Chris Rose: Jazz

Folks are pretty steamed about the newest graffiti assault against the city, a huge tag that spells ERASENORTH which, mysteriously enough, is an anagram for NO ARTS HERE.

But the bold defacement in the 400 block of South Rampart Street is actually the lesser crime against the properties here, universally considered the most historically and culturally significant surviving jazz landmarks in the city.

That this block is perhaps the most rundown and neglected in all of the CBD is an embarrassment to the city.

At the end of the block - 401/403 South Rampart - jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden carved out the new American sound at the Eagle Saloon at the dawn of the 20th century.

With the help of city and state financing, self-made entrepreneur Jerome Johnson bought the Eagle Saloon in 2006, with the promise of creating the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame.

In 2007, he told the Times-Picayune he had raised another $1.3 million in state and city grants with which to renovate.

Nothing has been done to the building.

413/415 South Rampart is the former Iroquois Theater, a vaudeville house where a teenaged Louis Armstrong won his first talent contest, wearing a white-face mask made of baking flour.

427/431 South Rampart was the home and pioneering jazz record store of the Karnofsky family, Jewish immigrants who fed and loaned money to the young trumpet player who would become New Orleans' greatest cultural ambassador.

Both buildings, in shambles, are owned by the Mereaux Foundation, the wealthy but inscrutable charitable trust which has turned away a legion of prospective buyers over the past decade.

The far end of the block, 445/449 South Rampart was once the Little Gem Saloon – and the original end-point for the Zulu parade. It's gutted and dormant.

The whole block is tagged and degraded by graffiti. The ERASENORTH assault has garnered international attention, believe it or not; this place is a hallowed shrine to jazz aficionados worldwide.

What's it worth to New Orleans?

But who knows: Maybe the attention might motivate the city or state to start using political muscle to make something happen here.

When folks pay attention, sometimes things change.


What if this stupid act of vandalism wound up sparking the revival – or at least the renovation – of the 400 block of South Rampart Street?

That would be more than irony.

That would be art.