The C.J. Peete Public Housing Development, commonly called the Magnolia Projects, opened in 1941. Its low-rise brick apartment buildings were arrayed around courtyards on the land bounded by Washington Avenue, LaSalle Street, Louisiana Avenue, and Magnolia Street, expanding later nearly to Claiborne Avenue to include more than 1,400 units of public housing.
The Magnolia community lived on a main artery of New Orleans’ vernacular culture. The intersection of Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street is a historic rendezvous point for Mardi Gras Indians; the park on this corner, originally called Shakspeare Park but now known as A.L. Davis Park, is a staging ground for their rituals. Social aid and pleasure clubs regularly parade along these streets in Sunday afternoon second lines.
The Magnolia Projects were home to many artists. Harold Battiste, acclaimed producer, musician, and mastermind of AFO Records, sat on his porch as a child in the 1940s and listened to jazz and R&B coming out of the Dew Drop Inn just across LaSalle Street. Bill Sinigal, composer of the Mardi Gras classic “Second Line” and player in the Dew Drop house band, lived here for decades. Members of the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indian tribe have called the projects home, too.
Cash Money Records, one of the most successful hip-hop labels in the country, was co-founded by brothers Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams, who grew up in the Magnolia. This community was part of their brand: Juvenile, a solo artist and member of the Hot Boys and UTP, made the “Nolia Clap” a national hit in 2004 (the video was filmed on location in the ’Nolia). Soulja Slim was raised here, too, recording as Magnolia Slim early in his career. He was followed by Magnolia Shorty, Keedy Black, and Vockah Redu among others.
The Magnolia was evacuated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s levee failures in 2005. In 2007 the New Orleans City Council, with the backing of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, voted to demolish the projects despite some public opposition. The new development here, Harmony Oaks, opened as a mix of subsidized and market-rate units in 2010.
Video from Rap-A-Lot Records.
The video for "Nolia Clap," which charted nationally in 2004, was filmed on location in the Magnolia Projects.
Video from Cash Money/Universal Motown Records.
The video for "Slow Motion," released in 2003, includes footage of the Magnolia Projects and Shakspeare Park. It also references the death of rapper Soulja Slim, who was killed not long after recording the song with Juvenile.
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Clips from the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp Conference panel “Booty Green: Reflections on Bobby Marchan” on Marchan and the origins of Cash Money Records.