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Jul 26, 201012:00 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

Bucktown Days

A dam now stands where the heart of Bucktown was. I was looking toward the lake from the Hammond Highway Bridge that crosses the 17th Street Canal and not knowing whether to be overjoyed or over-saddened. In the foreground is a concrete stage holding a row of pumps, each with ducts plunging toward the water like the tentacles of octopuses clinching strangleholds on the canal; in the distance is a fence built across the canal containing gates designed to block the lake when it gets unruly. Had those structures been in place by August 2005, phrases such as "FEMA," "recovery" and "Road Home" might not be part of everyday lives. These giants that now guard the canal provide some hope for the future, but if the imagination allows you to look past them, you might spot the apparitions of what once was, not so very long ago. A strip of land that is now high-tech and non-trespassable was once quaint and inviting.

Sid-Mar's was a great place to be at sunset. From a table on the screened porch, you could watch the sun set behind Kenner in the distance. I was fond of the grilled tuna sandwich preceded by a cup of gumbo. On days when I yielded to temptation, there would be an order of onion rings on the side. Across the shell road that was technically the 1800 block of Orpheum Avenue, shrimp boats bobbled from their berth in the canal. From that spot, the old boats could putter into the lake only a few minutes away.

At the lake end of the road, there was a pedestrian bridge that allowed passage to West End where, in better days, more restaurants once stood. One of those was Bruning's. At the time of Katrina, Bruning’s had not yet fully recovered from Hurricane Georges. The backside of the original restaurant was severely whacked by Georges’ winds. The day in the future when insurance issues would be resolved and Bruning's would return to the original building was erased by Katrina.

Across the road from the bridge stood the old mansion that Captain Bruning had built. It was a nautical-looking house with an observation room on top of which, on a clear day, one might be able to see the shoreline of Mandeville on the other side.

Now the restaurants, pedestrian bridge and home are gone, and, without the observation deck, Mandeville has slipped below the horizon.     

There is still a 17th Street Canal, but the view has lost its poetry. In the days before Katrina, pelicans could be seen gliding over the canal, their tranquility occasionally interrupted by a Jet-Skier. Poetry, we would learn, did nothing to make the levees safe.    

Now the Bucktown that was exists as a Google search rather than as a lunch stop. Nearby West End is the only waterfront legacy from the neighborhood, but the restaurants are not back.

May the area have an expedited return. We’ve missed too many sunsets.

Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e-mail at gdkrewe@aol.com or (504) 895-2266)



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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde


Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.




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