The building at 401 S. Rampart, also known as the Eagle Saloon, once housed a rather infamous dance hall and pawn shop that led to the building’s reputation for seedy behavior, revelry, and ultimately, a new era of musical innovation. While the building itself is not particularly remarkable, its location at the heartbeat of the Black Canal Street (and on the periphery of everything else) created the perfect balance of seediness and respectability, fame and rejection, the desired and the undesirable that enabled the musical innovation later known as jazz.
The Eagle Saloon sits at the corner of S. Rampart (formerly Circus Street) and Perdido Street, on a block bounded by Loyola Avenue (formerly Basin Street) and Poydras Street. This area has always been just outside of the more well-studied areas of New Orleans; it sits a few blocks off the main Canal Street corridor, on the edge of the infamous Storyville district, and just outside of the formally recognized Central Business District. The block and its surrounding area were known as the back of town or “backatown” in the early Twentieth Century. Historically, Backatown has been overshadowed by its flashier neighbors, and perhaps a bit forgotten. However, it was the Backatown that included the “Black Canal Street” (Rampart Street) and is known as the New Orleans home of early jazz. The Eagle Saloon in particular remains one of the most significant standing structures attributed to the history of jazz.
In order to fully understand the evolution of this building and its connections to jazz, we must look at its whole history – a history influenced by French colonialism, Jewish merchants, prostitutes, undertakers, bandleaders and musicians.