(Also known as Old Algiers or "the Point.")
Algiers Point Today
Algiers Point is one of the more interesting neighborhoods in New Orleans. It's located on the West bank of the Mississipi, directly across from the French Quarter, and at a bend in the river that forms one end of the "crescent" in "Crescent City." The houses there are beautiful and generally date from the 19th and early 20th century. The condition of these homes varies widely, but with the Point's designation as a National Historic Neighborhood in the 1970s, a large number of renovations have been undertaken. There are a lot of really cool double shotgun homes there.
The cultural and economic makeup of the Point is very diverse. One will often see a lower income family in a small shotgun living next door to a doctor or lawyer in a large, renovated home. Times are changing, however. During the 1940s, novelist William S. Burroughs called the Point home. Nowadays, I think he'd find it a bit too gentrified. Bed-and-breakfasts are sprouting up all over the place, rent is going up, and a large condominium has been built over-looking the river. For better or worse, the Point isn't a secret anymore. Of course, the appeal to the upper crust is understandable. Here we have a lovely, quiet residential neighborhood, just a ten minute ferry ride away from the bustle of downtown New Orleans.
As I mentioned, Algiers Point is a National Historic Neighborhood, and it boasts that moniker for a reason. In 1719, one year after the settlement of New Orleans, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, sieur de Bienville was granted a tract of land across the river from the city proper. There he built a powder magazine and a slaughterhouse, giving the land the informal name of "Slaughterhouse Point" for quite a while.
It was here that imported slaves, those who had survived the passage from Africa, were housed before being sold in New Orleans. The same was true of the Acadians (Cajuns) who had been expelled by the British from what is now Nova Scotia, before they moved throughout southern Louisiana.
Over time, plantations gave way to homes and businesses, and Algiers became a legitimate neighborhood, being officially named in 1840. A myriad of reasons are given for Algiers' name, among them:
The neighborhood's proximity and relationship with New Orleans as analogous to Algeria's proximity and relationship with France.
A soldier returning from fighting the Algerians comments on the area's superficial resemblance, from the water, to North Africa (white houses, citrus plantations, subtropical climate, and lots of black people––slaves––working their asses off). This seems the least likely to me.
The fact that both areas were notorious as being havens for pirates! That's right. Back when Algiers Point was nothing but swamp, it was Jean Lafitte's stomping ground. I don't know whether this theory is the most likely, or simply the one that appeals to me the most, but I'm sticking to it!
Things To See
Frankly, the attraction of Algiers Point is the neighborhood itself. If you visit, you visit to check out the architecture and the feel of "old New Orleans"... sans Bourbon Street nastiness. That said, there are a few specific places you should check out.
When you walk up to the ferry landing on the French Quarter side, you see a sign proclaiming: "Visit Historic Old Algiers! Where It's Mardi Gras All Year Round!" If you know the Point, you know this is a joke. If the Point tried to party, it'd break its hip. What the sign is referring to is Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. Blaine Kern owns the largest and most famous parade float company in the world. All the big, classy Mardi Gras krewes have their floats designed by him. The floats are really impressive, and have attracted attention from outside the city. I believe he recently finished up some permanent designs for Disneyworld.
Anyway, the guy's a life-long
Algerian Algerine, and his base of operations is there. Mardi Gras World is a warehouse containing all the various floats he's built over the years. You can go on tours of the place and bring on a nasty case of Stendahl Syndrome. Think of the final action sequence in Hard Target, without Wilford Brimley and slow motion doves, and you'll have a good idea what Mardi Gras World is all about. Don't miss it.*
Another thing you can check out is the Jazz Walk of Fame, if only because it takes you directly from the ferry landing to Mardi Gras World. Kind of suspicious when you consider that Blaine Kern was one of the major forces behind the Walk. I guess I'm just paranoid. Actually, it's pretty lame. Just another way in which New Orleans has tried to cash in on its history by building new things that have nothing to do with it. It's essentially a glorified footpath along the levy, watched over by a large, tacky statue of Satchmo, premade to look like green, aged bronze. I think it's fiberglass.
If you're a fan of Burroughs and you want to worship the ground he walked on or something, his house is still there. The address is 509 Wagner St. Evidently, Kerouac and Cassady visited there as well.
Last, but not least, I must insist you visit the Cita Dennis Hubbell Branch Public Library. It's a small but neat-looking New Deal building, and it has a lot of neat books in it. Best of all, it's named after my grandmother, so you'd better agree that it's neat-looking. Got it?
*Actually, the opening bum-hunting sequence from Hard Target was partially shot in Algiers Point. Right in front of the courthouse!