There is a lot of new activity along Broad Street, where a once-derelict grocery store is being rapidly renovated into the newest Whole Foods Market and the massive hospital construction projects a few blocks away loom over it all. But there’s also a more subtle addition to the busy street that’s mostly noticeable once the sun goes down and the lights flicker on.
Elaborate neon signs with a vintage look have proliferated along Broad Street, with the latest lighting up the headquarters of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. It is the result of an ongoing campaign to build an identity for the cross-town corridor and promote new business growth there.
Broad Community Connections, a nonprofit formed to help revitalize the area, worked with the Arts Council of New Orleans for what they call the Iconic Signage Project. Jeff Schwartz, executive director of Broad Community Connections, says they wanted to create a more cohesive image for the commercial corridor, but recognized that banners, billboards and similar tools commonly used for civic branding wouldn’t fit here.
“It’s a recognition that Broad Street is this really diverse, eclectic corridor,” he says. “There’s not really one defining characteristic in the types of businesses or the buildings, so we didn’t want to put in something that would feel too uniform or Disneyfied.”
Instead, they took inspiration from the vintage neon signs at the Crescent City Steak House, a Broad Street restaurant dating back to 1934, and designed a program that would provide businesses with a new, tangible asset while at the same time restoring some character to the street they share. Businesses were invited to apply for the program, and those selected are as diverse as Broad Street itself. In addition to Zulu’s headquarters, there’s the Godbarber barbershop, the retailer F&F Botanica Spiritual Supply, the Crescent School of Gaming and Bartending training program and Calamari Auto Trim Shop, where the neon now traces out the grill of a classic American car.
Graphic designers and artists were hired to create the signs, and the project was funded with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Schwartz says that more may be in the works in the future.
“We think it benefits the businesses and it definitely contributes to more of an identity for Broad Street, something that harkens back to the heyday,” he says.