Eagle Saloon

401 South Rampart Street
New Orleans LA 70112
Location Status: Location threatened, damaged or not in use
Curated by
e/Prime Media & Randy Fertel

This Neoclassical Revival building, constructed in 1850, was home to the Masonic and Odd Fellows Hall Association from 1897 into the mid-20th century. The organization, formed of two African American fraternal organizations, leased the third floor of the building and occupied a second three-story building behind this one that has since come down. The association used the hall for meetings, dances and also as an eating area, a poolroom, and living quarters for the building manager. The street in front of the building was also used by the Odd Fellows and Masons as a parade assembly point.

The first floor of this building housed Jake Itzovich’s Eagle Loan Office, where musicians were known to pawn their instruments between gigs. Frank Douroux converted that space into the Eagle Saloon, which became a popular gathering place for musicians. Cornetist Charles “Buddy” Bolden, whom contemporaries considered a key musician in the development of jazz, played here with his band in the ballroom. In 1907 Bolden suffered a mental breakdown, and Frankie Duson took over that group, renaming it the Eagle Band after their hangout here. Bandleader John Robichaux and his society dance band performed here, too, as did trumpeter Bunk Johnson.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Considering it alongside the Iroquois Theater, the Karnofsky building, and the Little Gem Saloon, John Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution, said “There is probably no other block in America with buildings bearing so much significance to the history of our country’s great art form, jazz.”

The organization that owns the Eagle Saloon has recently stabilized the building.

About South Rampart Street

South Rampart Street was the main commercial corridor in “back o’ town,” originally a swampy area at the back end of the city where New Orleans’ racial order relegated black residents in the late 1800s. The strip filled with businesses—many run by Jewish, Italian, and Chinese merchants—catering to a black clientele. Among these were dance halls, juke joints, tailors who outfitted bands with uniforms, and pawn shops that bought and sold instruments.

Churches here tended to be Protestant, with emotive spirituals and hymns in their services that reverberated through the neighborhood. To the ministers’ chagrin this area included Black Storyville, the red light district for those barred from the whites-only bordellos and gambling houses just across Canal Street. This traffic fueled some social ills. It also helped attract audiences for working musicians. (Business continued after 1917, when the white vice district—Storyville—shut down).

In 1938, the WPA City Guide called South Rampart “The Harlem of New Orleans.” It was full of music, from barrelhouse piano players like Tuts Washington to big bands like Papa Celestin’s. The street itself was a venue, with benevolent societies and social clubs parading with brass bands, and, on Carnival, the Zulu parade, Baby Dolls, and chanting bands of Mardi Gras Indians.

The strip was referenced in popular songs, from the traditional jazz tune “South Rampart Street Parade” to Louis Jordan’s jump blues hit “Saturday Night Fish Fry” in 1949, about a house on Rampart “rockin’” till the break of dawn.

While the “New Orleans sound” of R&B played across the country in the 1950s, South Rampart Street went the way of other black inner city neighborhoods in the age of urban renewal. Whole blocks were demolished and redeveloped, paving the way for a new city hall and today’s Central Business District.

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Videos

2011 clip from author John McCusker: "Louis Armstrong's New Orleans," a five-minute look at Satchmo's formative years and the state of landmarks associated with him.