The part of Melpomene Avenue from Earhart Boulevard to Baronne Street was renamed in 1977. Then in 1989, Jim Singleton introduced an ordinance to change the rest of Melpomene as well. But the City Council decided not to change the name of the street entirely. Instead, it voted unanimously to change the name of just two blocks of Melpomene Avenue.
There was some strong opposition from various preservationists and folks who lived in the Lower Garden District. So Councilman Jim Singleton agreed to amend his ordinance. Melpomene, from St. Charles Avenue to Baronne, was renamed for the civil-rights leader; but from St. Charles to the river, it would keep its old name.
It was also at this time that the council voted five to one that Dryades Street from Howard Avenue to Philip Street would also be renamed. Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard would be its new name to honor another civil-rights leader. She was from New Orleans and had died in 1987.
It was in the 19th century that both Dryades and Melpomene were originally named. Dryades honored Greek forest nymphs, and Melpomene was one of the nine Greek Muses, sister goddesses who presided over poetry, music, drama, and other arts and sciences. Melpomene was the Muse of tragedy.
The preservationists who thought it would be a tragedy indeed to change the name of the street entirely included members of the Preservation Resource Center and the Coliseum Square Association. The president of the Coliseum Square Association said at the time that "Melpomene is an integral part of the historic district in which we live." She also said, "We have no problems with Dr. King. It's just that he wasn't a Greek Muse."
Councilman Singleton responded, "The Muses mean very little to me personally, but I can see it makes a lot of sense to keep the name, the way the streets were done," with all nine together.
So did city surveyor Barthelemy Lafon when,
between the years 1806 and 1810, he was subdividing four plantations above the
Faubourg Ste. Marie. Lafon had a fondness for Greek names, so honoring the Muses
made sense. There was also supposed to be a Coliseum on Coliseum Street. But
the name Lafon gave to the most important street -- Cours du Nayades -- was
changed in 1852 to St. Charles Street.
While driving in and around the city, you can't help but notice all the statues, monuments and memorials. Do you know exactly how many there are? And is our town unique?
Of course, our town is unique. We're New Orleans, aren't we? But we are not unique because of the number of outdoor works of art. However, you are right when you say that everywhere we go there are beautiful creations to admire.
In the early 1990s, there was a nationwide survey of works of outdoor sculpture. It was a project of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property. The goal was to "identify, research, document, and survey outdoor sculpture throughout the nation and to raise public awareness of this vital part of our cultural legacy."
Volunteers in the New Orleans area set about documenting our treasures for the Save Outdoor Sculpture project. At that time, there were about 300 works in our area that were researched. The gathered information was entered into a database at the Smithsonian. The results were published, but the list is incomplete because it has not been kept up to date.
Counting the works of art we have in the Big Easy is not an easy task. New works are constantly being added. In 1987, the Arts Council of New Orleans began a public art program called Percent For Art. Since then, 20 large pieces of art have been placed around the city for us to admire. I hope you have seen the most recent piece, "Spirit House." Located at the intersection of DeSaix, St. Bernard and Gentilly Boulevard, this work by John T. Scott and Martin Payton was dedicated in April 2002.