How to describe life in the Lower Ninth Ward? Vibrant, tradition-rich and fiercely independent, with a history of survival and activism – and the music, art and parades showcasing the social and pleasure clubs and Mardi Gras Indians.
Pre-Katrina, this was a community of nearly 20,000 people, with a population of 14,008 and 4,820 households (2000 Census) living north of St. Claude, while Holy Cross to the south had a population of 5,507 and 1,982 households. Mostly black and working class, about 60 percent of residents owned homes that had been in their families for generations – one of the highest rates of homeownership across the city. These neighborhoods were also home to cops and carpenters, electricians, university professionals, preachers, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, teachers and retirees.
The Lower 9 was filled with small businesses, barber and beauty shops before the storm, as well as corner stores, eateries, day care centers, public schools, and 72 churches of all denominations. Squeezed between the Mississippi River and the Bayou, three major avenues cross the ward, each with bridges over the Industrial Canal. On the northern “back-a-town” side is Florida Avenue, Claiborne Avenue is about midway, and closest to the river is St. Claude Avenue.
The Holy Cross Neighborhood is architecturally significant throughout the Gulf Coast region for its large number of shotgun houses. Located riverside of St. Claude and mostly residential, the Holy Cross Neighborhood is listed as both a National and Local Historic District. The World Monuments Fund (WMF) also added the St. Maurice Church located within the neighborhood to its 2008 Watch List of “100 Most Endangered Sites” worldwide. The shotgun house is the most common style (58 percent), but Creole cottages, side halls, bungalows, and occasional brick Italianate structures are also found there. Although heavily damaged by water and mold, many of these 50+ year old structures came through the flooding relatively unscathed thanks to their lathe and plaster construction and sturdy wood floors built of dense pine and cypress, and also Holy Cross relatively high elevation for the city of New Orleans. The district’s fine collection of historic architecture is known worldwide and includes the Steamboat Houses (1910), the Holy Cross School campus (1879) and Jackson Barracks (1834-35).
Oh, the Music They’ve Made! A number of great musicians have come out of the Lower Ninth Ward. The most famous is rock-and-roll legend Antoine Domino, Jr., also known as Fats Domino. Although often performing in Europe, Fats still has a house in the Lower 9 right off St. Claude. The Lastie family is one of the largest and most highly regarded musical families in New Orleans. And Kermit Ruffins, who spent his childhood years there, is an internationally-known trumpeter, vocalist and bandleader who co-founded the “Rebirth Brass Band” and still plays around town with his “Barbeque Swingers”.
Other notable sons and daughters of the Lower 9 include photographers Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, poet/author Kalamu ya Salaam, NFL star Marshall Faulk, and rapper Magic.