First Street Veronique Dorsey 3416 First Street / 3418 First Street was our family home. Whenever anyone was uptown and stopped by that house, they knew they were at home. My great-grandma Emma Dupree and her sister Amy Lee Dupree bought that house in 1933, when they moved down from Baton Rouge. My grandmother was no older than three years old when the house was bought, and family history states the house was bought to be rented out and the money used to put members of the family through school. “First Street,” as we call it, had three apartments and later on a house was built in the backyard that added four more apartments. Our house was one block from our church and surrounded by an African-American community that was close knit. Before the 1990s, when section 8 housing made an influx in the neighborhood, crime was not even an issue, but once the neighborhood began to decline, our house was broken into twice. Nevertheless, we walked to church every Sunday unless the weather was bad and after church on Sundays people would come over and have Sunday dinner: priests, pastors, deacons, ushers, parishioners, everyone came over for dinner on Sundays, but any other day too. With St. Monica, our church, on one side and Stronger Hope Baptist Church on the other side, my grandfather’s church, his church members come over also. The rent money from the house put my grandma through Dillard University and my mom through Xavier University during her undergraduate studies and Southeastern University during her graduate studies. The house income helped with tuition even when my grandfather went on strike with other workers at the chemical plant (he worked at American Cyanamid) while my mom was at Xavier. My grandma always says, “Tuition was always paid, and we always had food to eat” all because of that house. Besides rent, my great-grandmother and grandmother made their famous cakes, petit fours, and punch, and they made suppers whenever someone was in need. The house was the biggest financial provider to all in our family. Many famous and influential people sat in that house. My grandfather sang background for Sam Cook then made his own male singing group. Besides his friends, my mom’s friends would stop by also. One day my grandmother made tuna fish sandwiches and put a case of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies on the table along with a pitcher of homemade lemonade. Big Al Carson, the famous local blues singer, came sat down and laughed and joked with us and besides eating numerous tuna fish sandwiches and drinking lemonade, Big Al ate a whole pack of Chips Ahoy. We were all amazed. When the New Orleans Black Chorale got featured on the news, my mom was taped in the den of 3416 / 3418 First Street playing classical piano. She started her group, the New Orleans Chosen Voices, in that house. Legends such as our cousin Israel Augustine, Moses Hogan, Tommy Dent, and others all at some time passed through 3416 / 3418 First Street.
When my grandfather died in 1996 and great grandmother died in 2001, my grandma was the one left to keep our family house up, which she did until Mother Nature took control on August 29, 2005. The glory days of the house were now over, and my grandmother didn’t know what to do with the house because the whole downstairs needed to be gutted due to the 8 ft. of water it took. Yet, the city solved my grandmother’s problem by demolishing our family home without giving anyone notice. Post Katrina the city notified us about paying the property tax on it, but no notice was given to anyone about the demolition of the house. The city’s failure erased the physical structure of our home, including my baby pictures and my mom’s first piano and my grandmother’s baby and wedding pictures, but even though the demolition of First Street erased the physical structure forever, the memories of 3416 / 3418 First Street will always be in our minds and on our hearts.
Published on May 10, 2011