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Naming Black Pearl

Re: “A Glorious Mess: A perceptual history of New Orleans neighborhoods,” by Richard Campanella, June 2014 issue.

I enjoyed Richard Campanella’s article about naming New Orleans’ neighborhoods, not least because it brought back memories of an earlier employment that played a part in the history he described. I was a member of the Curtis and Davis planning team led by Robert Tannen that mapped and named what later became “The 73” neighborhoods of today’s city.

Memory tells a slightly different tale, however, about how one such neighborhood got its new name: Black Pearl. The article says City Hall planner Marion Greenup came up with it, but the name actually originated in C&D planning team discussions before later arriving at City Hall.
The team worked in a renovated warehouse building at 111 Iberville St., where beautiful brick walls and big wooden beams nurtured an appropriate preservation planning mentality. We felt no obligation, however, to preserve one dodgy New Orleans neighborhood name in our 1974 housing and preservation report.

I remember the moment when Pat Watts, an African-American member of the team, came up with her audacious solution to rebrand the area bounded by Broadway, St. Charles, and the river as “Black Pearl.” The area has since been described as the “Uptown Triangle” and has its own neighborhood association operating under that name.

Who is to say what it may be called 10 or 100 years from now? Change is the constant theme in Campanella’s article.

But if Black Pearl endures, even if only as a transitional footnote, history should credit Pat Watts with having originated it.

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