New Orleans, a city with a history dating from 1718, is divided between those who want to cherish the distinguished past and those eager to profit by an exuberant future. Men willing to gamble on growth are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into huge new office buildings, big hotels, vast housing developments and superhighways. Some natives are contemplating ambitious new sports facilities.
Older heads are shaken, and owners of inherited wealth mutter that every bubble, like John Law's Mississippi Bubble, a Louisiana financial scheme that rocked 18th century France, will burst. Capital for new ventures has been flowing into New Orleans from Dallas, New York and Memphis. Local capital is not quite so daring as that of the new carpetbaggers, who favor jet luggage.
New Orleans is both old and juvenile. Loaded down with tradition, many of the natives and most of the visitors think they are young if they stay up all night. The climate, the historic background, the great natural advantages for fishing and hunting, sailing and swimming, and the man-made facilities for football, horse racing, tennis and golf make New Orleans potentially what Louisiana automobile license plates proudly proclaim: SPORTSMAN'S PARADISE.
The pursuit of pleasure in New Orleans is somewhat frenzied, especially along shoddy, lurid Bourbon Street, with its honky-tonk sex dives and Dixieland jazz joints. Grown, if not always mature, men seek in New Orleans what they cannot or dare not try to find at home: wine, women and oysters Rockefeller.
There are aspects of New Orleans more European than those of any other American city; the emulation of Sybaris stems, perhaps, from the early mélange of peoples: Indians, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Germans, Englishmen and Irishmen. These met and mixed—breeding, brawling, gambling and dancing. African slaves and their descendants had an impact more genial than savage. Particularly absent are vestiges of either New England Protestant or Irish Catholic puritanism. Jews have been prominent and welcome. The racial result is a veritable gumbo. There is a compact sophistication in New Orleans that wisely does not attempt to ape Paris, New York or San Francisco—assuming these cities are worth aping—but is content with its own aroma.
New Orleans today has an estimated population of 663,850 in the main city and 1,053,900 in the metropolitan area. One-third of the people is Negro and 40% is Catholic. This commingling million inhabit one of the largest tracts of any city in the U.S.: 2,677.5 square miles, but a considerable part of that is marshland or water.
The residents and the visitors they so cordially receive spend a lot of time outdoors. New Orleans is a city where you can go after a deer or catch a tarpon within the city limits. Golf is played year-round, with good courses 10 minutes by car from the heart of town. The city boasts two of the largest and most beautifully cared-for parks in the world. City Park with 1,500 acres and Audubon Park, smaller but just as attractive, on a former plantation. John James Audubon during his stay in New Orleans sketched some of the wildlife he included in his famous book, Birds of America. City Park has three golf courses, 33 tennis courts and 25 baseball diamonds, lagoons and lakes where people boat and fish. The city's leading art museum, the Delgado, is located in City Park. Magnificent oaks overarch the broad driveways. The parks and other playgrounds have swimming pools, currently dry, because two years ago, anticipating a court order commanding integration, officials closed the pools, a hardship for whites and blacks alike in the fierce, humid summers.
Although there are savage segregationists who have caused trouble from time to time, many New Orleans whites seem to live amicably alongside New Orleans Negroes, in closer proximity than in any other southern or northern city, for there was never from early times a strictly Negro quarter. But some white folks, willing to ride buses and eat in cafeterias with Negroes, seem to think that the water will change their color, making them, too, underprivileged. Golf courses, tennis courts and baseball fields are fully integrated with no resulting difficulty. NORD (New Orleans Recreation Department, a branch of the city government) has integrated programs for boys and girls from 9 to 20 years old, ranging from archery to softball, with many supervised playgrounds and gymnasiums, a total of 148 facilities. Art, ballet, music and opera programs are arranged. NORD officials are confident that before too many more hot summers its many swimming pools as well as those in the parks will be open again and integrated.
Old is a favored word for sports organizations. One is assured that the New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club is the oldest in the U.S.; the New Orleans Southern Yacht Club second in age only to New York's; and the Fair Grounds racetrack, in the midst of the city, is fourth oldest.
Fishing is almost as popular in New Orleans as gambling. Deep-sea, bayou and lake fishing are available. Offshore oil rigs, which account for much of Louisiana's recent prosperity, have produced as a byproduct plentiful fishing, because the reefs the rigs create attract pompano and other fish in search of minnows, fingerlings and marine growth. Pompano, rare until the rigs were built, are still rare enough to be sold by fishermen to restaurants for $1.50 a pound. In addition to pompano, fishermen bring in marlin, tarpon, king mackerel, red-fish, trout, varieties of bass and many other kinds of fish.
Antoine's, the oldest continuous gourmet restaurant in town, was founded in 1840 in the quaint French Quarter—where antique shops are bumper to bumper. Antoine's, Arnaud's, Galatoire's, Brennan's, Broussard's, Manale's, Masson's and Commander's Palace are the main restaurants, serving better food than is available in most other cities today.
New Orleans is not now as big a spectator-sports town—except for horse racing—as it once was. There is a midwinter Carnival of Sports during the week from Christmas to New Year's, culminating in the 32-year-old annual Sugar Bowl football game. During that week there are also tennis, basketball and track championships as well as yacht racing. One of the biggest local events is the $100,000 Greater New Orleans Open golf tournament each May.
New Orleans is avid to obtain a National Football League franchise. Both Governor John J. McKeithen and Mayor Victor Hugo Schiro are promising the NFL a $30-million domed stadium to house football.
Local pride is hurt when outsiders downgrade New Orleans athletic prowess, but local critics wish their fellow citizens were more generous in their patronage and less defensive. People spend so much time and money on fishing, hunting, sailing, bowling, golf and, above all, on the razzle-dazzle of Mardi Gras each Shrove Tuesday and the innumerable carnival balls and parades preceding and accompanying it that they have little energy or resources left for full support of spectator sports, according to some impartial natives. Some sportswriters and other enthusiasts feel that New Orleans has a legacy of losers—especially Tulane's football teams—and that poor quality makes for public lethargy.
In the past New Orleans was a big fight town, the scene of Corbett's defeat of John L. Sullivan in 1892 and other great events, but with the decline of prizefighting nationally it has become negligible locally. The local minor league baseball team, the Pelicans, once well supported, died when television and major-league expansion developed.
But there is general enthusiasm for their town among natives, who seldom migrate. Perhaps it is because of the money that is flowing in from petroleum, natural gas, chemicals, a missile site and the busy port, second only in volume of trade to New York's.
Despite busy construction of tall chromium-and-glass palaces of business and government, New Orleans respects its French, Spanish and Greek Revival architecture. It has much to offer tourists seeking a change from the drab, especially if they are interested not only in hoopla but in sports and recreation.