I suppose I don’t have to explain why in the fall of 2020, I decided to prioritize getting a healthier and more comfortable place to live and work. After 40 years on and off in the city (all in the Quarter or MidCity) I’ve lived many varied versions of the New Orleans renter. Since Katrina though, I’ve barely made a home, instead living as minimally as possible, and sometimes for years roaming about as a house sitter. Don’t get me wrong- I make great spaces with lots of funky touches but they are not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to size or amenities.
I enjoyed it all really because I wanted to spend most of my time and money on creative people and pursuits. Still do. But with the lockdown, a lack of concern from the property owner where I had been living, and the remote work likely sticking around for a bit, I took a deep breath and did something many New Orleanians say they would like to do someday:
I moved to the Upper Pontalba* on Jackson Square.
To answer your first question, no, the waiting list isn’t outrageous. At least not currently. At least not on the city-owned side.
To answer your second question, no the rent isn’t out of scale with post K city rent prices (yeah I know…) At least not currently. At least not on the city-owned side.
The process was not super quick or even clear at times, even though the property management staff did a fantastic job trying to explain the system and being enthusiastically supportive of the current tenants and in getting new people in. Lovely folks.
If you have read this blog for a while, then you know I am have been doing research on the timeline and people of Jackson Square since the Pontalba Buildings were built in 1850. That research is to tell the story of how the French Quarter was meant to be transformed by these buildings and even though it didn’t really work out as its owner expected, the original city square was saved and beautified. My business card even has an old postcard of the Square and the Lower Pontalba.
So it felt like a sign when I had the opportunity.
This move has offered a new vantage point for me, and also some inspiration too for my research and writing. I am sure that inspiration is true for some of my neighbors too.
Interestingly, the Lower side seems to have a very different tenant relationship and attitude about that building from its caretakers. I’ve actually known more people who lived on that side and so have spent a fair time in those apartments. All agree that the state side is not as updated, and the rents are higher. Lots of long term tenants headed out in the last few years when the rents skyrocketed, and those who remain tell me stories of their interaction with the state that are either combative or cold.
Over here as of now, this has been a very good choice for me and there are a few apartments available which is not that common. So maybe this is a opportunity for you.
*Upper is the St. Peter side, Lower is the Saint Ann side of the Square. Upper was donated to the city by local civic leaders (Alfred Danzinger, Jules D. Dreyfous, and William Runkel) via the Pontalba Building Museum Association in 1930 which then donated it to the City of New Orleans. As part of a Federal Works Progress Administration-funded project, the row houses are reconfigured into 50 apartments and the ground floor commercial spaces are converted into residential spaces. (Commercial spaces return in the 1970s to the Uppper Pontalba.) In the 1990s Morial Adminstration did the last major renovation on the Upper Pontalba to the tune of 8 million bucks.
The Lower was donated to the state around the same time before the Upper by William Radcliffe Irby* Once in a while, I do silently thank him. And I also thank our Micaela too.
*from 64 Parishes: On Saturday morning, November 20, 1926, Irby went about his day in his normal manner. He visited the bank, performed a few routine duties, and had a mid-morning cup of coffee. He next took a cab to the Tharp-Sontheimer-Tharp undertaking parlors at Carondelet and Toledano Streets. The Times-Picayune reported that Irby “greeted the attendants affably” and told them he had “come to make arrangements for a funeral.” He looked at coffins on the second floor and then requested a morning newspaper. When the undertaker went downstairs to fetch the paper, Irby, sitting on a sofa, fired a revolver into his right temple. He left a note “requesting simplicity in his funeral.” A second note cited an “incurable heart disease” as the reason for his suicide. He was buried in New Orleans’s Metairie Cemetery.