The Vieux Carré has been the center of the cultural and social life of New Orleans since the city’s inception. Generations of artists, writers, restaurateurs, bartenders, bankers, exotic dancers, Catholic priests, fortune-tellers, tourists, and others have haunted these 78 squares of brick and mortar for three centuries. Vieux Carré Memoir is an oral history project created by The Historic New Orleans Collection to record and archive the voices of those who have influenced life in the French Quarter during our time. With a variety of perspectives, Vieux Carré Memoir gives researchers and museum visitors an understanding of the changing nature of the neighborhood during the second half of the 20th century. 

 

Featured Interviews

Amzie Adams

After Amzie Adams drove from California to New Orleans on a whim in the 1960s with a vanload of free spirits, he wasn’t interested in going back. Adams soon established himself as the hardest-working hippy in the French Quarter.

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Vernel Bagneris

Actor and playwright Vernel Bagneris, a native of New Orleans’s Seventh Ward and current French Quarter resident, discusses his hit musical, One Mo’ Time. The production, which celebrated black vaudeville performances of the 1920s, was initially intended as a one-night-only show in the Quarter’s Toulouse Theatre in 1978. Bagneris explains how the passion project he and collaborators developed for months without pay grew from a successful local run to become an international sensation, and how the support of the tight-knit New Orleans community helped him get it off the ground.

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Arthur Brocato

Arthur Brocato, co-owner of Angelo Brocato’s ice cream parlor, discusses the history of the family business founded by his grandfather in 1905. Angelo Brocato opened the shop on Ursulines Street in the French Quarter after emigrating from Italy, where he had learned the trade apprenticing in a shop in the Sicilian capital of Palermo. The Brocato family moved their growing business to North Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City in 1979.

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Leah Chase

Leah Chase, the iconic executive chef of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, talks about landing her first restaurant job in the French Quarter as a teenager. She discusses how the vibrancy of the city contrasted with her country upbringing in Madisonville, and how she navigated the challenges she encountered as an ambitious young African American woman.

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Lisa "GiO" Suarez

Longtime New Orleans striptease artist Lisa Suarez, also known by her stage name, GiO, discusses her time performing on Bourbon Street. She explains the economics of her burlesque act, how she tried to distinguish herself, and how her career was brought to an end when a newspaper article about her earning a master’s degree revealed her age. Today, Suarez is a counselor and the vice president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association.

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Captain Clarke C. "Doc" Hawley

Capt. Clarke “Doc” Hawley, who spent more than six decades working various roles aboard river steamboats, discusses the history of the calliope, the unique steam-powered pipe organ associated with these watercraft since the mid-nineteenth century. In the early days, particularly in small towns, the whimsical sound of the calliope often announced a steamboat’s arrival. The steamboat Natchez still draws in passengers with this iconic sound and Hawley, well-known for playing its calliope, has come to be known as the “Pied Piper” of the French Quarter. 

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Salvatore Impastato

In 1914, the Impastato family’s shop was just one of many Sicilian-owned groceries in the French Quarter. They eventually transformed the business into a bar and restaurant called the Napoleon House, which gained renown for its Pimm’s cups and muffuleta sandwiches. Sal Impastato managed the landmark from 1971 until 2015, when he sold the hundred-year-old family business to New Orleans restaurateur Ralph Brennan.

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Al Sunseri

Alfred Sunseri, co-owner of P and J Oyster Company, discusses the history of the business, which was founded by members of the Popich and Jurisich families in 1876. Originally an oyster shucking house on Royal Street in the French Quarter, P and J grew to become the largest distributor of oysters in the region not long after Alfred’s grandfather, also named Alfred Sunseri, joined the company in 1921. Sunseri talks about how the business—now based at 1039 Toulouse Street—has survived hardships including wars, depression, and environmental disasters.

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Genevieve Trimble

As the longest-tenured member of the women’s literary club Le Petit Salon, Genevieve Trimble remembers the heyday of the organization. A writer herself, Trimble shares memories of her French Quarter social circle that included Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Dix, and Frances Parkinson Keyes, and what it was like moving to the historic neighborhood with her husband after World War II. 

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Sandra Weil

While visitors to Madame Tussaud’s waxworks in London could stand in the presence of Henry VII, French Quarter tourists could ogle Napoleon in his bathtub at the Musée Conti. Featuring wax figures meticulously crafted in France, the museum dramatized Louisiana history in a series of dioramas. Over the course of her thirty years at the museum, Sandra Weil led thousands of schoolchildren through the historical tableaux.

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Peruse all of the materials in this series.