Algiers merchants rally to counteract ferry cuts

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The Mumbles keyboardist Keith Burnstein performs at the weekly 'Wednesdays at the Point' concert series in Algiers on June 26.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The Mumbles keyboardist Keith Burnstein performs at the weekly 'Wednesdays at the Point' concert series in Algiers on June 26.

MAKING THEIR POINT

With its 300-year history and unique ambience, Algiers Point has long lured tourists and locals alike to the West Bank of New Orleans.

When budget cuts recently curtailed the hours of the free ferry from the foot of Canal Street, making it tougher for customers to come from downtown New Orleans, Algiers merchants, restaurateurs, bar owners and tour guides rallied to call attention to the neighborhood.

During an August series dubbed Stay on Point, Algiers businesses host events every weekend, including cooking classes, live music and pool parties.

“The Point is quintessential New Orleans, with its architecture and rich history,” said Russell Blanchard, owner and tour guide of Algiers Point Tours.

Founded in 1719 — making it New Orleans’ second-oldest neighborhood after the French Quarter — Algiers Point is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Algiers started out as the dry dock and the slaughterhouse for the city. It was actually known as Slaughterhouse Point,” said Blanchard. “They wanted the undesirable things on the other side of the river away from the main parts of the city.”

What really drove the economy was the Southern Pacific Railroad, built just before the Civil War, which employed 4,000 men. It closed in the 1960s.

“That’s why in 1911 you had 39 bars (or) saloons and 20 Italian groceries, all within a 10-by-10 block radius,” Blanchard said.

Although many of these bars and grocery stores have been renovated into private residences, there are still a few that do business in historic locations, such as On Point Bar, The Crown and Anchor, and Louis Corner Bar.

“We are a local institution,” said Ron Casey, owner of the Dry Dock Bar and CafĂ©. “There has always been a food or bar business here on and off for the last 100 years.”

With the majority of businesses owned by residents of Algiers Point, there are no franchises or chains within the historic neighborhood.

“It’s not exactly old town USA; more like old town New Orleans. We are really trying to maintain the historical integrity of the neighborhood,” said Ed Moise, chef and owner of Bed and Breakfast on the Point.

Some of the architecture predates the Civil War, but most structures were built immediately after a devastating fire in 1895 that burned down 200 buildings in one night.

Historical architecture, restaurants and bars aside, Algiers Point has developed a thriving and interactive arts scene that offers glass blowing, painting, puppetry, pottery and much more.

“Our studio is in an old renovated art deco movie theater,” said Mark Rosenbaum, glass blowing artist and owner of Rosetree Glass Studio. “We have a viewing room where you can watch us working anytime in our studio, and we will explain what we are doing.”

Throughout the year, Algiers Point hosts an array of public events, such as the popular Wednesdays on the Point, a series of free concerts that runs annually from May through July.

Part of the allure of Algiers Point is the walkability and the plentiful green spaces it offers.

“It is a beautiful, peaceful and quiet neighborhood, with wonderful space for walking or biking along the levee,” said Karen Konnerth, owner of Calliope Puppets.

“It’s like stepping back in time,” Rosenbaum said. “It is what a community used to be and should be, and hopefully people will discover The Point and see what a great treasure we are in New Orleans.”