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Encouraging Entertainment

The creation of the Fulton Street Mall

Photo provided courtesy of the Louisiana Division at the New Orleans Public Library

Talks of redeveloping the Fulton Street area of the CBD had been ongoing since the 1970s, but the ’84 Louisiana World’s Fair proved to be the impetus to making it a reality. The area was transformed from a rundown back alley to a brick-paved, landscaped pedestrian mall that was meant to rival Bourbon Street for its entertainment options during the Fair.

The Fulton Street Mall area contained the Vatican Pavilion, the New Orleans exhibit and a variety of shops. But what it was really known for was its nightlife, where the party continued until 2 a.m. The French Market Seafood Restaurant featured fresh seafood and live jazz, often courtesy of Al Hirt, and the Hurricane Saloon and La Cava wine bar drew regular crowds, but the true hotspots were Reunion Hall and Sheila’s Pub.  

Reunion Hall was a $2-million, 17,000-square-foot nightclub featuring seven bars and a restaurant, owned partially by entertainer Pete Fountain. Reunion Hall specialized in combining great Louisiana food with even better music. Every day started with a Jazz Brunch, followed by a Church Supper and then a Cajun Dinner Dance. Every night ended with a rock-n-roll party until 2 a.m.

Sheila’s, an Australian pub, featured live music nightly, ranging from Australian performers to English pop, funk, island music and the Neville Brothers. Especially memorable was the 13-foot-tall, 2-ton kangaroo sculpture out front. Carved from an Algiers Cyprus tree by Minnesota chainsaw artist Hobart Reitan, the Foster’s Lager-guzzling kangaroo had a joey in its pouch, which also was drinking Foster’s but from a nipple-topped can.

The Fulton Street Mall ended up being one of the most popular attractions of the Fair, especially among locals. It underwent another major improvement in 2007, this time from Harrah’s. Shops and restaurants currently line the mall again, while bronze sculptures of jazz musicians fill a gazebo in the center.

Note: This is Part 8 of a yearlong focus on the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.

Off the beaten path of the Fair, Fulton Street Mall initially experienced very low patronage. To increase traffic they added better lighting, more signage, and a discounted after-hours admission. Fulton Street businesses added new entertainment: breakdancers regularly performed at the food court; the Filipino restaurant added a discotheque; and bigger name entertainers were added to the calendars of many venues. Another effective change was to re-route twice-daily Mardi Gras parades – and parade watchers – through Fulton Street Mall. This photo shows a Blaine Kern float featured in the parade on Law Enforcement Day.

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