A New Orleans newspaper article published in the first days of January, 1914, and using the language of the time, reported this about juvenile crime during that past New Year’s Eve:
Few Juveniles Arrested
Very few arrests of minors were made Tuesday, and the bookings in the Juvenile Court are not more than the average. Six white boys were arrested in Canal street for disturbing the peace, and one for being drunk. The most serious case was that of Louis Armstrong, a twelve-year-old negro, who discharged a revolver at Rampart and Perdido streets. Being an old offender he was sent to the negro Waif’s Home. The other boys were paroled.
It would have been impossible to imagine the global impact of the event reported in such an inconspicuous news story. Armstrong, who apparently was the only kid in the city to get in serious trouble that New Year’s Eve, at least within the presence of the police, was sent to what was then referred to as the Colored Waif’s Home. It was there that one of the great events in jazz history occurred as the young man was taught to play a wind instrument called the cornet. One day he would play it better than anyone and embellish the music with a gravelly voiced song and an infectious smile.
Armstrong was arrested at South Rampart and Perdido Street, a spot not far from the present City Hall and the center of his world. He grew up in that neighborhood where he rambled, and apparently sometimes got in trouble. He also worked along S. Rampart at the Karnofsky Tailor shop where, according to legend, Mr. Karnofsky once game him a special gift—a cornet of his own. In the next decade what would become known as “jazz” would develop in that neighborhood as loose musical notes were driven to coalesce and form a new sound.
Though the street’s role in American culture is impressive the neighborhood would eventually fall into hard times; including the nearby Eagle Saloon and Iroquois Theater, as well as the Little Gem Saloon and Karnofaky’s shop. Tourists who have come to New Orleans to see the early landmarks of jazz have been disappointed by the derelict remains. There have been efforts to revive the buildings, but most have failed except for the Bazan family’s dedication to restoring the Gem, which for serval years has been a lively cafe and music house. Still the neighborhood lacks companion attractions to make it a major destination. That may be changing, however. Recently a Cleveland based company, the GBX Group purchased the Gem. According to a report in The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, GBX also now owns the buildings that housed the Iroquois Theater and the Karnofsky shop. The newspaper added that a spokesman for the new owner said that they want it to maintain the Gem’s music purpose. Not in the mix is the former Eagle Saloon located at S. Rampart and Perdido, close to where little Louis Armstrong was arrested. In jazz’s emerging years, Buddy Bolden would play there, performing with lung power so strong it was said his horn could be heard for blocks around. The Eagle is currently owned by a non-profit corporation.
We see the possibility of something special re-emerging along S. Rampart. With the development of the nearby South Market District there is more of a population base in the area and an emerging lively sports entertainment district could bring extra crowds.
We are excited about the potential of new S. Rampart. However, we offer this note of caution: If you want to make noise on New Year’s Eve (don’t say we encouraged this because it is illegal) bring fireworks.