The Desire Streetcar line first debuted in New Orleans in December of 1919 as an extension of the Carondelet line, and then as its own full line on October 17, 1920. Running along Bourbon and Royal streets, it served the bar, restaurant, nightclub and shopping areas of the French Quarter, as well as the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods.
While the streetcar was heavily used, it wasn’t until playwright Tennessee Williams, who could see and hear the streetcar from his apartment on St. Peter Street, used it in 1947 as the title of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire, that it achieved worldwide notoriety.
Unfortunately, even being famous couldn’t save the line from a quick demise just a year later. Starting on May 30, 1948, despite public opposition, the Desire Streetcar was replaced by buses, which were touted as being a faster, quieter and smoother ride, and capable of carrying more passengers at one time.
In 1995, New Orleans started petitioning Congress for funding to replace streetcar lines in the city, including the Desire line. After replacing so many streetcar lines with buses back in the ’40s and ’50s, they had finally started to see the buses for what they were – pollution producers that clogged already busy streets – and they called that long-ago decision a “colossal mistake,” saying: “We have met the future and we’re going back.”
While some lines, most notably the Canal Street line, were funded and completed, the Desire line was not. While the project remained a topic of conversation until 2005, cost and funding concerns, lack of cooperation from other entities and Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath ended the official dialog. It is still an occasional topic of conversation, but no plans are currently in place to revive the line.