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Canal Street is a major thoroughfare in the city of New Orleans. Forming the upriver boundary of the city's oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter (Vieux Carre), it acted as the dividing line between the older French/Spanish Colonial-era city and the newer American Sector, today's Central Business District.

Canal Street, looking away from the river, 1920s
Canal Street, looking toward the river, December 2005 (post-Katrina). Though downtown largely escaped the catastrophic destruction that occurred elsewhere, for months after Katrina it, like much of the city, was a veritable ghost town.

The name of the avenue comes from a planned canal which was to have connected the Mississippi River to the Congo Square terminus of the Carondelet Canal, but was never constructed. The wide median earmarked for the canal was referred to by early inhabitants as the "neutral ground", due to the animosities amongst culturally distant residents on separate sides of the avenue. The term is still used by New Orleanians to refer to all street medians.

One end of Canal Street terminates at the Mississippi River. Often called "The foot of Canal Street", at the riverfront the Canal Street Ferry offers a connection to the Algiers Point neighborhood, an older, 19th century portion of the larger Algiers area across the river. Canal Street's other terminus is in Mid-City at a collection of cemeteries. Slightly offset from Canal Street's Mid-City end is the beginning of Canal Boulevard, which extends to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain via the Lakeview neighborhood.

The street has three lanes of traffic in both directions, with a pair of streetcar tracks in the center.

Canal Street is often said to be the widest roadway in America to have been classified as a street, instead of the avenue or boulevard titles more typically appended to wide urban thoroughfares.

Canal Street at night, looking away from the river towards Mid-City

For more than a century, Canal Street was the main shopping district of Greater New Orleans. Local department stores Maison Blanche, D.H. Holmes, Godchaux's, Gus Mayer, Kreeger's and Krauss anchored numerous well-known specialty retailers, such as Rubenstein Bros., Adlers, Koslow's, Rapp's, and Werlein's Music. National retailers, like Kress, Woolworth, McCrory's and Walgreens were present alongside local drugstore K&B. Sears operated a large store one block off Canal, on Baronne Street. Theaters and movie palaces were centered around the intersection with Rampart Street, with the neon marquees of the Saenger, Loews State, Orpheum, and Joy casting multicolored light nightly onto surrounding sidewalks. Notably, the world's first movie theater (that is, the first business devoted specifically to showing films for profit) was "Vitascope Hall", established on Canal Street in 1896.

Though Canal Street began to lose its primacy as a regional shopping destination in the late 1960s, it retained a robust mix of department stores and specialty shopping into the mid-1980s - somewhat later than main street shopping districts in most other major U.S. cities - and it received an ostensibly decisive boost in 1983 with the completion of Canal Place's retail component, which included a Saks Fifth Avenue department store and a Brooks Brothers outlet. However, national trends disfavoring downtown retail finally caught up with Canal Street - with a key assist from the the regional economic depression of the mid-80s (the Oil Bust) - and apart from Canal Place, Rubensteins and Adler's, no high-end retail now remains.

For decades, the giant effigy of the character Mr. Bingle on the fa├žade of the Maison Blanche building was a sign of the Christmas season.

Beginning in the 1970s with the completion of the New Orleans Marriott, Canal Street began to accommodate large convention hotels, such as the Sheraton New Orleans and the JW Marriott.

Canal Street today is undergoing redevelopment along the lines called for in the Downtown Development District's 2004 Canal Street Vision and Development Strategy. In recent years the street has welcomed the addition of numerous new anchors, including the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, luxury apartments at 1201 Canal, the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, the Audubon Nature Institute's Audubon Insectarium, and the Astor Crowne Plaza.

Canal Street also remains the hub of the city's mass transit system.

See also

Further reading

  • Canal Street: New Orleans' Great Wide Way by Peggy Scott Laborde and John Magill, Pelican Publishing, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58980-337-4

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