Desire Neighborhood: destroyed to build Desire Housing Development

I am taking the opportunity to defend the integrity of our African-American community in the Upper Ninth Ward. These photographs depict our neighborhood in the late 1940s, however humble it might appear to have been.

These photographs document the neighborhood and family history seemingly lost after our neighborhood was destroyed in the late 1940s in order to create the largest housing development in New Orleans.

When viewing the photo of Mr. Norton, one will also see a small tavern across the street from our home; we actually called the taverns beer gardens back in those days. That particular tavern was the last one on Desire street. There were four other bigger beer gardens on Desire between our home and Florida Avenue. Fats Domino played at Edwin's place on Desire Street when he was just getting started.

I remember hearing many songs from those places because the juke boxes were hooked up to speakers on the outside of the taverns to draw customers. Since we didn't have street lights in the area, the lights of the taverns gave some comfort from the darkness as one walked down the street at night. Some of the following information is excerpted from my longer manuscript titled Winter Crow.

Images

Front Stoop

Front Stoop

My first cousin and mother are in front of my family's house on Desire street.The house was built of cinder block and was substantial; it withstood a few hurricanes very well. If you look closely at the gable of the house you can see that the gable is covered with a composition paper that simulated brick. A few houses had this material as the general covering for a large part of the house, but most houses were constructed of wood siding or of shingles. View File Details Page

Our neighbor, Mr. Norton

Our neighbor, Mr. Norton

My father actually hired him to dig in our back yard to install a septic tank. When the hole was only about three feet deep, it filled with water. Therefore, we had to use an outhouse at the very back of our property for our toilet facilities -- this was okay though as our lot was fairly large. Quite a few houses had septic tanks and flush toilets inside, but we were unlucky. There were no sewer lines from the city at that time. We did have electricity and we had a butane tank installed on the property for our supply of gas for the stove and heaters. The house was not a shack as some might suppose; it was well built. View File Details Page

Father Kinney

Father Kinney

The picture is a bit damaged but it is historic. I believe that Father Kinney was the first Catholic priest in the area. I remember that we started going to mass in the Delta Theater before St. Phillip's Catholic Church was built in the upper Ninth Ward. This particular picture was taken of Father Kinney at a church-sponsored picnic at Abita Springs. View File Details Page

My sister Martha Rean and her husband and child

My sister Martha Rean and her husband and child

This photograph was taken when they lived in the St. Bernard Housing Development before moving to Los Angeles. I joined them in California about a decade later when I attended Los Angeles City College. After moving to California, my brother-in-law worked for the Bethlehem Steel Company. View File Details Page

High School friends

High School friends

The tall man with the string bow tie is Joseph Narcisse. This was a great group of guys, and we ended up heading in different directions. Joseph enrolled at Louisiana State University at New Orleans, while I moved to California to attend Los Angeles City College. The other guy with the string bow tie in the picture is me, James Rachal. My brother, Phillip, standing next to me, is now deceased. View File Details Page

James Rachal and Sister, 2009

James Rachal and Sister, 2009

View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

James Rachal, “Desire Neighborhood: destroyed to build Desire Housing Development,” New Orleans Historical, accessed June 28, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/287.
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