From 1897 to 1917 Storyville was one of the first of the tenderloin districts after the "Swamp" (Between South Robertson and South Liberty Streets) started to decline. Spanning a sixteen block radius (Iberville to St Louis and North Robertson to North Basin Streets, just Northwest of the infamous St Louis Cemetery No 1.) Named after Sidney Story a councilman who in 1897 enacted a city ordinance designating a confined area for prostitution. Lining Basin street were high end Saloons and mansions which offered beds, gambling, drinking, entertainment, and ladies for the evening. Storyville has often been credited for the beginnings of jazz as well as a city of degeneracy. Most of Storyville was torn down to make way for Iberville Projects. These three buildings remain.
Lulu White found herself in Storyville from Alabama in 1880. Lulu, born in Selma, moved to Louisiana with a long list of offenses. She became a well known Madame and ran Mahogany Hall and Lulu White's Saloon which catered to some of the most prominent and wealthiest men in the area. Her love of extravagant jewelry earned her the nickname "The Queen of Storyville." Her jewelry was so lavish that they were described as "like the lights of the St. Louis Exposition." which was quoted in the "blue book" (a directory for brothels and prostitutes) for her business. She called herself "The Diamond Queen." She was also known for her bad business dealings which eventually left her broke and with a prison sentence which she asked to be pardoned for poor health. The sentence was commuted by Woodrow Wilson. She returned to running a brothel shortly after and remained a madame until her death.
Mahogany Hall (235 Basin St) was demolished on Nov 22, 1949. It was four stories and in it's prime made of marble with five parlors, fifteen bedrooms with bathrooms and closets and boasted hot and cold water in all of them. The bottom part of Lulu White's Saloon is all that remains of these businesses. Mahogany Hall was immortalized in "Mahogany Hall Stomp" which has been recorded by Louis Armstrong among others.
Best known for it's connection to Tony Jackson, who created the song "Pretty Baby" Frank Early's Saloon provided work for musicians. Tony had worked as a musician since he was a child and was known for his large repertoire which earned him the nickname of professor, a term used to describe someone with a vast assortment of music. Jelly Roll Morton came into contact with Jackson during their years of playing brothels and despite the ten year age difference, different sexual preferences and the opposite upbringings they became fast friends. Jelly Roll look up to Tony like a mentor. Tony could mimic any style music and voice and was considered one of the most talented musicians out there, notwithstanding the taboos.
"Tony was considered among all who knew him the greatest single-handed entertainer in the world. His memory seemed like something nobody's ever heard of in the music world. He was known as the man of a thousand songs. There was no tune that come up from any opera or any show of any kind or anything that was wrote on paper that Tony couldn't play. He had such a beautiful voice and a marvellous range. His voice on an opera tune was exactly as an opera singer. His range on a blues tune would be just exactly like a blues singer. Tony happened to be one of those gentlemens that a lot of people call them lady or sissy."
There's not much known about Joe Victor's Saloon or the man himself. Census records show he had two sisters that owned the saloon with him and one article in the Times-Picayune. Joe Victor's was cited for leaving manure on his property in violation of the city’s anti-housefly ordinance. No records show of musicians playing there, nor is it mentioned in any interviews or historical texts.
Nothing original from the historic buildings is left inside them. They have been stripped down and gutted numerous times, made into storage facilities and grocery stores. But the stories passed down by word of mouth and writing still exist and they weave their way through the streets and into the ether. If you stand there and squint for just a moment you may see the former shape of Lulu White's Mahogany Hall and the women bustling up to their rooms or posing for a photo to be used in the blue books. And if the breeze hits you in just the right way, you may hear the remnants of Tony Jackson's honeyed voice crooning through the walls of the old saloon. For now the area seems to be in development. What was once one of the birthplaces of jazz, became the Iberville Projects and now goes through another transformation building new housing for mixed income families through a grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.