The Lower Garden District, as we know it today, was conceptualized in the early 19th century, by Barthelemy Lafon. Lafon was contracted by two plantation owners to draw plans for subdividing their property. His ambitious designs crossed the barriers of five plantations, up to Felicity Street, that were originally part of the larger plantation owned by New Orleans’ founder Bienville.
Barthelemy Lafon was a colorful character with a love for the classics. He named his streets after the nine muses of Greek mythology: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Euterpe, Polymnia, and Urania. A main street, Prytania, was to be the site of a great prytaneum. He had grand plans for basins, fountains, tree-lined canals, market places, and parks. Place du Tivoli (now Lee Circle), Coliseum Square (the intended site for a coliseum), and Annunciation Square (the intended site of a cathedral) were all part of his plan. Obviously not all of it came to be, but by the time of the Civil War, the subdivision was complete and many grand homes had been erected.
During the war, Union forces confiscated and occupied many homes in the area. After the war, residents returned to pick up the pieces and witness a flurry of construction.
An era of decline came in the 20th century, as “development” caused the destruction of houses and displacement of residents. Hard economic times and a lack of appreciation for historic buildings took their toll on this area. The construction of a new bridge across the Mississippi River in the 1950s, with its on-ramps and traffic congestion nearly destroyed the architectural, social, and cultural fiber of the neighborhood.
In the early 1970s, a few hardy individuals accepted the challenge… restore a home, and maybe restore a neighborhood… save the historic fabric of the area before the destruction is so great there’s nothing left to save. These preservationists – Camille & Duncan Strachan, Louis Costa, and Martha Ann Samuel – formed the Coliseum Square Association in 1972. Others soon followed, and as the revitalization took hold, more followed. Today, the Lower Garden District is a vibrant, thriving community, thanks to the hard work of all who came before and all who continue to accept the challenge.
The renaissance continues.