The current configuration of the French Quarter cannot be properly understood without knowing property owners part in shaping it. In many ways, the Borensteins of the Quarter then and now are much more important to study than mayors or preservationists.
For a few months Borenstein worked as a salesman for Uncle Joe Rittenbing, “a famous pawnbroker on South Rampart Street,” Larry added with a touch of awe. Larry opened his first shop at 814 Royal, selling stamps while an associate, Al Williamson, sold coins. Rent in ‘42 was $20 a month; the same space fetches $600 today, Borenstein says, “and I don’t own it.” In ‘43 he moved to 706 Royal ($30 a month them $500 now, he says).
Borenstein continued in the stamp business until about 1950, eventually becoming an editor of Weekly Philatelic (published in Kansas). His Old Quarter Stamp Shop and Jolly Roger Book Shop in Pirates’ Alley did thriving business. Borenstein also was editor of the Old French Quarter News (precursor to the Courier) in its final months. Outside his shop, artists were encouraged to set up in the open air.
“It’s on my conscience that that tradition, which later spread to Jackson Square, started with me,” said Larry, who takes a dim view of the quality of what passes for art on the Square today. The Jackson Square development started when Borenstein sued St. Louis Cathedral “because it seemed that painters weren’t allowed to hang on the Cathedral railings without political help.” The suit stopped the use of the Cathedral railings entirely, and artists moved to the Square. Larry recalls: “I told the pastor, Father Burns, that I wasn’t the first Jewish boy to try to drive the money changers from the temple walls.” Today Borenstein estimates the Jackson Square sales and services (framing, etc.) add up to about $1.5 million a year.
Wendy Rodrigue writes about 730 Royal