New Orleans
Neighborhood Portraits

Mid City

"Mid-City, so-called because its location at one time was in the middle of the city, has a character and spirit that most of its residents enjoy. Mid-City has a comfortable balance of various land uses, with a mixture of restaurants, shops, schools, churches, walking tours and its most noted cemeteries. The neighborhood is near City Park, the largest green space in the city." (from The New Orleans Data Center)

At the Blue Oak Barbeque restaurant

Philip, Blue Oak's owner and chef

Emilie, Philip's wife and a realtor in Mid City

Out back, at the smoker

Virginia, who works at the Tulane Hospital complex

Virginia: I’ve lived here for about five years now and I love it. I know everyone on the block and a few here and there around the neighborhood. Everyone is great. I love living next the bayou. I love living so close to the park. It's great to get downtown and pretty much anywhere in the city.

Q: Did you live in the city before you came here?

Virginia: I lived in Uptown, yes, I did. I rented in Uptown and this is where I could afford a house when I started looking. And now I don’t know if I could even afford it, now, but I lucked out and I got in here when I could.

The neighborhood has changed tremendously. Especially up and down Orleans Ave., a lot of remodeling of homes, things like that. What else? Oh, the greenway. It's like a bike path and it was all city property that was just kind of sitting there. I think and it goes from above Carrollton Ave. all the way to Basin. It's got lots of play grounds and gardens stuff like that, so it's nice. Lots of things changing. It’s great.

Neighborhood safety is decent. I feel pretty comfortable walking around in the evening. I do a lot of running. I don't always feel like I'm being the wisest person in the world when I do it but I feel like it's pretty safe. I don’t ever have any problems.

I see a lot of kids in the neighborhood, quite a few. There are a few down there, my neighbors have kids right here, and they’re a few I know around the block, so that's nice. I love that I can be in the city and it's got a great neighborhood feel.

I work in the Tulane medical area. So, it's like a 10 minute commute. Bike or car it’d take 10 minutes. You can’t really ask for a whole lot better in the city than a 10-minute commute.

In an area near the Esplanade Ridge

Q: Tell us about how the neighborhood is changing and who is moving in—

Emilie:  So, I think the area near Bywater feels more like out of town people who aren't from New Orleans. Whereas Mid-City feels more like people who are from New Orleans.

But you also have people who lived in these houses for a long time. I also think that this neighborhood was probably a little bit more gentrified to begin with because the Esplanade area has always been a wealthy area, whereas in the area near Bywater, you don't have these large grand homes like that.

Q: So, does it feel like, kind of like Esplanade area to you here?

Emilie: A little bit, yeah. So, Esplanade is older, this is more Arts and Crafts, bungalow style architecture, which was built a little bit later.

So, this area is on the Esplanade Ridge, and moving that way and that way it goes down. These areas developed before those because those were more likely to flood, so as infrastructure came into the city those areas were built up.

Pam Jenkins

Pam: Welcome to one of the best neighborhoods in the city!


Pam: We all flooded. Every one of us. Every one of us flooded. And we’re all back, but that rental, but everyone’s come back.

Yeah. We got about 2 feet of water, lost everything, but we’re back. We had great luck, yeah, we’re a rebound, you know. We’re when it works; when you get your insurance, and your FEMA money, and your Road Home money. We were lucky. We stood in privilege in this recovery. That’s the story, from one sociologist to another.

We’ve, like I said, we recovered in standing in privilege. We had jobs, we had insurance, we had people to help us. And many people didn’t recover because they didn’t have any of those things. We this thing here called ‘Sundays at Pam and Ed’s.’ For about eight months after the storm people would come, and it took about six months to gut the house. They gutted it with us, and then people came and helped tear back, and then construction came in. So, people came and helped it us move back in. Took us about 18 months. That’s probably typical. I think it took it Sam, who lives right here [points next door], less than that. And Laura got the least water of anybody here.

Q: Because of the height?

Pam: Yeah. So, we were one of the last neighborhoods to flood because the water from the bayou rose and the water in the streets rose to meet the level of water in the lake. That took till about Tuesday afternoon, so we didn’t flood till then.

Emilie: Are you in the Esplanade Ridge here?

Pam: No! No, no.

Emilie: Oh, it’s more over there? Because Blue Oak didn’t flood.

Q: Her husband owns the Blue Oak Barbecue.

Pam: Oh, we love the place! We love to walk there is perfect!

Emilie: Nice!

Pam: Well, they were higher there of course. So, we’ve always have had to have flood insurance because of where we are. But we were lucky. I don’t know how else to say that. We were sort of the end of—what helped for us to come back was that a lot of people didn’t flood, or they had two-story homes, so they could come back. So, we were never completely isolated. We didn’t have the jack-o’-lantern effect or any of that here.

Pam with Griffin

Pam: Hey Griff, you want to be filmed? Come on over honey.


Pam: This is Griffin and Johnson. He does track and lacrosse and he’s my friend, and Johnson. [Johnson is a dog]

Griffin: He’s all right.

Q: Were people actually helping each other?

Pam: Oh my God!

Q: Tell.

Pam: There’s a strong neighborhood presence here. My neighbor Sam will tell you, she says we were friends before the storm, but now we have each other’s backs. And it was great. We had a FEMA trailer right there for about six months [pointing in from of her house] until I couldn’t stand living there anymore. And we’re typical in that sense of living about nine places before we—well that’s how we saw you when I was living in Baton Rouge—so we lived about nine places before we got home. That’s pretty typical for this. And it took us about 18 months to get the insurance and the contractor and all that stuff. So, in the middle of that, you know, you had your neighbors. And most of them—Rick came back, the people who lived on the corner came in and gutted but did not come back and then sold their house, Laura has been here forever, this is her tenant, she rents out, that has changed, DJ, Rick, Sheeran, so I don’t know those people down there very well, but I can hear, and Mary and Francis came so we’re good [unsure of last part of sentence]. I grew up in a really small town in Iowa. Little bitty town. New Orleans always had that small-town feel to me, where you know everybody, you walk outside to see who is walking, you know your barista, you the person at the grocery store. It’s a really small town, in that sense. We all know each other [laughs]. More so than Baton Rouge really.

Q: Tell us some things about the neighborhood these days.

Pam: So, there’s only two good blocks of Wilson. I’ve always referred to that as the middle-class block of Wilson [points down the street] and this was the working-class block of Wilson [indicating where we are]. These homes were all created when the American Can Company was opened as a factory. These were workers homes, these little kind of cottages that you see here. And so, what has been occurring since the storm is there’s more rental property on the street then there was before the storm. So, you have more renters, and you see that everywhere actually.

Q: Any Air B&Bs here?

Pam: Not legal.

Q: But not like noticeable?

Pam: Not on this block. Not on this—I have to tell you—not on this block. And I could be wrong. Like down there and down there, [pointing down either side of the street] there might be some, but in the people I know I don’t see it. So, we don’t have that going on here.

This neighborhood recovered, and recovered well; it’s a place people want to live. So, when a house goes on the market here it’s grabbed up and people are making, you know, way over the price their house. We thought about it—here’s the question as sociologists, eventually New Orleans will be the coast, right? [Laughs] So, the question we ask ourselves is, “do we want sell while the housing market is good? Or do we want to stay?” And the question is, “where would you go? And where would you live?” And we’re still here. I do all this research on the coast and people are making these decisions on the coast all the time. We can still get insurance. Down there in places you can’t get insurance. It’s kind of a different experience.

Q: Any feeling about gentrification in the neighborhood?

Pam: We were already gentrified before the storm. Nobody’s tearing down to build McMansions, you know. I think it could change here, but right now it’s a stable group of both people who own houses that they rent and people who own their houses, like the person who owns that’s four-plex, that house is just going to stay. And besides, we’re dense. We’re neighborhood that’s dense, so if you were going to build, you’d have to tear down two houses to build, like they’ve done in Lakeview. After the storm where they’ve taken three lots and built these huge homes. No. It’s because we got that water. There is this one house on the block that didn’t get water at all and they became the place that we all went to, to have potable water, all those things when we’re are coming back. And then we all just gradually came back, and people came back much quicker than others, not us but like Brooke came back because of her contractor, you have that capacity to do your work. There are three neighborhood organizations that overlap Mid-City—

Pam with Ed Latour

Pam: This is my husband Ed Latour.

Pam: Let me tell you what happened, my friend Steven Bingler, who is an architect came through and he said, “just it make a post-Katrina house.” So, we took out every weight-bearing stud, we opened up all the rooms—

Ed: Well, non-weightbearing studs.

Pam: Non-weight bearing studs!


Pam: So this house was 1924. It was all flooded to the top, so we just tore it out and the people we had working on the house, they scoffed at us and we said, “no, no, no. Just, let’s see what it looks like.” And they called us up and said, “come see because it’s beautiful!”

Ed: We asked them the sand the boards and they were kind of reluctant.

Pam: This was all covered, so we just left this. Come see this, you can see where the water was. So, the water settled here [pointing].

Ed: That’s where it settled. We don’t know if it was higher. The problem was because it was closed up, the mold just went up on the inside the walls and outside the walls.

Pam: Like I said, we stood in privilege in the storm. So, these were all rooms. We just opened it all up.

Ed: We had a wall splitting a front room. We had another wall here, between the dining room and the kitchen.

Q: So, you were able to save your vinyl collection? Because I see—

Pam: Oh, no. No.

Q: So, you had to replace all that?

Ed: Well, you know it’s the sleeves. I saved some of the vinyl because I was afraid I couldn’t replace them, but the sleeves—that’s kind of the best part of them.

Pam: Was one of his worst days. I have a photograph of him sitting on the porch deciding—he had an incredible vinyl collection.

Ed: I lost about 500 albums.

Q: Oh, sorry. I know how you feel.

Ed: It’s all right.


Ed: And the thing is, when we intentionally evacuate I pick all those up and put them up on the counter, but that weekend we weren’t evacuating. We were just leaving town because the storm was going somewhere else. By the time were already gone it was heading right here and we didn’t do anything to prepare.

Pam: The other really hard part this was, like any academic, I had 3000 books in this house.

Ed: And that was just mounds of mush.

Pam: And I couldn’t carry them out, so friends carried them out and put them on the curb. That’s the thing we have not replaced here, intentionally. If it floods I don’t want to do that again.

Q: The flood that happen in August— Did you get water here?

Pam: We got it up to the first step.

Ed: It’s the highest we’ve ever seen and here. I mean, other than Katrina, but that was a different cause, but this was rainfall. It’s the highest we’ve seen it. We weren’t here for the May ‘95 floods, so I don’t know how high it got then.

Pam: But the neighbors were out. The neighbors were all out. We were all watching, people’s cars were stalled, but we knew it was different. We knew something was different because the rain came so fast and the pumps didn’t turn on, and so I came in here and started picking stuff up. Ed said, “no, no, no.”

Ed: Rainfall is not going to make it that high here. I mean, we’re raised. If we were on a slab it’d be a different story.

Griffin with his mother, Sam

Pam: Sammy, talk about what it was like to come back after the storm and what the neighborhood was like.

Sam: It was a ghost town. It was really quite…scary. And we came back—now y’all are going to get me emotional—we came back about a month afterwards. Now don’t you start! [to Pam]


Sam: But it was a very odd time. The neighborhoods were nothing. And we were so lucky we got to move right upstairs, in the neighbor’s house. I live here [pointing to the adjacent house]. We got to move over upstairs there, so we came back and it was a crazy time.

Ed: Funny story, Sam was here, we weren’t back yet, somebody broke into our shed and stole a drill and some other piece.

Sam: A weed eater or something.

Ed: Weed eater. He was walking on the street and Sam’s up there in the window, sees him and yells at him and says “stop!” Comes out and confronts him, the guy drops the stuff and runs away. Then she asks us, “did you lose this?” “We said, “Yeah.”


Sam: I’m a cop’s wife, you know, I’m a bartender, back then I had a concealed carry permit. What do I do? Do I have any protection whatsoever? No. I’m barefoot, chasing the guy in my pajamas going “wait a minute!” “Well, no, no, I know these people” [Imitating the thief]. “What’s their names? You don’t know them! Put it down!” Finally he dropped it and took off.

Q: Amazing.

Sam: But I was like, “that so silly.” And here I am not even thinking anything about it, completely not dressed, barefoot.

Ed: And there was nobody else around. This place was empty.

Sam: We were…let’s see, post-Katrina it’s only the one house that still isn’t back up and running and he just works on it—it’s 12 years now and he still works on it here and there. And obviously by the door being open, he’s they’re working on it now.

Q: Talk a little about the neighborhood now. What’s it feel like now?

Sam: You know, this is probably not a really good time to ask me that because I’m very upset with the fact that we’ve had a little crime wave in this neighborhood. I’ve been here 20 years and I have never—I used to live Uptown and I was a bartender, I didn’t get out of my car, I lived in the hood, I didn’t get out of my car without my gun in my hand, made sure all the neighbors knew that I was, you know, dating a police officer and had a gun, because I was coming to and from with cash. We moved here and it was like moving to Mayberry. This little street, we know all of our neighbors we talked to one another and everything. So, it was just wonderful. And lately…I’m not real happy with the little turn of events with crime in our neighborhood, but other than that I love my street.

Q: What kind of crime?

Sam: Car cross street was stolen and about a day and a half, two days later, just right on the other side of Dumaine [Street] a woman was robbed at gunpoint. And we’ve had a lot of incidents of kids basically patrolling the neighborhood to see if car doors are open, petty theft, jacking people up.

Q: How far were people coming from? From in the neighborhood, you think, possibly?

Sam: That I don’t know. I wouldn’t think so. We don’t actually have a lot of kids in this neighborhood. We are getting a younger crowd now.

Pam: We have Griffin, and we have three over there, and that might—you don’t have a tenant anymore that has a kid?

Sam: Nope.

Q: And not a lot of change of people? Not a lot of turnover?

Sam: No. We really don’t. Even the rentals—mine stay forever, Laura has stayed forever, Clair’s tenants have been there for at least 4, 5, 6, and 7 years each, so.

Pam: Scott and Nina have been there forever as renters.

Sam: Yeah. The white house has a little turnover, but not much.

Pam: But that’s expensive to rent that half of that white house over there. That’s $2000 a month.

Sam: Doggone. I bought the wrong house!

Pam: And this one is $950 a month, that half [pointing to a different house].

Pam: So Sam makes the best margarita of all time and she used to be the bartender at Cooter Brown’s. So, there are two things I would do after the storm if I was having a bad day in the rebuild. I would come sit, because she was done quicker, and have a margarita here. But then if I was having a really bad day and she was working I would drive to Cooter Brown’s, and she wouldn’t want to charge me anything and I keep trying to give her money.

Sam: It was just a therapy session that’s all.

Pam: I’d have a very strong margarita and then I’d have to drive home.

Ed: That’s when we are in the FEMA trailer.

Q: The way we got into the neighborhood here is, we know the family that owns the Blue Oak Barbecue, so we talked with them and said, “can we come and walk around your neighborhood with you?” And so we spent whole bunch time at the restaurant taking pictures. It gives a feel for a neighborhood.

Sam: And I’m a little sad about the traffic, but I absolutely adore the fact that they’re doing so well. They’re always sold-out. It’s so busy. It’s so great to have a restaurant that you can walk to.


Griffin: Hey Julianne.

Sam: Hey Julianne.

Pam: That’s her neighbor. Who’s pretty cool. We’re pretty close.

Sam: Yeah, it’s a very close-knit neighborhood I would say.

Pam: —of diverse kinds of folk. People who do different kinds of things for a living.

Sam: Oh absolutely.

Pam: And we all dress up for Mardi Gras. Well, you don’t dress up, but sometimes you do.

Sam: I’m just me. I go playing an adult every now and again.


Pam: But on Mardi Gras it’s funnest to see these young people come out in their costumes on their way—

Q: Would they be students?

Pam: Just young millennials hanging out. We dress up and take the cab down.

Sam: That’s what [Julianne] does. She builds costumes for living. Griffin’s godmother and my sister-in-law is a costume designer. She works for the opera and for plays and stuff like that. Anytime I need anything sewn, I have lost any skills I have whatsoever because I go, “Julie!” [mimes holding a phone]

Q: Would you tell us a thing or two about the neighborhood? What it feels like today? How it seems to you?

Julianne: It feels very settled here. Almost like so settled that there’s now a little more crime moving in. Because a few years ago, I don’t know, I think when there were fewer people here, who were more actively engaged in each other’s lives, and now that the neighborhood is totally populated, you’re not as reliant on your neighbors. We still have our community, we still have the friendship, but in the times of the crisis people were more dependent on each other. But I don’t know if the statistics to back it up at all.

Q: How long have you lived in the neighborhood?

Julianne:  There was a time in the middle where I was in California, but 11 years. I lived in that house first [pointing past Pam’s house] and then I moved in downstairs here [points next door to Sam’s] and now I live upstairs there, so I just keep coming back here.

Q: So, you like the neighborhood?

Julianne:  I like it. I mean, I’ve had three apartments on this street. This is the only place I’ve ever rented an apartment. It worked out really well. Then Sam is my landlady, so I knew her for years before I moved in to her building because I was her next-door neighbor. So, there’s that kind of web. And I think right around Katrina, or after Katrina, as we are coming back in, there just weren’t as many people so you were more aware of what was going on with your neighbors.

Q: They were saying there’s not that much turnover. Do you feel like the people who are here are more stable?

Julianne: Yeah.

Q: You say you’re feeling a change?

Julianne: I think the change is more that now we’re at capacity, more than that the population shifted. More of us have came in here now, because a lot of these houses weren’t totally inhabitable when I was here. But you know, it’s been changing, everybody has been moving in and fixing stuff up.

Q: And she says you're seamstress and you make things. Is that your profession?

Julianne: Yep. I’m a costume designer and dressmaker. I have a studio in my apartment and I work with Krewe Du Vieux, then L.E.W.D., which is a float. I work with Mardi Gras and Mardi Gras clients year-round.

Q: That’s fantastic!

Julianne: It’s a lot of fun.

It wouldn’t be Mardi Gras without that kind of politics [in the Mardi Gras krewes]. There is always petty personal rivalries. I mean that’s half the fun of it for me though, not getting involved in it myself, but just like, “alright y’all, have fun with that. Let me just pour a little alcohol on this dumpster fire.” It’s about all I do.

My floats’ mission is lewd….so, I mean, we take things far, but we just have to put that many more penises on it or, “let’s put a giant vagina on this!” “Oh okay, that sounds good!” What we’re parodying is hypersexuality, which is fun. Who doesn’t like doing that?

Q: Do you have anything in the works you could let us see?

Julianne: For Mardi Gras? I don’t really have any Mardi Gras costumes on right now. I’m just trying to think what I have in there. My next big project isn’t cut out yet, so there’s nothing really exciting happening in my studio. I did drapery last week. I’m going to be doing Mardi Gras costumes from now on. I have to work on boring stuff, basically what I’m saying is I have boring stuff in my studio right now.

Q: No genitalia?

Julianne: No. No, I haven’t started on any of that. I mean, come back in a month and it will be like—you’ll be blown away. But right now, it’s like it’s really clean. I’m expecting my dad to come over tomorrow for a drink, so my baseboards are spotless. There’s no genitalia out…. There is a little bit.


Julianne: There is a little bit, but it’s decorative. I did once find—I was walking through the French Quarter and I had some friends from California, it was their first night in town, and we’re walking down the street, we see this pile of trash and I’m like, “that’s fallopian tubes!” I see fallopian tubes and I recognize it right away. I didn’t see what the object was and it turned out it was an educational poster, like, “this is the female reproductive system,” and there was also the corresponding male, and one about general puberty. But the great thing about these posters is, it wasn’t regular poster board, it was hand-drawn and it was all colored in with markers. Somebody put a lot of work into this. And had all this stuff written down on it, I mean, I have them still. They’re laminated. So, I took them up and carried them. I had them up in my bathroom for a while, until I painted it. The reproductive system is up on my wall. It was normally fine, but there were a couple times, because I have clients come over, and they would comment on it. And I was like, “maybe I don’t want to have those up on my wall anymore.” But it was great. It was their first night in New Orleans and I found reproductive posters in the trash and it’s one of my prized possessions. And handmade, because it was very accurate.

Yeah. You can find some great stuff in the trash. There is trash pile down the street there where, like whenever it comes up, I found some great stuff. I have this beautiful artwork and this embroidery that I got there. And then there’s another great thing about this neighborhood, there’s a lady who does ceramics on the bayou, Peggy Bishop, she lives in the neighborhood and she’s been cleaning out her studio for the past few months. So, on trash night I’ll go swing by Peggy Bishop’s house and see what she’s throwing out this week and I’ve gotten some great stuff from there. I just found the perfect table. I’ve been wanting a table like this for years, it fits in this spot in my kitchen, and it was her old studio table, so I refinished it. So that’s a great thing about a neighborhood: you figure out where the artists are and you check their trash piles.

Note. These photo portraits cannot represent the whole range of views in a neighborhood. My survey research tries to do that (see my home page). But I think that these photo portraits express views that are widespread in a neighborhood. This is due to the methodology. Qualitative work like these photo pages has more depth, while quantitative work like surveys has more breadth. Both are valuable, and if you want to know more about a neighborhood, you should try to learn about both.

All materials which I created, including animations,
are Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frederick Weil; all rights reserved.

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