Every place has a history. Every home, office building, restaurant, and street has a starting point. The buildings that house the restaurants of Mid-City are no different. The people who own and operate these neighborhood haunts have a history too, a narrative they are eager to share. But this is only one portion of the building’s (and neighborhood’s) narrative.
An article that appeared in the Times Picayune by R. Stephanie Bruno tells how tracking a building’s history simply takes time and little leg work, but all the information needed is publicly available.
Some have argued that with the birth of the information age, and the growth of the internet, libraries are becoming like ghost towns. Figments held together by skeleton crews whose city and state budgets seemingly perceive them as costs instead of valuable and unequaled resource centers. I was one such person who saw the library as an antiquated place. I thought of libraries as creepy, dusty variations of Breakfast Club detention halls. I was wrong.
After doing some preliminary research on the information super highway, I made the trek to my local Civil District Courthouse and headed to the Conveyance Division and began getting my hands dirty. As I traced the property titles of my selected restaurants I noticed changes in font, typesetting, and continuity. The newer titles were printed and typed by modern machines that made every title and abstract concise and uniform. Then things started getting interesting. The titles I found dating back to before the roaring 20’s contained calligraphic signatures and other various personal touches that allowed me to follow families through marriage, birth, and death.
The New Orleans Public Library serves to facilitate the next step of my research in that they house the original surveys of the properties in question. One in particular was dated 09-09-09, and was done by hand and easel with water colors faded from over a century of aging. The buildings on the page came to life. They portray a time forgotten by many of today’s current residents and diners. The digital images crammed onto a scrollable screen did little to inspire the awe that the dedicated artistic talent poured onto the canvas. I did not experience the true wonderment until I was turning brittle pages, and recognizing family names generations old.
I have found treasure, and it has been at the library, waiting to be rifled through for over a hundred years. Local libraries and searches on the Sanborn maps will help provide further information if you are interested in searching your own home or haunt. As well, the Polk directory services to list other directories by state and year for further information. Check out the Times Picayune article highlighted above about finding more information on your particular place.