Where is Storyville?
Storyville is just a couple of blocks inland from the French Quarter and was bounded by Iberville, Basin, St. Louis, and Robertson streets.
A History of Storyville
Known simply as ‘The District’ to the locals, the nickname of Storyville was a reference to Sidney Story, the man responsible for establishing the district.
Sidney Story acted on common sense really, knowing that prostitution was rife in New Orleans it was decided that the city government would allocate this relatively small area as a legalized red light district, benefiting the city in two ways – firstly, it was far easier for the authorities to monitor and regulate the business, and secondly it improved the character of the rest of the city as not everyone wanted to see prostitutes flaunting themselves all over the city! Containing prostitution to this one area meant that people knew where to go if they wanted a prostitute, and those who didn’t simply kept away.
So Storyville was established in 1897 with both black and white brothels. Despite this, it was against the law for black men to pay for services in either a black or a white brothel, so illegal brothels were set up outside of Storyville to which the police and authorities generally turned a blind eye.
Customers could choose from a variety of brothels in Storyville which varied according to the level of service and the prices charged. It sounds like an amusing concept these days, but guide books were actually printed so that visitors knew where to go and what the prices were in the different establishments! These were called ‘blue books’ and were published between 1895 and 1915.
The blue books would point the more discerning customers towards Basin Street, for example, which contained the most up-market establishments in the lavish mansions on this street which was once one of the most prestigious streets in New Orleans.
In 1917 the federal government took the decision to close down the Storyville District and made prostitution illegal. For the next decade or so, Storyville was a center for entertainment where famous jazz musicians, such as Tony Jackson, played. Then in the 1930’s almost all remnants of the former district were demolished to make way for the Iberville Projects, a New Orleans Housing Project, which still stands to this day.
Visitors to Storyville won’t see much evidence of its shady past – just a couple of the original buildings still stand. On Basin Street, along with the monumental statues of the likes of Simon Bolivar, keep a look out for the commemorative Storyville plaque.