St. Mark’s Methodist Church

Upon entering the Quarter via a left turn from Rampart to Gov Nicholls, one usually has eyes up ahead rather than on the corner. But if you happen to look to the right after turning, you would see a Spanish mission style church from the side and back. As to why the Methodists built it in that style to serve Italian immigrants, is unknown. From St. Mark’s website:

Following the settlement house model, Methodist women moved into a neighborhood to live with and assist people in need. They selected the name, St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice, Italy, as a gesture of outreach to Italian Catholics who dominated the area at the time. An emphasis on outreach, empathy and cutting-edge ministry has characterized St. Mark’s ever since. The current church at 1130 North Rampart, at the edge of the historic French Quarter, opened in 1923. In its hundred-year history, St. Mark’s has experienced many “firsts.” In the early twentieth century, people from over twenty-five different nationalities participated in St. Mark’s programs. In the 1930s, St. Mark’s offered health and dental services that were open to people of all races and ethnicities. The Community Center operated the first indoor pool in the city, also integrated. The church and community center fully integrated in the 1960s. Its pastor, the Reverend Andy Foreman, was featured in international newspapers as he walked with his daughter Pamela to one of the first integrated elementary schools in New Orleans. In 1973, a horrible fire resulted in the deaths of twenty-five people in a gay bar, the Upstairs Lounge; no church in New Orleans would hold a memorial service for the victims. St. Mark’s stepped forward, and opened its doors.

(as to the memorial after the fire at Upstairs Lounge, historians of gay New Orleans remember it a bit differently:

Only one member of the New Orleans’ clergy, The Rev. William Richardson of St. George’s Episcopal Church, was brave and GOD loving enough to immediately hold a service for the victims of this horriffic event and their families. Almost a week later, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church allowed Rev. Perry to hold a memorial service.

excerpted from http://www.gayworld.net/memorial/

The poor who lived in the French Quarter through much of the 19th and early 20th century have been served by a number of missionary types.

In 1727 twelve women — Ursuline Nuns from France — established the first school for girls, ran the first free school and the first orphanage and held the first classes for African slave and Native American girls in what is now the United States. The Ursulines still serve New Orleans (from their Jefferson Avenue campus and girl’s high school) and are are believed  to keep hurricanes away from the city by praying to Our Lady of Prompt Succor. When Katrina hit and word came that the Ursuline nuns would be evacuated, many felt it was a very bad sign. Upon returning to the city, the Mother Superior was interviewed on NPR and asked to explain why the prayers were unanswered in 2005. She answered that the damage was a engineering disaster caused by the federal government and not a natural disaster which is what her nuns have prayed away for almost 300 years.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is another site still in use to serve the poor (like St. Mark’s). (from http://www.neworleanschurches.com/):

Our Lady Of Guadalupe Church is actually the oldest church building in New Orleans. Saint Louis Cathedral is often thought to be the City’s original church, however, the Cathedral building was rebuilt during its lifetime.  The building known as The Mortuary Chapel of St. Anthony Of Padua, is located on the corner of North Rampart Street and Conti. It dates from 1826, some 25 years before the present St. Louis Cathedral was constructed.  Although the church had been temporarily closed a number of times in its lifetime, it was many things to many people.

During the span of almost two centuries, The Mortuary Chapel was first constructed to hold funerals of Yellow Fever victims. In the era predating modern science, medical practitioners once believed that Yellow Fever could be spread by exposure to the dead or by transporting the dead through the city streets for burial. The Church therefore banned burials from St. Louis Cathedral and a mortuary chapel was established close to St. Louis Cemetery, the main burial location for most of New Orleans Catholic families.

The community center on the river side of Conti and Rampart is still very active.

St. Mary’s is located next to the historic Ursuline Convent (considered by some to be the oldest building in the city). St.  Mary’s  served the Italians who populated much of that part of the French Quarter during the first half of the 20th century after serving other ethnic groups at various times.

Settlement houses abounded in the U.S where “settlement workers” lived among the poor they served- Hull House in Chicago was the most famous and its founder Jane Addams was a mentor to many including Eleanor McMain, who ran Kingsley House on Constance Street for many years and made it a center of innovative programs. Kingsley House  is the oldest settlement house in the south and is still active in the lower Garden District.

Plantation Style Architecture

Governor Nicholls 900 block

These were built in this style to minimize the effects of heat and flooding that were common in areas near swamplands and the Mississippi River, and  are generally raised on piers to stay above flood waters.  There is often a large central hallway to encourage air circulation and the galleries or porches wrap around the house and are usually very deep — providing shade in the summer, keeping the sun out of the house and creating comfortable outdoor living space.This house has an amazing amount of space around it in front, unusual for the French Quarter. According to the fantastic book “Along the Banquette”, it is the same house moved from Gabriel Peyroux property on Bayou St.John, to the “city” in 1781. If so, this makes this house one of the oldest in the city.
Also, the width is also unusual, as back in French rule,  taxation depended on the width of your house not the length. The camelback style (2 story living area rising from the back of the house) is often seen as a direct retaliation to those tax laws. Interestingly, after some taxpayers complained about camelbacks having lower taxes than they, the assessment was changed to the number of rooms in each home, which explains the lack of closets  and the use of armoires which continues to this day in many areas of New Orleans.

Plantation-an interesting word that should be explored more fully- It is often said that we resemble the Carribbean more than Europe and certainly the economic underpinnings do match- exploiting the few resources and having the few control the many is similar.

Plantation life is often told as a rosy time of entrepreneurial activity with its own culture and traditions, but certainly the grim reality of enslaved people doing the work needed and actually bought and sold as  property must be remembered as the main engine that ran this entire area. Remember that when you see “slave quarters” advertised as rentals, or walk by Maspero’s “Exchange” on Chartres that the history of slavery and subjugation does permeate the 1800s of New Orleans.