The Historic French Market Celebrates
200 Years of Commerce, Community & Culture
According to French Market Corporation Records-Historical Note (n.d), “New Orleans’ first food market was an informal open-air facility located on the levee in the area above the present-day Jackson Square. Around the year 1782 the Spanish erected the city’s first market building on the corner of Chartres and Dumaine Streets and in 1790 relocated it to a site on what is now Decatur Street between St. Ann and Dumaine. A series of hurricanes destroyed several early structures at this location, but the building erected in 1813 as the Meat Market has survived to the present. It was built by Gurlie and Guillot based on designs drawn by the City Surveyor, Jacques Tanesse.
Several years later, in 1822, the new City Surveyor, Joseph Pilie, designed a building for use as a Vegetable Market. This building, which also remains standing, was constructed in two phases beginning in 1822 (by Jean Felix Pinson) and ending in 1830. Around the year 1833 several buildings, known collectively as the Red Stores, were put up in the space between the Vegetable Market and the levee. During the middle years of the century a bazaar-type market grew up between the Meat and Vegetable Markets. Around 1872 the city erected a new Bazaar Market facility to house this activity.
Beginning in the colonial period the city selected private contractors or farmers to collect Market revenues. This contractor, usually chosen through a bid process, was authorized to collect specified fees from individual stall-holders in return for monthly payments to the city treasury. The city also established sanitary and other regulations to be enforced by the Market commissaries and other officials. At various times the city’s markets came under the control of umbrella agencies such as the Department of Police and Public Buildings in 1883 and the Department of Public Property in 1912. By 1931 a separate Division of Public Markets was established within the Department of Public Property.
In 1932, however, the city proposed, through ordinance 18693 CCS, to negotiate a new franchise agreement for the operation and physical improvement of the French Market. Members of the French Market Business Men’s Association responded to this proposal by organizing, on August 23, 1932, the French Market Corporation. The city, though ordinance 14182 in 1934, accepted the French Market Corporation’s bid for the franchise and assigned to it the privilege of operating the Market.
The immediate task facing the Corporation was the rehabilitation and modernization of the Market’s buildings and facilities. Architectural plans were drawn by the firm of Sam Stone and Co. and financing was arranged through a joint effort of the Corporation, area businessmen, the City government, the Orleans Levee Board, and the Public Works Administration. Construction began in 1936 with Gervais Favrot and Co. as the major contractor. In addition to rehabilitating the existing buildings the project included demolition of the remains of the Bazaar Market (seriously damaged by the 1915 hurricane) and the erection of a new Fruit and Vegetable Market on its site; demolition of the remaining Red Store buildings; and construction of a wholesale fish market shed along the levee near the Meat Market. The project also succeeded in consolidating the area’s wholesale fruit and vegetable business into a centralized facility. This was accomplished by the demolition of existing buildings on the river side of Gallatin St. (now French Market Place) and the construction of the steel sheds known as the Farmers’ Market.
A nine-member board of directors carried out the redevelopment project and guided the subsequent operation of the market facilities. It was, however, unable to adequately handle the financial end of the responsibilities and in 1939 the city government had to bail out the Corporation by repaying its outstanding debts. As a result the city in effect took over the French Market Corporation, becoming its sole stockholder. The city then proceeded to lease the Market’s operations back to the Corporation. Difficulties continued and in 1943 a new lease arrangement was worked out, allowing the Corporation to operate the Market for a term of fifty years. Through a further agreement the Corporation subleased the Market back to the city for an annual payment of $20,000.
In 1971, faced with continuing financial difficulties and the need for a renewed program of renovation, the city, through ordinance 4745 MCS, entered into a new forty year lease with the Corporation. Under this arrangement the city was to receive all profits from the French Market Corporation’s operations. Two years later the city reorganized the body into a non-profit corporation with a twelve member board to be appointed by the Mayor, who is the Corporation’s sole stockholder. The Mayor also appoints the Market’s executive director, assistant director, and attorney.
Shortly after its creation the new French Market Corporation embarked on a second major renovation of the Market buildings. This was financed by the sale in 1973 of $3.2 million in revenue bonds. The project accomplished extensive renovation of the existing structures along with the demolition of the wholesale fish market and the construction of two new buildings–the Halles des Cuisines and a new Red Stores complex. Due to insufficient funds, however, the Farmers’ Market was dedicated on April 1, 1975.
Since that time the French Market Corporation has had mixed financial success. The opening of a new French Market parking lot in 1977 and the Corporation’s takeover of the popular Flea Market operation in 1979 both helped to improve the facility’s profits. The subsequent transfer to the Corporation of responsibility for custodial and security services in Washington Artillery Park, the Moonwalk, and Jackson Square, however, made it necessary for the city to appropriate over $170,000 in the 1982 budget to enable the Corporation to carry out new tasks.”
City Archives-New Orleans Public Library. (n.d). French Market Corporation Records-Historical Note. Retrieved July 16, 2020, from City Archives: http://nutrias.org/~nopl/inv/fmc1.htm