he housing stock of Central City – block upon block of raised shotgun houses (the raising a necessity, as elevation here is below sea level) – was originally built for renters, as opposed to home buyers. As such the area was largely settled by immigrants and African Americans, beginning around the 1830s, and was thus one of the first integrated neighborhoods in New Orleans.
Dryades Street, now named Oretha Castle (or OC) Haley Blvd, was a major commercial corridor; by the 1950s there were over 200 businesses lining the road, many of which served African Americans who could not shop elsewhere. But thanks to the successful battle for integration many of these businesses collapsed when residents opposed to integration left for the suburbs and black residents began shopping elsewhere, creating a snowball effect that severely depressed Central City.
The area was particularly well known as a locus for African American healthcare professionals. The first three black mayors of New Orleans were born in the Flint-Goodridge Hospital, located at Louisiana and Freret, which shut its doors in 1983. Flint-Goodridge was the only hospital in Orleans Parish where African American doctors could practice until at least the 1950s. Keystone Insurance operated off of Dryades St, and was one of the most important black-owned healthcare businesses in the South.
Another landmark, unconnected to African American history but crucial to New Orleans gastronomic culture, is the Leidenhemer Baking Company, purveyors of the crackly but soft inside French bread that constitutes the loaf of a perfect po-boy (Seriously. We know your city has some place that pretends it can make po-boys, but those aren’t po-boys, they’re long sandwiches, and that’s because the bread is wrong). You may recognize Leidenhemmer vans on the street because they’re splayed with murals of Vic & Nat’y, two local comic characters created by illustrator Bunny Matthews, who speak in hyperbolically thick Yat accents.
Central City refers to the argely African American portion of town that sits lakeside of the Garden District between Uptown and the Warehouse District. The neighborhood, once a mixed-race residential area and thriving mercantile sector for African Americans, was heavily impacted by economic deterioration that followed integration.
Today, Central City is undergoing a marked resurgence. An economic and cultural boom is sweeping much of the area, especially around Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. To learn more about this renaissance, read this 50411 piece written by our publishing partners at WWNO.