The Freret neighborhood, named after 1840s New Orleans mayor William Freret, was a thriving neighborhood from the 1920s-’50s. A streetcar ran down its eponymous main street, and a diverse community of merchants lined it with a variety of small businesses. The neighborhood even had its own Mardi Gras krewe; founded in ’52, the Krewe of Freret paraded down Freret Street before continuing on to the traditional St. Charles Avenue route. (The krewe paraded until ’94.)
In the 1960s, changing demographics and increased crime began a decades-long period of decline on Freret Street.
Mayor Dutch Morial attempted a number of improvements on Freret Street during his terms (1978-’86), but his efforts had little impact.
In 1994, Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit that helps people secure home loans, moved onto Freret Street.
At that time, 35 percent of the street’s commercial buildings were vacant. In ’98, they started the Freret Street Festival to market the area as a good place to shop or open a business.
By 2001, Freret Street was growing as new businesses opened and the street became the city’s first member in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street initiative. Things continued moving forward until Hurricane Katrina left the neighborhood under six feet of water in 2005.
Two years later, with only 40 of 90 storefronts occupied, the street was rezoned as an arts and entertainment district, allowing businesses not normally permitted in a neighborhood business district – such as art galleries, theaters and live entertainment – to open. Rapid commercial growth has defined Freret Street in the following four years. More than 20 new businesses have opened (with 12 more soon to open) and Friday Night Fights at the Freret Street Gym have drawn attention on a national level.
It seems that finally, Freret Street is back.