Harmony Neighborhood Development focuses on the revitalization of Central City New Orleans. By eliminating blight, constructing high-quality homes, providing homeownership services, and developing small-scale commercial areas, Harmony partners with residents in the development of a vibrant Central City. The La Salle Corridor is a key site of community empowerment, economic inclusion, and collaboration.
Edward Woods has had a barbershop on La Salle Street since 1971.
“The street down there — a lot of people visit this street because you can go all the way to Canal Street on the street right there without getting off,” Woods explains. “You see people riding bicycles. They be going, walking down this-a way.”
Woods says the recent changes happening along the La Salle Corridor are positive.
“It’s going to be good for good business. ‘Cause anytime something grows in this area it’s helped me out, helped them out. Each business gonna help somebody.”
Outside Woods’ barbershop, Una Anderson, executive director of Harmony Neighborhood Development, points across the street. “On the La Salle Corridor a few of the buildings still stand but a lot of the buildings are gone,” she explains.
“So this is Harmony Oaks, we were the local partner on Harmony Oaks. It’s the redevelopment of CJ Peete public housing site.” Known to many as the Magnolia.
“As part of the project on Harmony Oaks we were able to build 55 offsite home ownership houses and then sell them,” explains Anderson. “Most of the families we sold to were from the neighborhood. So we’re very excited about that.”
A few blocks farther down La Salle, we come to the Dew Drop Inn — a combination nightclub, barbershop, hotel and restaurant, which from the late 1930’s through 1960’s, was one of the most popular music venues in New Orleans.
“The Dew Drop is the heartbeat of La Salle,” says Anderson. “And if we can bring that heartbeat back, then we have a good chance of bringing the rest of the corridor back in the way that we all care about. And that way really has to do with making sure that the economic benefit of this revitalization goes to the legacy owners — the families that have owned on La Salle, to the residents who have lived in this neighborhood for a long time, to make sure that we do it right.”
Musicians like Ray Charles, Dave Bartholomew, Little Richard and James Booker regularly graced the Dew Drop’s stage.
“Earl King really, really supported the Dew Drop,” says Kenneth Jackson, owner of the Dew Drop and grandson of Frank Painia, the original owner. “After my grandfather had passed, he knew that I was running the place he always encouraged me to ‘Hang on, hang on. You know, something’s going to give for you. Just hold on. Don’t get rid of that place.'”
“This — where we are right now, this is the hotel lobby. This is the office space right here. The window was right there. It was a hotel, the club, the restaurant, and the barbershop. The restaurant was a 24-hour operation. It never closed.
“What we’re trying to do now is not only put it back on the map for the entertainment portion of it but we’re trying to give back to the city. We’re trying to raise some of these youth to be productive citizens.”
With the help of Harmony Neighborhood Development, Kenneth Jackson is not only turning the Dew Drop back into a music venue, he’s also partnering with a youth-led organization, the Milne Inspiration Center, to turn the Dew Drop into a workforce development site where adolescents can apprentice as barbers and train in the hospitality industry. Harmony is helping make the Dew Drop a place where education happens in community and across generations.
“We’re just trying to preserve history and put a new twist to it,” says Jackson. “Try to point some of our youngsters in the right direction. That’s the ultimate to me.”
Because when it comes to revitalizing the La Salle corridor, there’s a lot of history alongside hopes for a bright future.
Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about Harmony Neighborhood Development, click here.