Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard: A Great American Main Street

Dryades Street, now known as Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, was historically a thriving commercial center in New Orleans. Creole architect Barthelemy Lafon designed this street as a part of Coliseum Square in 1809. In January 1849, the City of New Orleans opened Dryades Market which helped create a flourishing commercial area with churches, banks, schools, services, and retail stores. By the 1860’s the street and community were known to be a “socially, morally, and religiously a desirable portion of the city.” (1)

Dryades Street became the second most popular retail district in New Orleans and was an area “where your dollars buy the most.” (1) This commercial success continued as did economic and social segregation. The district reached its height in the 1940’s-1950’s and was the favored shopping district for black shoppers in the city.

Mrs. Oretha Castle Haley, a founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, was a civil rights pioneer. As a young college student, she joined the 1960 boycott of stores on Dryades Street that wouldn’t hire black sales clerks or cashiers. The vast majority of patrons were African Americans, but few were able to obtain a job on Dryades Street. The boycott proved to be somewhat successful and employment opportunities grew over time. However, the trend to suburbanization took its toll on Dryades Street and many urban commercial districts. By the 1970’s the area began a steep decline, leaving dozens of abandoned storefronts and blight.

Posthumously in 1989 the blocks of Dryades St. between Howard and St. Philip were renamed Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. Since the mid-1990’s concerted efforts have been made to bring the boulevard back. Cooperation between the private sector, public agencies, non-profits, artists, and neighborhood residents has paid dividends for the boulevard, which was recognized for its progress in 2017 with a Great American Main Street award for the many buildings, sites, businesses, and organizations that thrive along the boulevard.

The New Orleans Mission

Founded in 1989, The New Orleans Mission first started providing shelter, food, and religious guidance to a growing population of homeless men. Financially supported by donations from local residents, churches, organizations, and corporations, The…

Myrtle Banks Building

Once a public School, this 116-year-old building has received a complete award-winning historic renovation. It currently houses the Dryades Public Market, an art gallery, and office space. After the school was closed, the building stood vacant for…

Southern Food & Beverage Museum

The Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) is a non-profit that celebrates and educates visitors on the Southern culture of food and beverage. After years at the New Orleans Riverwalk development, SoFAB relocated to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard…

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Each year, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in New Orleans includes a stop on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard where a commemorative statue was erected in 1976. Artist Frank Hayden, a former student at Xavier University and professor at…

Youth Empowerment Project

The Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), a community-based non-profit is clear about their vision: “Yep envisions a community where all people have access to the opportunities, skills, resources, and relationships they need to actualize their…

Café Reconcile

Café Reconcile is known for great New Orleans food and a life-changing experience for both the customer and the trainees. Now in its 16th year, the restaurant operates an eight week on the job training program for young adults and places them in…

Ashé Cultural Arts Center

The Ashé Cultural Arts Center was established in 1998 in a vacant former department store space. Ashé provides opportunities for visual art exhibitions and performances, education, community programs, and partnerships that lift up the work of…
(1) “Early Years on Dryades Street.” Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants & Business Association. Web. 15 April 2018. http://www.ochaleyblvd.org/neighborhood-history

“Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.” The Albert and Tina Small Center for Collaborative Design. Web. 15 April 2018. http://www.neworleansonline.com/tools/streets/orethacastlehaley.html

“Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.” New Orleans Official Guide. Web. 15 April 2018. http://www.nola.com/living/index.ssf/2016/03/oc_haley_new_orleans_neighborh.html

Fick, Emma. “Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.: An Illustrated Guide from Artist Emma Fick.” The Times Picayune, 5 April 2016. Web. 15 April 2018. http://www.nola.com/living/index.ssf/2016/03/oc_haley_new_orleans_neighborh.html