Bywater, like many of New Orleans’ riverside neighborhoods, was settled on land from plantations given to Louisiana settlers as land grants by the French and Spanish rulers. The neighborhood is aptly named: Two of its natural boundaries are the Mississippi River and the Industrial Canal. It also stretches along Press Street to North Villere Street.
Less than 30 blocks from Canal Street, Bywater was carved out of six Creole faubourgs (suburbs) — Daunois, Montegut, deClouet, Montreuil, Carraby and Lesseps — and these family names are still reflected in some of the street names throughout the neighborhood. Bywater was developed in the late 19th century as its upriver neighbor, Faubourg Marigny, became full and residents were forced to begin settling farther downriver.
The early inhabitants of Bywater included Creoles; free people of color; and immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Italy. Many were creative types: glass artists, sculptors, painters, writers and musicians. But Bywater also was settled to provide supporting services to the cotton press industry because the largest cotton press in the world at that time was located on Press Street, now the dividing line between Bywater and its nearest neighbor, Faubourg Marigny.
Bywater contains a great wealth of 19th-century architecture and a wide range of housing prices as well, including condominiums in the Spice Factory and the Rice Mill. The late Victorian shotgun, available in singles, doubles and camelbacks, is very common here. However, there are also Creole cottages, classic town houses, Victorian center-hall and side-hall cottages.
Because of this richness of architecture and sturdy housing stock, Bywater has been experiencing an influx of buyers. Investors have found home prices more affordable here than in the neighboring French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny and have begun to turn the gracious old homes into dwellings suited to their lifestyles. Professions of residents today are much the same as earlier settlers as these modern artists and artisans rediscover this historic and traditional working-class neighborhood and move their homes and studios into the mix of architecture here.
A mainstay of the neighborhood is the $23 million New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts on the boundary between Faubourg Marigny and Bywater. Bywater also has its own Country Club on Louisa Street. Bywater residents host an annual Mirliton Festival, and on the third Saturday of each month, the Bywater Art Market attracts throngs of visitors looking for original, affordable art. This is truly a welcoming-to-all neighborhood filled with housing bargains just waiting for the right owners.
Faubourg MarignyThe Marquis Antoine Xavier Bernard Phillippe de Marigny de Mandeville (1785-1868) has been described as “the last Creole gentleman.” By the mid-1800s, he had lived life large and managed to lose most of the vast fortune left to him when he was just a teenager. In order to pay his gambling debts, Marigny began to divide his vast plantation into the neighborhood we know today as Faubourg (the word means “suburb” in French) Marigny.
Faubourg Marigny begins at Elysian Fields Avenue at the site of Bernard’s original plantation and extends downriver to Press Street, where it segues into Bywater. Esplanade Avenue, bordering the French Quarter, and St. Claude Avenue make up its other two boundaries.
Faubourg Marigny is probably one of the most eclectic neighbors in the city. Frenchmen Street, lined with an over-abundance of restaurants, music clubs and coffee shops, is its main thoroughfare and Washington Square its playground.
An architecture class could take just one field trip here and marvel at examples of every architectural style built in the city during the 1800s. In one block of Burgundy Street alone –– which Bernard originally named “Rue Craps” to pay homage to one of his great passions –– you can see a Greek Revival-galleried Creole cottage at 2020 Burgundy.
Farther down this same street, at 2031, is an example of the quintessential New Orleans home style: the shotgun. The term is said to have originated from the fact that a gun can be fired the entire length of the house without hitting anything.
At 2001 Burgundy is the former Canal Commercial Trust & Savings Bank, one of several robbed by the infamous duo Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. More recently, it was used in a chase scene in the K-Ville television series.
And on the corner of Burgundy and Touro sits another of the city’s indigenous structures: an excellent example of a two-story corner store. The corner lot was used for commercial purposes because it attracted customers from all directions, and usually the Creole shopkeeper’s family lived on the second floor.
Faubourg Marigny today is chic and sophisticated. Many of its grand homes have been meticulously restored. Residents dress stylishly for Sunday brunch at one of the many cafes and then glide over to the Nickel-A-Dance soiree on Frenchmen Street. Housing prices have been rising steadily here and range from a low of $125,000 all the way up to just under a half-million.