The man everyone calls Mr. Chill embodies the spirit of the Broadmoor neighborhood. “I connect people together who wouldn’t normally be together,” said Wilbert “Mr. Chill” Wilson, 47, a longtime neighborhood barber and entrepreneur.

Broadmoor, said to be the geographic center of the city of New Orleans, is a key uptown-downtown connection, via Napoleon Avenue. It’s well-known as the below-sea-level bowl and former lake that still collects water during rainstorms. But it also collects people from all different directions.

Decades ago, R&B and early rock’n‘roll legend Dave Bartholomew, now 94, named one of his records labels Broadmoor because this is where he landed after he moved to the city from his hometown of Edgard, La. Though he later moved his family to Pontchartrain Park, Broadmoor was a key stop for him.

“He always let us know where he was from,” said his son, record producer Don Bartholomew, 47, recalling drives through the neighborhood where his father would point out the car window, saying, “I used to do this here,” as they drove.

His son believes that his father liked that the neighborhood had black homeowners as well as white and that neighbors stuck together to raise each other’s kids and look out for each other.

“Everybody was helping everybody out,” he said.

From green dots to thriving neighborhood
That held true after Hurricane Katrina, when Wilson and others in the Broadmoor Improvement Association bucked the suggestion that the badly flooded neighborhood become one of the now-infamous “green dots” – dedicated greenspace.

Neighbors, their ranks bolstered by volunteers, quickly drew up a rebuilding plan for their houses and the heart of Broadmoor, the Rosa Keller public library and community center.

A few years ago, Wilson opened Mr Chill’s, his hotdog stand and sweet shop in a classic corner-store building on South Derbigny Street.

His motivation? Partly the 7-Up cakes that his wife, Joyce, bakes from scratch but mostly to provide a daily gathering spot for neighbors who had worked so hard to return.

Newcomers, old timers and the community they create
Near the grand, heavily trafficked curve where Broad Street intersects with Napoleon Avenue, Emily Wolff sat in a sunny community-center solarium connected to the Rosa Keller library and recalled visiting after Katrina as a volunteer from Bard College.

Back then, she visited here nearly every month to help survey each block for progress. “I really fell in love with the neighborhood,” she said, remembering how she appreciated “the sense of connectedness” and neighbors who looked each other in the eye and greeted each other, asking, “How are you doing?”

After graduation, Wolff still felt the pull of Broadmoor and moved here to coordinate the neighborhood’s education, wellness and social services, which are funded by a unique $100 annual per-parcel fee voted into effect by Broadmoor neighbors. She now heads up the Broadmoor Improvement Association.

Broadmoor’s successes are quickly attracting new people, Wolff said, noting that, as in the city’s other gentrifying neighborhoods, neighbors are glad to see new arrivals buying home but also concerned about maintaining their greetings and bonds. “There’s this fear about losing that,” Wolff said.

Yet some people still see Broadmoor as just a curve in the road between Uptown and downtown. Jennifer Sanchez, from Liberty’s Kitchen, who helps to oversee the Green Dot Cafe, the small restaurant located in the library-community center complex, said that she’d driven the curve “tons of times” without knowing what was inside.

Now, Sanchez hires Liberty’s Kitchen graduates like Gioia Barconey, 21, to work at the cafe and sends younger students to the library to use computers, books, and resources.

That’s partly to help the students get a glimpse of a “tight-knit, very involved” community like Broadmoor, hoping it will inspire them to play similar roles in their own neighborhoods, Sanchez said.

Sweet and savory renewal
A few blocks down Broad, just past Washington Avenue, Hillary Guttman sees a diverse group of customers walk into the Laurel Street Bakery. From the day she opened the business, she said, the cafe has seen a mix of customers, from police and courthouse staff from across the Broad Street bridge to drivers heading to or from downtown, from neighbors who live down the street to the rising entrepreneurs from nearby Propeller, who treat Laurel Street like an extension of their office.

The common thread is that support for the neighborhood and each other. “Everybody in this area is very involved in Broadmoor,” she Guttman, who moved her bakery there two years ago because she wanted to be in a spot that really needed a healthy eatery like hers.

Yet Guttman, a self-described introvert who realized early on that she was more comfortable making sandwiches in the kitchen than she was glad-handing in the front. So she asked Ed Duplessis from her staff to be the Laurel Street Bakery ambassador.

Duplessis, a transplant from downtown’s 6th Ward, is now the cafe’s appointed connector, the man who has a kiss, a handshake, or a kind word for everyone somehow drawn to today’s Broadmoor.