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|Through the Years:
A Corner on Decatur
|Years come and go. People come and go. But the Pontalba Buildings - America's oldest
apartments - just stand their ground. They've been through good times and bad, but
the bad didn't bother them, they just waited patiently for the happier days to return.
Back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the Quarter was showing its considerable age
and would have been barely recognizable to the tourists and locals who flock there
today. Fortunately, the 1920's-'30's brought a preservation movement that came to the
Old Quarter's rescue. It was saved from the wrecking ball that many were ready to
employ and it was the object of intensive renovation, restoration and revitalization.
By the end of the 19th century, neglect had driven the Pontalba Apartments into drastic
disrepair. Preservationist Martha Gilmore Robinson recalled that “Tattered clothes
fluttered from the iron balconies of the once proudly fashionable Pontalba buildings.”
As you look at these iconic buildings today, it's difficult to image that a homeless
shelter once occupied the ground floor of the Lower Pontalba Building at Decatur and
St. Ann Streets. But the image at the top of the page gives proof that it's true.
In 1911, Monsignor Peter Wynhoven opened the St. Vincent's Hotel and Free Labor
Bureau in the Lower Pontalba Building to serve men in need of a helping hand. He
changed the lives of many men at this and other sites in the Quarter for several years,
until the facility closed in the mid-1920's.
In the years since, dozens of tenants have occupied the space that once held St.
Vincent's Hotel. Luckily for all of us, times have improved dramatically for the
venerable French Quarter and times have improved for the Pontalba, as well.
It was just a matter of waiting patiently for the return of happier days. -- Nancy
|Above, the Lower Pontalba in the 1890's; before St. Vincent's, the space
was home to the Jackson Store, a dry goods shop. (The photo at the top
of the page was taken between 1911-915).
|Lower Pontalba, 1920's, after St. Vincent's;
the sign reads "Fernandez's Wine Cellar."
|Currently, the River's Edge restaurant claims the
former home of the old St. Vincent's shelter.