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A History of Uptown New Orleans

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St. Charles Avenue Streetcar

St. Charles Avenue Streetcar

Sharon Keating

The Americans Come With the Louisiana Purchase:

The St. Charles Streetcar, which begins its run at the American side of Canal Street, goes around a landscaped circular park called Lee Circle, for the general whose statue stands determinedly there. Conceived as the Tivoli Circle, it was originally part of a classical arts portion of town that was to include a Coliseum-like theater. This district was never completed, but the nearby Coliseum Square, and the streets such as Clio and Euterpe, named for classical muses, bespeak the wistful nature of the architect’s dream.

Commerce of the New World Builds New Orleans:

Continuing to move upriver, the Americans built grandiose mansions with large gardens on the subdivided Livaudais Plantation, now known familiarly as the Garden District. These homes of those wealthy merchants still impress today. Tours regularly stop at the mansion of Colonel Robert Short to admire the intricacy of the famous “Cornstalk Fence.” Emile Commander established a restaurant catering to the area residents in the City of Lafayette; the City became part of New Orleans in 1852, and today this restaurant is the world-renowned Commander’s Palace, a dining destination not to be missed. Across the street from Commander’s is the Lafayette Cemetery, where films requiring a graveyard scene are regularly filmed.

The Clash Between the Creoles and the Americans Continues:

The beauty and elegance that is evoked by the name “Garden District” belies the origin of the name. When the Americans began to build these majestic homes, the Creoles were appalled and extremely critical. To a Creole such an ostentatious display of wealth was proof that the Americans were without class. To put a garden in front for viewing by the public was tantamount to bathing in one’s front yard. When the Creoles nicknamed the area the “Garden District,” it was not complementary.

A Ride on the Streetcar is a Ride Through History:

The St. Charles Streetcar continues down the avenue for which it is named, and passes some of the most elaborate homes in the state. There is the “Wedding Cake” mansion, named because of its layers of intricate plaster decorating the facade; the Van Benthuysen-Elms Mansion, built in 1869 for Confederate officer Capt. Watson Van Benthuysen, a relative of Jefferson Davis; a replica of Tara; and the elegant Columns Hotel, to name just a few. Tulane and Loyola Universities are near the end of the Avenue, across from Audubon Park and the Audubon Zoo. The streetcar ends at Carrollton Avenue, in the Old City of Carrollton, then turns around and begins its journey back. The visitor may choose to return to Canal Street via Magazine Street, which has become a European-flavored shopping destination with its shops, galleries, and cafes. This six-mile long “street of dreams” as it is called runs through Audubon Park, Uptown, the Garden District, and the American Sector.

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