New Orleans has always done things a little differently. As if to prove that point, their “red light district” sprang up in an attempt to better organize and regulate the city’s illicit activity.
The result was an area called Storyville.
In 1897, contrary to popular opinion, prostitution was not legalized in the Storyville area, but as a result of Alderman Sidney Story’s Ordinance No. 13,032, it was made illegal in all other areas of the city. This was based on similar red light districts in German and Dutch ports. Known simply as “The District” at the time, establishments in Storyville published blue books, which were offered to visitors and provided a full description of services, prices and houses.
African American men were banned from both black and white brothels, but counterintuitively, many musicoligists believe that Storyville was integral to the origin of jazz music. The theory stands to reason, since all of the best houses hired pianists and even small bands to keep the atmosphere lively and entertain their patrons while they weren’t otherwise occupied.
All that came to an end in 1917, when a wartime federal order meant to eradicate prostitution near naval bases shut the district down. But ironically, large portions of the city government were against its closure.
The District was originally bounded by Iberville, Basin, St. Louis, and N. Robertson streets. Today, almost all the houses have been demolished. The city wanted to give the area a fresh start and created the Iberville Housing Projects where most of the brothels once stood. But the constant meddling has yet to pay off, as the area remains one of the poorest in the city.