Okay. Here we go. This might by the start of the “project.” Or, it might not. It might just be that too much has been lost in the fog of history. I’ll tell you what I know.
With a clarification.
I discover things. Usually after most people have known about them for years. Many years. This is one of those times.
This is the Club Desire. Or, at least what’s left of it. I’ve been doing some digging. I won’t call it research. Research would be too strong of a word. If you recall, I published a picture very similar to the top photo, a couple of days ago. I “discovered” this place when I was chasing after a second line parade a few weeks ago. You know the saying, “The thing you seek is seeking you.” Yeah, well…
I went back. I was photographing around when a woman was passing by on her way home. We started talking. I learned about this place. This is a musical landmark. Before I get into some of its history as I know it today, let me just say this place is decaying quickly. As late as about four or five years ago, the interior that you see in picture three was pretty intact. It withstood the double floods of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In fact, the interior may have been somewhat intact as late as 2012 where I found pictures of it on a blog called design wheel creative studio. They did a long multimedia piece entitled “A Street Named Desire.” They trace the street from the Mississippi River in The Bywater to Florida Street and Club Desire. This place.
This place. Indeed.
It was called “The Downtown Club with Uptown Ideas.” It was part of a long string of nightclubs and dive music bars loosely knows as “the chitlin'” circuit.” Or, maybe not. The “Chitlin’ Circuit’s” New Orleans stroll — the street where most of these places were grouped together — was on Rampart Street. This is a long way from there. I could go on about the route the circuit took and what it really meant, but that’s a story for a book. That’s been written very well by a journalist called Preston Lauterbach.
Let me tell you what I know about this place. It was one of the clubs, built in the early 1940s, that gave birth to rock n’ roll. After The Hideaway Club was closed and torn down to make way from some housing projects, Fats Domino pretty much made this his home club. Memphis Slim played here. Billie Holliday played here, Louis Armstrong played here. Ray Charles played here. This may have been one of the local clubs that actually gave birth to Ray Charles we remember today.
At one time, according to the woman who I talked with, this place had everything in it. It had a coffee shop. There was a small restaurant inside. Obviously, it had good-sized stage and it had a small hotel upstairs that was mostly for the touring musicians. You can guess why. No. Not that. These guys played in the Jim Crow South. Segregation. Whites only hotels. And, once they got out to this place it was hard to get back in town. Even though Desire Street is in town. It closed in the 1970s.
There’s a lot more. But, I think that’s enough for today. This blog is supposed to be about pictures. And, their back stories. At least that’s what the tagline says. I guess what I’ve written is a back story. Or, maybe the pictures are. Hard to know.
I’ll show you more as I work in the neighborhood. After all, “The Streetcar Named Desire” was named after this place. There were big housing projects in short walking distance. There was a Superfund dump site located a few blocks away. Just across the street is the remains of a gas station. It’s a mix of heavy industry and what used to be truck farms that were homes pre-storm. There was a big Black Panthers v NOPD shootout here. Many homes have come back. Some have not. Some are stilling coming back.