Faubourg Tremé is a historically diverse neighborhood bordering the north side of the Vieux Carré across North Rampart Street. Named for Claude Joseph Tremé, the French plantation owner whose land comprised a portion of the original development, this culturally rich enclave of Creoles and free persons of color was officially laid out in 1812 and became home to some of the finest craftsmen, artisans, and musicians in New Orleans.¹ Over the course of the nineteenth century, Tremé grew dense with Creole and center-hall cottages, shotguns, shops, corner bars, and the large mid-nineteenth-century residences that wealthier French Creoles built along Esplanade Avenue.² Despite its vibrant African American culture and abundance of historic architecture, however, Tremé suffered numerous city-funded redevelopment projects in the twentieth century that slowly chipped away at the neighborhood’s building stock and jeopardized its sense of identity.
Major changes began in 1929, when the City cleared two blocks to the rear of Congo Square, a publicly owned open space in Tremé where enslaved Africans were intermittently permitted to gather on Sundays, and built the publicly funded Municipal Auditorium (1930).³ The $2.5 million project also included the demolition of Tremé’s public market (1839) in order to create a better approach to the auditorium.⁴ In 1941, several blocks were razed to construct the Lafitte public housing development. Many residents left, and the neighborhood began its slow decline into blight, poverty, and tenement living.⁵ Owner-occupied buildings gave way to slumlords.
By the 1960s, Tremé had become one of the poorest neighborhoods in New Orleans. During that decade, under the guise of urban renewal, the City severed the commercial heart of the neighborhood, Claiborne Avenue, with the construction of an I-10 elevated expressway, and appropriated a residential ten-block swath next to the Municipal Auditorium as the future site of an unspecified “cultural center project” that displaced over a thousand residents.⁶ Writing about the latter destruction, the authors of New Orleans Architecture, Volume VI: Faubourg Tremé and the Bayou Road observed that “more brick structures and historic buildings of quantity were demolished by this urban renewal project than remain on any similar number of squares in the area beyond N. Rampart….House-types and styles, like those considered worthy of National Register status in the Vieux Carré, were razed, along with 150 years of history.”⁷ At the time, the preservation community was consumed by the nationally publicized Riverfront Expressway battle, a proposed interstate construction project in the Vieux Carré that was ultimately canceled in 1969, and the destruction plans went largely unprotested.⁸ On the cleared land the City created Louis Armstrong Park, a gated, recreational green space named for the native jazz musician whose death that year was the project’s inspiration, and a Theater for the Performing Arts (1973), now known as Mahalia Jackson Theater.⁹ Only four historic properties within the park footprint were retained and renovated for use as a jazz-themed museum complex, which eventually came under National Park Service management. Armstrong Park was completed in 1980 at a cost of $10 million.¹⁰
These numerous intrusions and upheavals, however, have not destroyed historic Tremé. In 1969, three vocal residents—James Hayes, Ronald Chisom, and George Mitchell—founded the Tremé Community Improvement Association, and it is now one of several groups that fight for neighborhood rights.¹¹ In the 1970s, Tremé began to experience a renaissance. A number of dedicated individuals saw the value of its remaining building stock and invested in the community through architectural rehabilitations, tree plantings, and other beautification efforts. The Concerned Citizens for Neighborhood Improvement—Tremé was formed in 1978.¹² Twenty years later, in 1998, the Historic District Landmarks Commission designated Tremé as a local historic district, demonstrating that it continues to be a vital part of the city’s architectural history.¹³
1. Roulhac Toledano and Mary Louise Christovich, New Orleans Architecture, Volume VI: Faubourg Tremé and the Bayou Road (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1980), 16-17.
2. Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, “Tremé/Lafitte Neighborhood Snapshot,” April 27, 2005.
3. Toledano and Christovich, New Orleans Architecture, 65-66.
4. “New Orleans’ New $2,500,000 Municipal Auditorium,” The Times-Picayune, May 30, 1930; and “Progress Made Toward Building I. C. Terminal,” The Times-Picayune, February 8, 1930.
5. Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, “Tremé/Lafitte Neighborhood Snapshot.”
6. Toledano and Christovich, 66-71; and Richard and Marina Campanella, New Orleans Then and Now (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1999), 147.
7. Toledano and Christovich, 66.
8. Michael E. Crutcher, Tremé: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 64.
9. Toledano and Christovich, 68; and Emile Lafourcade, “Storm of Protests Brewing Over Armstrong Park Plans,” The Times-Picayune, August 12, 1973.
10. Kelly Tucker, “A Memorial to Satchmo,” The Times-Picayune, April 11, 1980.
11. J.E. Bourgoyne, "Treme Area Waiting Its Turn for Something Good to Happen," The Times-Picayune, June 23, 1974.
12. Adolf Bynum and June Rogers, “Tremé” (presentation, Bynum residence in coordination with Preservation Resource Center, New Orleans, March 10, 2014).
13. Historic District Landmarks Commission, “Treme Historic District.”
Suggestions for Additional Reading and Research
Cangelosi, Robert. “Which Way Tremé? An Architectural Terminal Project.” Master’s Thesis, Louisiana State University, 1975.
Evans, Freddi Williams. Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans. Lafayette: University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2011.
Logsdon, Dawn, and Lolis Eric Elie. Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. DVD. Berkeley: Serendipity Films, LLC, 2008.
Records of the Municipal Auditorium. City Archives, New Orleans Public Library.