In the 19th Century, The Warehouse District was fully industrial with warehouses and factories built on prime riverfront property in order to serve The Port of New Orleans. Planters brought cotton, indigo and sugar cane to be shipped to the East Coast, Europe, and Latin America, while coffee, tropical fruit, and manufactured items came in from foreign lands. Home to steel, iron and copper industries that supported the port as well as ship and brink manufacturers and office and grocery suppliers, this area was booming in its prime. By 1840, New Orleans was the second largest port in the United States and the fourth largest in the world.
With the expansion of rival ports on the Gulf Coast and the explosive growth of the oil and gas industry in New Orleans in the 40’s, activities along the river slowed down. Businesses moved out of the district to more spacious quarters and the few warehouses left were abandoned, rundown and unappealing. There was a portion of Camp Street that was so bad that it was referred to as “skid row” and parents warned their children to study hard or else they may “end up on Camp and Julia.”
With more wharf, warehouse, and industrial space than New Orleans would ever need, the city’s leaders made a plan to improve the area. This transformation began in 1976 with the opening of the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), a 10,000-square-foot complex used for art showings and creative performances in music, theatre and dance. Within two years, the borders of Poydras Street and Calliope Street, Loyola Avenue and the Mississippi River were officially recognized as the Warehouse District Historic District.
The Louisiana World Exposition of 1984 laid the groundwork for the future of the riverfront. After the six month fair ended, the site transformed into what is now The Riverwalk Outlet Mall and the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center. As painters, sculptors and photographers started moving to the Warehouse District to live and work, the area soon became known as the “Arts District.” or “the SoHo of the South”. It was then that the major visual arts renaissance in New Orleans began, as artists saw the abundant and open space of the old warehouses as a perfect place to create, store or display art. Now home to the National World War II Museum, Children’s Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and over 25 smaller studios and galleries, this district combines an urban sensibility with a unique local flair.
Modern Living in a Historical Setting
During the 1984 World’s Fair some windows of the Fibre Mills building were removed to allow the monorail to cruise through it and a year later the building was converted into condominiums. The Woodward Wright warehouse, a fully operational factory through 1911, followed by transforming into trendy apartments in 1986 and The Cotton Mill was renovated in 2007.
Known for the beauty of their exposed brick and wood beams, large windows, high ceilings and natural lighting, these living spaces offer modern amenities in a historical setting. The appeal is understandable as Amy Freese, Doerr’s Senior Director of Merchandising explained. “Exposed brick in your home or apartment brings character into any interior space from your kitchen to your bedroom. There is a lot to work with because of the warm, natural colors that exposed brick offers. It provides a soft edge of history to the modern industrial feel.”
And the residents of the Warehouse/Arts District are not afraid of style or color. “Just as we love to mix up styles in our wardrobes, large open spaces provide us with an opportunity to mix colors, patterns and shapes.”
And when you are surrounded by art, you will start collecting art. “No matter what you collect, you want to make sure you have a way to showcase your finds in area that will start a conversation,” Freese said.