St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans
The Jewel of America’s Grand Avenues
St. Charles Avenue is a scenic oak-lined boulevard that begins one block above Carrollton Avenue before running the length of the Uptown New Orleans Historic District. The avenue continues through the Central Business District and ends at Canal Street. The southern live oak trees along the avenue were added in the early twentieth century. St. Charles is famous for its streetcar line and the hundreds of nineteenth century mansions that line its route through Uptown. It is also one of the main Mardi Gras parade routes.
Uptown was part of lands granted to Louisiana Governor Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sier de Bienville, in 1719. The district was later divided into smaller plantations in 1723. It was not until 1884, during the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, that the areas around St. Charles Avenue experienced a building boom.
St. Charles Avenue was built atop the remains of an old natural levee during the construction of the New Orleans and Carrollton Railway, which later became the St. Charles Streetcar Line. The long traffic avenue and its mass transit helped in the development of Uptown in the early twentieth century. St. Charles became fashionable as wealthy citizens built their elegant mansions along the avenue. A number of the historic mansions were torn down in the mid to late twentieth century until the area was declared an historic district in 1985. Today, many of the magnificent homes built in the 1890s are private residences and small hotels, and others are apartments and condominiums. Notable buildings along St. Charles Avenue include the Columns Hotel and the Pontchartrain Hotel.
The Milton H. Latter Memorial Library is located in the former mansion of Canal Street merchant Mark Isaacs. The mansion was designed by architects Favrot and Livaudais and was constructed on St. Charles Avenue in 1907. The mansion was the home of silent film star Marguerite Clark from 1918 to 1937.
The boundaries of the Uptown New Orleans Historic District are the Mississippi River to South Claiborne Avenue and Jackson Avenue to Broadway. Adjacent historic districts include Carrollton, Central City, the Garden District, Irish Channel, and the Lower Garden District. The Uptown New Orleans Historic District is listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.
The portion of St. Charles Avenue above Tivoli Circle was initially known as Nyades Street. The Tivoli Circle was renamed as Lee Circle when the Robert E. Lee monument was erected in the circle in 1884. The monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
From Lee Circle to Louisiana Avenue, St. Charles has two lanes of traffic in each direction with two streetcar rail lines on the grassy tree-lined median or neutral ground. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Anglophone Americans began to build on available land upriver, across modern-day Canal Street. This thoroughfare became the meeting place of two cultures, one Francophone Creole and the other Anglophone American. Local landowners retained Barthelemy Lafon to subdivide their property to create an American suburb. The median of Canal Street became a place where the two cultures could meet and do business in French and English. The median on Canal Street became known as the neutral ground. Today, all medians in New Orleans are referred to as neutral ground. The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar runs on a line through the neutral ground on St. Charles Avenue.
St. Charles Avenue and the portion of Uptown closer to the Mississippi river escaped significant flooding during the flooding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Major intersections from east to west on St. Charles Avenue include Canal Street, Poydras Street, Lee Circle/Howard Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Melpomene Avenue, Jackson Avenue, Louisiana Avenue, Napoleon Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Nashville Avenue, Broadway Street, Carrollton Avenue, and Leake Avenue.