nother day. Another block. Another time. Another house.
This is a place that I know for certain was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. I’ve watched it over the years. It follows the laws of nature with the overgrowth. In the winter, such as it is in the Gulf Coast, you can see more of the house as the vines and plants die and turn into branches.
In mid-to-late summer the house looks as you see it. Overgrown and almost beautiful in its ruined state.
Even though I’ve photographed and watched this house over the years, I have no idea what happened to the residents. If a house is still standing over the years, it usually means that the person who lived there moved on, either in this world or in the next.
If the move was made in this world, it means the owner doesn’t have the money to restore it.
The owner’s family usually comes into play if the owner passed on. If that’s the case a potential buyer has to jump through the usual New Orleans hoops in order to find the past owner and line of succession. Even then, the past owner might not really be the owner, but the child of the past resident who may be the child of an even older relative. And, so on.
This house was probably built in the late 1800s to the very early 1900s. If the house was passed on without a deed transfer buying this house could prove to be lost impossible.
That’s why there are so many derelict houses in New Orleans.
talk a lot about nature just wanting stasis. This is a great example of that. The house was damaged during Katrina. The doors and windows are boarded up.
That didn’t stop nature from retaking that little piece of land.
Maybe one day the owner will return or there will be a new owner. They’ll start removing the new growth only to find out that by doing that the house was weakened, often beyond repair.
Yep. That’s nature.
And speaking of nature, her virulent cousin Covid-19 came into play yesterday. Jazzfest was cancelled for the third time in two years.
That leaves musicians, support crew and staffs as well as artists and cooks without work. Some of those people make most of their years bank during the two weeks of Jazzfest.
This hurts hotels, restaurants and clubs. This hurts the city’s tax base. As these things pile up it means that we are further and further away from recovery.
If that didn’t make Sunday bad enough, a friend to us all passed. Action Jackson worked for WWOZ, probably the best jazz radio station in the world. He anchored the culture. I remember meeting him years ago. He was making video. I said, but you work for a radio station. He said, “Aw man, you never know.
He battled cancer for almost four years, almost never missing a beat on the street. He was 59.
He was right. You never know.
ere are two mantras to live by. They came to me when I was trying to talk to the universe. I heard them a long time ago but I forgot them.
“Important things are simple. Simple things are hard.”
“Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”
That’s about all you need to know about anything.
Don’t even bother thinking about it. Just put them in play.
It always does. My memory brings events to the forefront. Things I had safely tucked away.
It’s Mother’s Day weekend. Social media is full of pictures of other people’s moms. I probably will post one as well. It’s a signature picture.
Yesterday I railed (see what I did there with the picture and the words) about the traps of social media. Today, I’ll tell you that there are some good points. Our good points. The users’ good points. Not the companies.
The best good thing is social media is as an anniversary reminder. Time passes. People heal. My mom passed in 1996. A long time ago. I was in Hong Kong at the time. I returned home to find a message on my land line telephone recorder. My aunt called me. It was a couple of days old. I returned her call almost before I put my luggage down.
I returned to Hong Kong after I completed all that I needed to do, including take care of my dad who was living in an assisted living home. It was a sort of tract home that had five residents and about 12 caregivers. It was so comfortable that I wanted to live there. He seemed to enjoy it.
Back in Hong Kong,my friends looked after me. My main job was to produce books. My secondary job (Yes. I was busy) was to work work a Chinese travel magazine and photo agency. My main colleague there told me something that I think of today. She said, “When somebody dies who is over 80, we laugh.” That is the literal translation from Mandarin which really means “don’t mourn, celebrate their life.” My mom passed at 80.
You know, I was told it would take about five years before I would stop thinking of her almost daily. Whoever said that was right. But. Oh, you knew this was coming. That lasted for a good while. Then, it started to change. I don’t miss her like I did during those early years. But, I miss her in different ways. There’s things I’d like to ask her. For advise. For direction. I wish that she met the wonderful people in my life. Who came later.
I know you are wondering what this picture has to do with my mom. We traveled by train almost every summer of my early days from Los Angeles to New York City. The trains of my youth were The El Capitan, The Super Chief and a little later, The City of Los Angeles. They are mostly gone now. Some of their names live on through Amtrak, but they aren’t the same. For one thing, “dining in the diner” meant something back then. Sheesh, the City of Los Angeles used goldware, none of that tacky old silverware. The food was great and cooked to order. You dressed up to go eat.
This is symbolic. An old passenger car, hidden behind an overgrown fence. Abandoned and mostly forgotten, except by me. Just like my memories.
Technically speaking, the baby Leica did well in the rain. But, it really wasn’t more than just point and shoot. The Leica engineers in their kind of arrogant way, actually built a setting into it that is called “snapshot.” I laugh, but with auto everything cameras, how much of street photography is just that?
A trip through Central City reveals a place that is still falling down despite claims that New Orleans has recovered from Hurricane Katrina. To be sure, Central City was falling apart long before the storm approached. But, it wasn’t too long into the recovery process that people were starting to talk about the gentrification of the neighborhood. They said that it was the only place in the city that was above sea level that hadn’t been recovered.
It never happened. Sure, a smallish area near St. Charles Avenue was partially redeveloped. They got some new apartments. A new food court. A few restaurants and a couple of other things. That’s about it.
The rest of the neighborhood? Not much. There is some minor redevelopment. For the most part, Central City looks about the same as it ever did. Oh, the big Catholic Church that the diocese finally sold has a new coat of paint on it. I have no idea what it’s going to be. We thought it would make a fine recording studio. I doubt that anybody else thought that way.
I haven’t been spending much time there. I drop in and out for second lines, but that’s about it. I need to start haunting the place again. It’s been pretty much left alone and that’s enough for me. Besides, it’s funny to watch the porch sitters dive for cover when you drive by a second time. You can figure that out.
The picture. In spring this is one of those houses that will be covered in tiny, yellow flowers. That’s worth a second trip right there. Or, maybe even more trips. Despite its reputation for danger, I’m comfortable there. Often I’m greeted with, “Hey, mister photographer are you coming out for the second line on Sunday?” Go to a place long enough and people start to know you. Funny how that happens.
I saw the house and photographed it. The light wasn’t right. But, I liked what I had. Tinkering away I went. I literally made this picture. The original exposure was simply a component. The rest pretty much came out of my head. The title and caption are borrowed. They are lines from Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” The lyrics are a little ridiculous. But, they paint the scene. They give you the feel. The picture combines the two.
I saw this place on the way to the second line. I’ve seen it before. It just never quite looked so dramatic. And, I never stooped to make a picture. Even for a few minutes.
This time I did.
I photographed it at about 4pm in what was pretty bright sun. Not a great time. I decided right then and there that it would be the template for something else.
This is what I did.
Basically, I made a mess. I tinkered. I played. I went forward. I back tracked. I think that I turned a broken place into something spooky. I’m also thinking that without those fleur de lis on the fence this picture might not stand on its own.
I probably should go back at around dusk. Or, at least when there are heavy storm clouds blowing around. The problem with the dusk idea is that the neighborhood scares me a little bit. It’s one thing to be there when there are hundreds of people having a good time at a second line. It’s another to be out there on your own. With camera gear. You never know.
The more I look at this picture I think it would make a good album cover. I would have to square up the way I made it, and crop it some, but I could see one of our brass bands hanging out there.
And, one more thing. It occurred to me what drew me to this place. Bad juju. This is a left over Katrina house. Today is August 29th. The 13th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall at Buras, Louisiana.
We try to forget this as we go about our daily business, but, as a friend tweeted, it’s in our DNA. I doubt that we’ll ever really forget.
What is it? Maybe you passed by it a million times and never gave it a second thought. I did. You were always on the way to some place else. I was. But, those of us who lived in the neighborhood eventually heard its story. It is passed down through the old folks, from their parents and their grand parents.
It’s a secret. Now. Then. Maybe forever.
I spent a little time in my old neighborhood after last weekend’s big Downtown Mardi Gras Indian parade. I hung out with friends. We told pre-Hurricane stories. Stories were about a lot of violence. We talked about one night in July, the month before the storm came, when eight people were murdered within minutes of each other. The police would come to one corner to investigate, only to hear gun shots a street or two away. Off they’d speed. To investigate. I could tell you more. But, you get the point. My old hood.
Today. It’s quiet. The bad guys are long gone. The storm washed them to Houston or Atlanta. When they came back they found the place had changed. Nobody would put up with their violence anymore. No more drug dealing on corners. No more squatting. They were forced to move on. The neighborhood is pretty. It’s old. A little bit broken. A lot recovered. While I was visiting, it felt like home. I live Uptown now.That doesn’t feel like home. Oh well. Hindsight. Twenty-twenty.
That said, I decided to walk around and take a few pictures. I should have photographed this place a decade ago. I should have done a lot of things a decade ago. At least I got this one back.
What is this place?
Let’s back into the story.
My house was the second “common” house built on what was a huge plantation. The first house was built across the street. My house was an original Creole four room house. The kitchen was in the backyard. So was the toilet. It was built in 1837. By the time I bought it had been renovated a couple of times. It looked like a Queen Anne Victorian. It had a side hall. It was enlarged. It had pocket doors. It was no longer primitive. That was done in 1888. With parts shipped down from Sears in Chicago, by train. By a guy called Lutz.
By the time I bought it, the neighborhood was in decline. It was rough, I knew my neighbors. I hung with them. I walked my dog. But, for safety’s sake, that was about it. Last weekend I walked around, taking pictures as I went. Very different.
I came to this place. Think about what I wrote. Plantation. Big. It was an Indigo farm. It only started being divided and sold in 1837. It had been there since the middle 1700s. What does that mean? Who did the actual hard work? Hopefully, you get it. Slaves did the hard work. They had to live some place. They lived here. This building is a slave house. Once, later, it may have been a share cropper house and eventually somebody may have lived it in it and turned it into their own. After all, you don’t see many modern screen doors on slave buildings.
But, there it is. A forgotten slave dwelling in the middle of the city. Real living history.
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.
Since today is officially the first day of Autumn, I thought it might be a good to wrap up some of the junk I photographed over the summer. These are the odds and ends of about six rambles through the city at all different times, over many days. Some pictures were driven by the light at the time. Others, by the location. And still others, just by the fact that I was passing by. I suppose that I didn’t post them at the time because I liked other pictures. Or, some of these pictures just hadn’t marinated long enough. They are ready now.
I’ll discuss them underneath each picture. Okay.
This place is a long abandoned pump house in the Bywater. A neighborhood in the river side of the 9th Ward. I’ve never seen it without a chain ink fence around it, so I finally just included the fence. It’s the low storm light that makes the picture.
A light decisive moment. I wish I was just a little quicker. I was walking around this upper 9th Ward neighborhood when she pedaled down the street. The pink highlights are the thing.
Storm light again. The neighborhood is called the Irish Channel. It keeps expanding as realtors see fit. It’s really located in what could loosely be called The Lower Garden District. The boundaries keep expanding because the neighborhood is rapidly being redeveloped. Old housing stock is fairly inexpensive. It’s a great place for young couple and young families to start out if they want to live in New Orleans.
End of the summer in New Orleans. This upper 9th Ward neighborhood still has a way to grow. If we don’t have a cold — cold for us — winter, this growth will be twice as high next summer.
A neighborhood called Black Pearl. The name is a cross of a street name and a population name. It survived Hurricane Katrina intact, only to be hammered by a tornado — yes, a tornado — in Feb 2007. Yes. Nature hits us down here every that way it can.
Another example of summer growth. This time, in the 7th Ward.
The pictures. Yeah. There’s some heavy post production in some of them. Nothing at all in others. I mostly did what I felt at the time. Or, what the pictures showed me that they needed. Like that. Just like that.
I really have no idea why there is an elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Sheesh. I’m not even sure if I could find it again to ask. I was going home from the Katrina memorial second line when I decided to take the long way just to see what I could see. The very long way home. I sort of just cruised around turning left, or right, or passing around the block because there are a lot of one streets around here. It makes no sense now. It made sense at the time. After all, that’s where all the pictures are hiding. And, the light was right. Obviously, I wasn’t disappointed. I found an elephant.
Well. Not a real living and breathing elephant. But, a nicely rendered cartoon style elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Huh? Why? Where? How?
So. I stopped. Nobody seemed to be around so I couldn’t ask questions. You know. Like, “Why is there an elephant painted on the side of this house?” I did walk around the house though. The front of the house had a Katrina cross painted on it. Oh, you know the ones. I’ve written about them in earlier posts. Just to refresh your memory, when early responders came from out-of-state, they did a house-by-house hard target search for survivors or worse. They spray painted a cross. In one corner they painted the date, then their unit number, then their findings — alive or dead. And finally, an animal count. Again, alive or dead. Then they encircled the whole thing with more paint. Most are gone now. Some are faded. Some have been turned into a kind of shrine.
I’m sorry to report that somebody died in this house. That’s what the cross told me. That’s confirmed by the red sign in the grass. Sacred ground.
Here’s where my guess might be better than yours. By looking at the side of the house, I’m guessing that a relative began to rehab it after things started settling down. I’m also willing to bet that his or her heart just wasn’t in it. See that orange wood? That shouldn’t be there. Or at least, all the holes should be sealed. Once that is completed the yellow wood-like boards are applied, either to the studs which have been insulated, or over the old wood which has been properly sealed. That didn’t happen. The wood over the windows? That looks like hurricane protection that never came down. It’s sagging now. Around here, you either have storm shutters or you nail pieces of plywood to the window frame when a big storm is on the way.
It’s been 9 years. The house is slowly starting to fall apart. The old paint is fading. The new paint is growing mold. The yard is over grown. Somebody painted an elephant on the building. All of that is just physical stuff. I just hope that the biggest loss is beginning to heal.
Relax! Let you eyes wonder and quiet your mind with some visual therapy. A picture is always more than you can see. You will also find my own illustrations about things I find funny and interesting. Have some fun, life is short!