To see the renaissance of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in action, look no further than ‘Roux Carre,’ an upcoming six-vendor, ethnically diverse food court. When it opens in the fall of 2015, it will join Central City landmarks like Ashe Cultural Arts Center and Cafe Reconcile and a recent parade of newcomers, including the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, the New Orleans Jazz Market, and the Professor Longhair Museum on nearby Terpsichore Street.

The momentum is clear to Adele London from the Good Work Network, the agency behind the food court. “I tell them, ‘Don’t sleep on O.C. Haley – we’re coming up,” London said.

A few years ago, as construction crews took the heavily damaged, century-old Myrtle Rosabella Banks Elementary School down to its shell, they found that the building’s large interior pillars were not tied to the foundation.

People passing through the now-elegantly renovated building would never know that heavy pipes run up the middle of the hollow columns, buttressing the century-old building that the developers affectionately refer to as “Myrtle.”

Ashe from the fire
It’s the behind-the-scenes work like this that set the stage for today’s much-hyped Central City renaissance. Carol Bebelle helped to set the tone in 1998, when she and artist Douglas Redd provided other crucial supports, as they established Ashe on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dryades, as the street was then called, was a prime shopping area lined with stores. Oretha Castle Haley and other civil-rights activists were a common sight here and on other commercial corridors, often carrying picket signs that demanded jobs “above the mop and broom level” for black workers.

By the late 1990s, when Bebelle and Redd started Ashe, the stores were mostly shuttered. “This street was a place most people bypassed,” Bebelle remembers. Using civil-rights accomplishments as Ashe’s foundation, the two set out to create a culture-driven hub that uplifted and organized the people of Central City, often by helping neighbors find strength in their African roots and spirituality.

An oral history of ‘Old Sober’
Linda Green, 57, a lifelong Central City resident, believes that — thanks to groundwork laid by neighbors like Ashe years ago — the neighborhood is now stabilizing. In particular, she has high hopes for Roux Carre, where she will be a vendor, selling her specialty dish, yakamein, which she has perfected over the years by selling it from her food truck at Sunday second-line parades.

Green says that the classic beef broth and noodle dish has a long history within her family and in Central City. In fact, just down the street from Roux Carre, near what was then Dryades and Jackson, her grandmother was known for the yakamein she’d fix regularly.

“The aroma was so overwhelming that people would come with bowls and sit on the porch, knowing she’d give them some,” Green said.

At the time, there were also bars up and down Dryades, on nearly every corner, Green said. And most of the bars had someone there selling yakamein, called “Old Sober,” because it’s thought to be a hangover cure. Green’s mother, for instance, sold yakamein at the Bean Brothers bar.

Today, people flock to Green’s truck for a dish perfected over generations. Probably it’s her special beef broth that attracts them, she said. “I think why everyone runs to me is for that flavor.”

Green has become a national cooking-show sensation in recent years and fields phone calls “all day, every day” from people wanting to know her address. Finally, when Roux Carre opens, she will finally have an answer, she said.

Change, challenges and the $2 drink
A few blocks away, Don “Doc” Lucas, 61, also finally has a place to call home for the tattoo ephemera and tools he’s collected for years. Recently, he opened the New Orleans Tattoo Museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a few doors toward the lake from O.C. Haley.

Yet some decry all of the activity. Mike Tata moved his boxing gym and his signature pitbull, Mr. T., from Freret Street to Oretha Castle Haley in 2012, to escape climbing rents. But now he thinks he may have to move again, as rents creep up around him. “People moving into the neighborhood are not afraid to be around here anymore,” he said.

That is true, said Theresa Ellioie, whose family has run the Sportsman’s Corner bar at Second and Dryades street for 35 years. “People used to think of this neighborhood as being ‘crime, crime, crime.’ But it’s not like that anymore,” she said. And since the area is, geographically, at “the top of the cup,” it didn’t flood, which is attractive to people looking for historic homes to renovate, she said.

But even before the renaissance began, Elloie and her family knew that the key to a strong Central City was strong community and culture. As a result, the Sportsman has long been a hub of social aid and pleasure clubs and Mardi Gras Indians.

“This corner is well-known for second lines and Indians — world-renowned,” Elloie said. “You want to go to Second and D, because everyone will be turning out.”

Still, despite the Sportsman’s growing popularity, and despite the Central City renaissance, which is bringing up menu prices across the neighborhood, the Sportsman is unlikely to follow suit, said Elloie, whose father always insisted on keeping prices low so that his neighbors could patronize the bar.

Though Louis Elloie died in 2008, the Sportsman still operates under his theory. “We’re kinda known as the home of the $2 drink,” Theresa Elloie said.