The red light district in New Orleans was well known as Storyville from 1897 – 1917 but locals usually called it The District. This is in honor of Sydney Story, the man that wrote the legislation legalizing prostitution. The model was after similar legislation which was active in the red light districts in Dutch & German ports during this period. During this time Blue Books were set up to regulate such activities which were legalized for police. The Blue Books not only were assigned the acceptable rules which were to be obeyed while visiting such a location, but also had a menu of services offered, house descriptions, prices & the “stock” available at each establishment.
There were different houses set up for black and white prostitutes with the caveat that only white men were allowed to visit both racially segregated houses of prostitution. Black men were refused service at all of the establishments in Storyville, but this left much of the prostitution business available for less reputable shop owners in other areas of the city. A man’s skin color means nothing when it comes down to paid sex. They all wanted the service. Brothels serving blacks openly would flourish all across New Orleans during this time. The establishments in Storyville ranged in quality & price. There were cheap cribs which would only charge .50 cents, as well as finer establishments which could cost as much as $10.00.
One doesn’t see much mention of STD’s during this period in either newspapers or in any legislation, but one must assume it was pretty wide spread, particularly easy to contact in the cheaper brothels. Just imagine if men, the prostitutes, and the brothel owners had been able to order std test kits through their local pharmacy or doctor. Lot’s of lives and misery could have been spared. Today we can go to a doctor’a office or clinic to be tested for stds OR test oneself at home. With the newest std testing kits a person can find out in the privacy of their home within 15 minutes whether they need medical intervention for the most common stds. What a break through that would have made in the early twentieth century.
Storyville and Jazz
Some people believe that Jazz originated in this district, but while there is no hard evidence of that we do know that Jazz definitely spread like wild fire all across the city of New Orleans when it arrived on the scene. The tradition in the local establishments was to hire on either piano players or full bands for the listening enjoyment of the patrons. Many out of town visitors first heard this new music when visiting the city before it found it’s way north and spread throughout America. In a period of weeks there were 4 dead soldiers killed within the district. After the military became involve & applied pressure the district would eventually close down officially. The area would remain as one of the most popular destinations in the city but for another reason. It would become a more subdued version of itself but remain an active hub of society. Through the 1920s various dance halls, restaurants & cabarets would open but if you looked hard enough you could still find the gambling and prostitution which made the are famous in the first place.
Today almost all of building which once populated the area have been demolished. This happened during the Great Depression because the land was needed for the construction of public housing. Most of the leveled buildings were in terrible shape but during this period many of the finest buildings in the city were destroyed as well as the mansions along Basin Street.