Locals usually simply referred to the area as The District. The nickname Storyville was in reference to city alderman Sidney Story, who wrote the legislation setting up the district. It was bounded by Iberville, Basin, St. Louis, and Robertson streets. Most of this former district is now occupied by the Iberville Housing Projects, two blocks inland from the French Quarter.
The District was set up to limit prostitution to one area of town where authorities could monitor and regulate the practice. In the late 1890s, the New Orleans city government studied the legalized red light districts of northern German and Dutch ports and set up Storyville based on such models. Between 1895 and 1915, "blue books" were published in Storyville. These books were guides to prostitution for visitors to the district's services including house descriptions, prices, particular services and the "stock" each house had to offer. The Storyville blue-books were inscribed with the motto: "Order of the Garter: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense (Shame to Him Who Evil Thinks.)"
Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap "cribs" to more expensive houses up to a row of elegant mansions along Basin Street for well-heeled customers (the term "crib" originated in San Francisco's red-light district). New Orleans' cribs were 50-cent joints, whereas the more expensive establishments could cost up to $10. Black and white brothels coexisted in Storyville; however, black men were barred from legally purchasing services rendered in either black or white brothels. Nonetheless, brothels with black prostitutes serving blacks openly flourished with the full knowledge of the police and other local authorities a short distance uptown from Storyville proper.
The District was adjacent to one of the main railway stations where travelers arrived in the city and became a noted attraction.
Jazz did not originate in Storyville (it started off as a New Orleans style of music played all over town), but it flourished there as in the rest of the city. Many out-of-town visitors first heard this style of music there before the music spread north.. Some people from elsewhere continue to associate Storyville with the origins of jazz. It was tradition in the better Storyville establishments to hire a piano player and sometimes small bands.
The District was closed down by the federal government (over the strong objections of the New Orleans city government) during World War I in 1917. In regard to prostitution, New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman pronounced that, "[y]ou can make it illegal, but you can't make it unpopular." After 1917, when Storyville was shut down, separate black and white underground dens of prostitution emerged around the city.
The District continued in a more subdued state as an entertainment center through the 1920s, with various dance halls, cabarets and restaurants. Speakeasies, gambling joints and prostitution were also regularly found in the area despite repeated police raids.
Almost all the buildings in the former District were demolished in the 1930s to clear the land for the building of the Iberville Projects. While much of the area contained old and decayed buildings, the old mansions along Basin Street, some of the finest structures in the city, were also leveled. The city government wished to do all it could to blot the notorious district from memory. Basin Street was even renamed "North Saratoga" (although the historic name was returned some 20 years later).
A collection of photographs by E. J. Bellocq depicting Storyville prostitutes was published in 1971 under the title Storyville Portraits.