streets and before that, Stanley Clisby Arthur in old New Orleans wrote some brief chapter on the history of the street names. New Orleans street names have always been a fascination to everyone. Even back in antebellum times, I found newspapers out of town that would comment on the unusual names and how New Orleans bastardized the pronunciation of the names. 

The first and the foremost, John Churchill Chase, who was also a cartoonist and worked a lot with one of my favorite historians, Charles “Pie” Dufour, who also had a newspaper column and wrote a lot of books and is buried in St. Louis cemetery number three, he also has a street named after him, which is ironic because when they changed Front Street name to Convention Center Boulevard, as we know it today, John Churchill Chase was one who protested, saying that it was heresy to change street names. When he passed, we ended up changing one of the Muses' street names in his honor. It's a mixed blessing there. 

Susan: What were you looking for when you did your book, Hope & New Orleans? 

Sally: Basically, again, I like the stories. I want to hear more about the stories I know in the French Quarter, but the streets are divided by saints and they say bastards, which were Louis XIV's illegitimate children. Conti and Chartres, which were actually named after his daughters who married into that family, finding out exactly how scandal-ridden these street names are-- I mean, it's shocking to my-- 

[laughter] 

Sally: In Lawrence Powell's book, The Accidental City, he writes a lot about how New Orleans became the capital city for the colonies. One of his hypotheses is that when Pauger and Bienville had sent the map or Bienville had sent Pauger’s map and he labeled these streets, which was basically this grid of royal flattery, that must have helped. When I read that and I really started to study his children, who were extremely scandalous, I realized that that must have definitely helped it influence because polite society didn't really like them and now, we have streets that are honoring them. They might not be honored in other European cities. 

Susan: That have endured- [crosstalk] 

Sally: That have endured and going to the streets, especially the rebellion of 1768-- If you notice, there's a whole series of streets named after all their key players in that rebellion. You just drive down and you see this and it's just history washing over you wherever you walk, wherever you ride, wherever you drive. It's just a lovely, lovely reminder. It was very much a, somewhat, profound experience and made me very appreciative of the history of New Orleans and all its eccentricities and faults and foibles. 

Susan: We have a different relationship to streets than people in other cities, perhaps. I mean, I think of you-- I've seen you roll down St. Charles Avenue as a Big Easy Roller Girl. 

Sally: Camera on hand.

Susan: People take to the streets. 

Sally: Definitely. 

Susan: They really feel they own them. These are our streets.