Historic jazz building gets new life

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 9, 2013 at 7:19 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 9 at 10:29 PM

Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
Email: kmoore@wwltv.com | Twitter: @katiecmoore

NEW ORLEANS -- Experts say New Orleans has a history of not preserving its history of jazz. In fact, some jazz landmarks in the Central Business District have not only been unpreserved, but they've been sitting blighted and vacant for decades.

However, the building at the corner of South Rampart and Poydras Street is finally getting new life.

At the turn of the 20th Century the 400 block of South Rampart Street was bustling.

“The Backatown neighborhood that we associate with the 400 block of Rampart Street was a really vigorous, vibrant neighborhood with African-Americans, Jewish populations, Sicilians, tailor shops, pawn shops, bars,” said Bruce Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University.

He calls it a "pleasure zone," and it's one of the places where jazz was born. But for decades, the cluster of historic buildings has been sitting vacant, in disrepair.

“Little Gem Saloon was one incarnation of several. What he did was sell liquor. So the connection there is this would've been a watering hole that was very popular with the musicians that were performing in that block,” Raeburn said.

“The last I can remember this building having any sort of business was in the 1980s as a Chinese restaurant. So, I would guess probably 30 years,” said Christopher Ycaza while estimating how long the building has been sitting vacant.

He is the general manager of Little Gem, and is helping to bring the saloon back to life.

“It makes sense to tie it into its history and to the importance of that history,” Ycaza said.

From the food to the drinks to the music that will light up the upstairs, what they’re calling The Ramp Room, at night, the owners wanted it to take people back to the 1900s.

“I just did research. What did they do? They did ox tail stew, which is the bomb,” said Little Gem Executive Chef Robert Bruce.

It's the fruit of a $5 million historic renovation and it's not only bringing the building back to life, but they're hoping it'll help revive Rampart in the process.

The restaurant is now open for lunch and dinner, and Meschiya Lake will be their first performer on Friday night.

 

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