What can you tell me about the property at the intersection of North Rampart Street and Esplanade Avenue? A foundation of a thick wall is on this corner where there is a large, empty lot. Was the wall a part of the old ramparts?
Rampart Street was named for the protective walls built at the rear of the original city, but the brick walls on the corner are not remnants of the original ramparts.
From 1791-1797, the Baron de Carondelet was the Spanish governor of New Orleans, and it was he who first fortified the city, although only at the back of town at first. Carondelet's fortifications consisted of earth ramparts 3 feet high topped with pointed stakes of a cypress palisade 12 feet high. Then he dug a ditch in front, 7 feet deep and 40 feet wide.
To add to the fortifications, there were five forts jutting from the ramparts. Fort St. Louis was where the U.S. Customhouse is today; Fort Burgundy was at Canal and Rampart streets; Fort Ferdinand was on Rampart Street across from Beauregard Square; Fort St. John stood at Rampart Street and Esplanade Avenue; Fort St. Charles was built where the old U.S. Mint stands now, where Esplanade Avenue meets the river.
The governor was very proud of his accomplishments. He called the fortifications a "triumph of military engineering." However, when a representative from France appeared to see what the Spanish were doing to the city the French founded, he noted, "The fortifications of New Orleans are more efficient to keep the citizens in subjugation inside than to keep armed enemies outside."
Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, most of the fortifications were demolished. But Fort St. Charles was the spot chosen by General Andrew Jackson on Dec. 14, 1815. It was on a wall of this fort that he stood to survey his troops marching to Chalmette field to fight the Battle of New Orleans.
The bricks and mortar that remain on the site -- the 1100 block of Esplanade Avenue, the corner lot on your right as you drive away from the city -- are remnants of the wall around a school that existed until 1969. St. Aloysius is one of those places "dat ain't dere no more" but are still fondly remembered by faculty and alumni.
The Brothers of the Sacred Heart bought a building and property in 1892 from the Ursuline nuns, who had owned it since 1871. The brothers conducted the St. Aloysius High School for boys there, and in 1925 built a new school on the site. By 1954, the brothers were running another school as well -- Cor Jesu -- so they decided to consolidate. In 1969, the boys moved from Rampart and Esplanade to Elysian Fields Avenue, and the two schools were given a new name -- Brother Martin. The old building was demolished because it was not suitable for any other purpose, and providing insurance on an empty structure was too expensive.
The property has changed hands many times since then. It has been owned, at various times, by the United States Post Office, Dr. Stanley Boucree, and Exxon Mobile Company. Plans for the site included a large apartment building, luxury condominiums, and a home for the elderly. And I imagine the oil company had its own plans that included pumps. But as you can see, the site remains empty -- partly thanks to the efforts of the Esplanade Ridge Civic Association.
One of the first men to develop the site was Charles De Morand. After coming to New Orleans as an employee of the Company of the Indies, he purchased the land from the French government in 1738. His family operated a habitation -- a tract of land with a dwelling house, out buildings, and cultivated land -- until he sold it in 1775.
Over time the property was broken up and came into the hands of many different owners. As Esplanade Avenue developed beyond the French Quarter, the now-empty lot was occupied in the 1830s by Creole cottages.
Most recently, the large vacant lot has been a beehive of activity as trucks and people come daily with help for victims of Hurricane Katrina.