1961 Construction of the William J. Guste, Sr. Homes
Stop 2 of 11 on the Melpomene Street Blues Tour
In 1961, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) announced plans to construct the William J. Guste, Sr. Homes, named for the Housing Authority’s long-time general counsel. The 1961 Report of the Housing Authority of New Orleans declared:
“The project will consist of 993 dwelling units replacing ten squares of rock bottom slums where 500 negro families have been living in substandard housing. The Housing Authority is dedicated to the eradication of slums in New Orleans. Slums are a breeding place for crime and disease. To remove this slum is a great step forward for our City… it will not only remove this cancer from the heart of our City, but will improve the entire area.”
The proposed new construction included housing for elderly people, a first in the city, comprising a 12-story high rise building in a cruciform pattern containing 528 apartments. HANO presented the design for the Guste Homes as innovative, addressing some of the issues experienced by residents at other housing projects in the city. HANO was particularly proud of the attention given to plans for the exterior areas of the Guste Homes:
“Ten once-shabby squares in the congested heart of this old Creole Metropolis –before 1962 is over—will prove, in a test-tube of better living, that in this New Orleans area Nature, with her trees and vines and shrubs and bulbs, makes by far the most beautiful, the most versatile and useful of structural materials at the command of imaginative architects.” [Wilson Callender, “Horticultural Aspects of the William J. Guste Sr. Homes,” 1961 HANO Report, pg. 44]
The language used to describe the placement of Guste Homes was typical of the era. Since the 1930s, “slum clearance” served as a central feature of efforts to alter housing in American cities, often as a part of what would soon be termed “urban renewal” projects. Local and federal governments often targeted Black working class neighborhoods for clearance.