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St. Paul Bottom in Shreveport

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

Shreveport was once full of the fabled and colorful "shot gun houses" west of St. Paul Bottom, where a large share of African Americans lived. The neighborhood is a shadow of its former self. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, racial riots and integration troubles amid a growing drug problem, the city's and landlord's neglect, and the building of the Interstate all conspired to economically and socially destroy this part of town. In New Orleans, these houses are "quaint" and "cultural." In Shreveport, they're left to rot.

One of the most famous vice districts along the Red River was Shreveport's St. Paul's Bottom. Named after St. Paul Methodist Church, which was established by freed African Americans in 1865, St. Paul Bottom bordered Twelve Mile Bayou in the northwest section of downtown Shreveport. Due to floods, it was known as the "bottoms" and, coupled with the prominent church and the community that built itself around the church, the neighborhood received its informal name.

St. Paul Bottom in Shreveport was just one of many neighborhoods that was close to, and accessible by, Texas Street, Shreveport's main thoroughfare since its inception as Bennett's trading post. Italian, Irish, and German immigrants lived in neighborhoods close by, and so did Shreveport's Anglos. This area was a mix of urban density and cultural fusions that centered around Oakland, Shreveport's historic white boneyard, and bordered in the west by St. Joseph Cemetery and Star Cemetery, the city's historic freedmen burial ground.

When the city located its vice district to St. Paul Bottom, a vibrant business district emerged, akin to New Orleans's Storyville neighborhood. Blues and jazz musicians cut their teeth here, and Annie McCune, an Irish immigrant-turned-madam, became a well-known fixture. Juke joints, saloons, stores, restaurants, boarding houses, hotels, gambling halls, dance halls, and brothels all fought for space in the small area bordered by Christian Street (west), Fannin Street (south), Common Street (east) and Caddo Street (north).

During the Great War (World War I), cities shut down vice districts to discourage young soldiers from partaking in their pleasures, but they re-emerged in force in the time between the wars (1920s - 1940s). This also happened to St. Paul's Bottom, which suffered both from the temporary shut-down and KKK violence in the 1920s and 1930s.

The majority of residents in St. Paul's Bottom were not prostitutes or procurers but rather, hardworking people who lived in an area where the city ignored providing services. And, just a few streets away from the neighborhood were the homes of prominent merchants from the Victorian era. The rich whites moved away from the neighborhood as transportation became easier -- there was no need for them to live this close to the city and to immigrant/black neighborhoods if they had automobiles and streetcars. This left some of the mansions to be rented to brothels or to become boarding houses. The district continued to prosper as an entertainment zone when the famed Louisiana Hayride, a radio show devoted to country music, began broadcasting from the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium in 1948.

During the last quarter of the 20th century, though, St. Paul's Bottom and the adjacent neighborhoods, surrounding the Oakland Cemetery, lost their luster. This was especially true when Interstate 20 was built through the area, creating a visual and actual scar through the city; and integration troubles, the drug scourge, and racial animosity assisted in the demise. Gradually, St. Paul's Bottom succumbed to urban decay, especially when Shreveport's new "vice district" emerged in the form of casino boats in the 1990s.

Now, almost all of St. Paul's Bottom is gone. And it looks nuclear, as if the city of Shreveport was hell-bent on destroying anything and everything related to this fabled place. New apartments are slated to be built, but they will most likely be unaffordable. Even the church moved; its congregation is now housed at Pierre and Looney streets.

Children on street
The heart of the St. Paul Bottom neighborhood in the 1950s just west of downtown Shreveport (Shreveport Public Library).
Satellite map
St. Paul Bottom was at Common, Fannin, Louisiana, Douglas, Travis, Christian, and McNeil Streets. Today, some of this area is the Convention Center!
Street Corner
Business was still brisk in 1950s' St. Paul Bottom, even after the vice squads "cleaned it up" (Shreveport Public Library).
Famed "madam" Annie McCune is buried next to her daughter/ granddaughter at the historic Oakland Cemetery. McCune was a known benefactor of veterans and orphans, and funded much of the benevolence with prostitution in St. Paul Bottom. Her house was legendary.

A scene in St. Paul Bottom from the late 1960s (LSU Archives).


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