Etoile Polaire (Polar Star) Lodge No. 1

1433 N. Rampart St.
New Orleans LA 70116
Location Status: Same structure, same use
Curated by
e/Prime Media & Randy Fertel

This Masonic hall hosted dances and other social events in the late 1800s and early 1900s that featured ragtime and jazz musicians. Founded on this site in 1794, the lodge was a prominent white Creole association, whose members included W.C.C. Claiborne, Louisiana’s first governor. The first floor was used for public gatherings and the second floor was reserved for private lodge functions, where rites were conducted in French until the 1950s. The building, constructed around 1840, is a striking three-bay, two-story Greek Revival structure. Masonic symbols adorn the building and the cast iron gate along Rampart Street, which dates to the 1880s. The lodge is still in use today.

 

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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