Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Streetcar Named Desire

While drinking my morning coffee, I got a call from a friend that another artifact in the urban palimpsest that is the French Quarter, a section of the original Desire Streetcar line, had been exposed during the shambolic repaving of streets in the French Quarter. While defunct sections of streetcar line are visible throughout the riverside portion of New Orleans (particularly on Felicity Street in the Lower Garden District), Desire had a special resonance, as it is associated with the height of the French Quarter's bohemian phase (a tradition I uphold though penury and bad housekeeping). Intrigued, I strolled down Royal to see a relic of Dixie Bohemia.

The Desire Streetcar Line was active from 1920 to 1948, when it was paved over and replaced with busses using the same overhead electrical lines. In the French Quarter it ran in opposite directions down Royal and Bourbon Street, turning at Canal Street at the same point as the St Charles Line (still running) before running to and from Desire Street in the Bywater (hence the name).

Streetcar lines in New Orleans in 1945 - Desire is B

The Desire Streetcar going down Bourbon St. (late 1940s)

The best exposed section

Reaching the location of the best section, ironically in front of the Historic New Orleans Collection, it was more evident by the cobblestone section in the middle of the street. I guess the track was left in place and rusted - the principal evidence was streaks of oxidation.

One can almost smell Dixie Bohemia looking down Royal

With a little imagination,  I could almost smell when the French Quarter was Dixie Bohemia, the Greenwich Village of the South (Or was that the snotty ponytailed art dealer's BO?).  Given the haphazard scheduling of repaving, this section could be exposed for a few weeks.

On the way home, I stopped at Faulkner House Books and bought this book. It's available from the usual online sources, but I'm sure the nice people at your local bookstore will happily order it for you.

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