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 apartments.
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 Black Masking 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 was home to many artists. Harold Battiste, the 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 called the development 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. Soulja Slim was raised here, too, recording as Magnolia Slim early in his career. He was followed by Jay Electronica, 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.
For more on the role of public housing in the development of New Orleans music, click here.
"Enter the Magnolia: The Story of the C.J. Peete Housing Projects" 35-minute documentary by Newtral Groundz from 2020.
Video from Cash Money/Universal Motown Records.
The video for Juvenile's hit "Ha" shows the Magnolia in 1998, putting it on the map for hip hop fans across the country.
Video from Rap-A-Lot Records.
The video for "Nolia Clap," which charted nationally in 2004, was filmed in its namesake Magnolia public housing development.
Video copyright owned by The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation and cannot be used by 3rd party without written permission from the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation. Learn more: http://www.PonderosaStomp.com.
Clips from the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp Conference panel “Booty Green: Reflections on Bobby Marchan” on Marchan and the origins of Cash Money Records.