Saturday, January 7, 2012

By the Water

"What area of the city or what attraction do most people miss because they don't have enough time to spend in New Orleans?" we asked the helpful woman at the Tourist Information Center in the French Quarter.

Among the areas she mentioned was the area called Bywater. She laughed as she mentioned the name, saying that it was down river from the Quarter and was given the name "because it was by the water."

"From our discussions about what you've seen, I think you'll enjoy this rather 'color-ful' part of the city," she added.

So, the next "open" day found us driving to the Bywater area.

"It is not clear how the name
"Bywater" was derived. Some say it came from an old telephone exchange that once existed in the area. Others say the "lower ninth" ward association sponsored a contest for students in the area to suggest a name. The winning entry came from a high school student who selected "Bywater" because the neighborhood borders the Mississippi River and the Industrial Canal. A group of businessmen used the name "Bywater" in promoting the area in 1947. The name stuck" (

"Today, Bywater comprises approximately 120 blocks of mixed residential and commercial character. The district’s history is clearly seen in its architecture and streetscapes. Today more than 87 percent of the structures in Bywater date from 1807-1935, making it a living museum of New Orleans life in days gone by" (

The major house types in Bywater include Creole cottages,

shotgun houses (right), camelback houses,

side hall plan houses (left), and commercial buildings.

"The Bywater neighborhood has an interesting mix of residential, commercial and industrial activity, along the riverbank. The Pauline Street Wharf remains busy. Warehouses and industrial companies...use the river and canal for its businesses. And yet the neighborhood has become a residential hotspot for artists" (

As we traveled around the neighborhood, we thought we had discovered a new community within the much larger New Orleans community. We were struck by the colors of the homes and businesses. Was it the Caribbean/Creole influence "kicked up a notch" or an introduction of a Hispanic influence from the Southwest or a return to the bohemian lifestyle of the 60's (albeit somewhat restrained).

Traveling through the community, we found ourselves caught up in the self-expression of the residents. Clearly, there was a variety in the philosophy of those living in this area.

Some valued the history evident in the worn buildings and entryways and left the exterior untouched; others wanted to restore the homes and took care to precisely paint the exteriors with a fine eye. Others seemed to ask "What if I put these randomly-selected colors together on my home's "canvas?"

We arbitrarily divided the finished products into two groups: the group whose color combinations lean toward complementary matches and a second group whose approach is more "courageous," bringing in more daring pairings.

To show the colors of Bywater, we photographed some of the details--doors, windows, and accoutrements--of these homes. In all cases, we found beauty in these differences.

"Most buildings sit close together directly on the street, similar to the Vieux CarrĂ©’s built environment. Front yards and off-street parking are rare and most buildings are a single story built on exposed piers (putting them two to three feet above the ground). This environmentally-driven design was a blessing during Katrina as most Bywater houses escaped flooding because of their raised construction" (

Finally, there is this information from the Houston Chronicle (May 26, 2007), entitled "Harmony in the Bywater."

"There are plenty of bars, restaurants and a few galleries. But for now there are no T-shirt emporiums clamoring for the tourist dollar and no typical attractions. Instead, something intangible, like a cosmic frequency heard only by a lucky few, is drawing like-minded souls to this bohemian little enclave. Bywater, New Orleans' third-oldest neighborhood, dates to the early 1800s, and stands just down river from the first- and second-oldest districts, the French Quarter and the Faubourg Marigny. Many of Bywater's artists and musicians moved there from the Marigny, driven out when tourists, clubs and restaurants began pouring in and real estate prices soared.

"The latest newcomers have brought change. Several good restaurants, such as Elizabeth's and The Joint, have joined old standards.... There are galleries, yoga studios and shopping ops for beautiful cast-glass at Studio Inferno and vintage everything at the eclectic Bargain Center. Many of the residents are out-of-towners who stumbled on the neighborhood on visits to New Orleans and fell in love with the magic of the place--and real estate prices half of what they'd expect back home."

Before moving on to our second designated group of more daring color combinations, we pause for a lunch break.

And there it was, our kind of place for lunch.

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