With two streetcar lines running down the middle of the street and three traffic lanes on either side, Canal has been cited as the widest "street" in America and acts as an anchor thoroughfare for the city. Unlike New York City's famous Canal Street, which was built over an actual canal, the New Orleans planned canal for this area never came to fruition. However, it did become culturally significant for a number of other reasons.
As New Orleans grew throughout the 18th and 19th century, Canal Street acted as the dividing line between the French and Spanish who first settled in the French Quarter and the newer American neighborhoods, now known as the Central Business District that developed after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Cultural tension between those of European descent and the Americans tended to keep the groups within their respective neighborhoods, but Canal Street emerged as a "neutral ground" of sorts, a place where all New Orleanians came for shopping, business and transportation.
By the late 19th century, Canal Street had become a thriving commercial district - New Orleans' grand main street, which attracted both locals and tourists with its shopping and entertainment. Canal was so popular, in fact, that the world's first purpose-built movie theater, named The Vitascope Hall, was opened on the street in 1896. Architecturally, visitors will see the signs of Canal's evolution with building styles ranging from 18th century store fronts to hotel developments in both new construction and within historic department store renovations.
Today, Canal Street still acts as a major hub for the city. Bright red streetcars shuffle down its center, luxurious hotels tower overhead and throngs of visitors and locals alike visit the street for meals, attractions, shopping or in transit to and from New Orleans neighborhoods. For instance, try your luck at Harrah's Casino (8 Canal Street) or the adventurous can explore the Audubon Insectarium (423 Canal Street), an interactive museum dedicated to insect-kind set in the old U.S. Customs House. Treat yourself to first-class shopping at The Shops at Canal Place (333 Canal Street) home to retailers such as Anthropologie, White House Black Market and Saks Fifth Avenue. You can even catch a movie at the luxury venue, The Theaters at Canal Place, offering leather seats, bar service and gourmet dining.
Centrally located in the middle of New Orleans, Canal Street is where visitors can catch the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line Uptown to the Garden District, the Canal line to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art or the Riverfront line to cruise along the Mississippi. You can also ask one of the ever-helpful bellmen at one of the many hotels along the street to hail a taxi cab for you. At the foot of Canal at the river, you can even catch the ferry over to historic Algiers Point. Whether you want to explore the French Quarter, the Garden District, Uptown or Faubourg St. John, Canal is the gateway to your travels in New Orleans.
So when you're here, you'll be sure to walk the street that at one time separated, but eventually blended New Orleans' rich and diverse cultures, helping to make the city what it is today.
Neutral Ground - inspired by the neutral ground characterization of Canals Street, neutral ground is a term that New Orleanians still use today to describe street medians.