Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Some of the Alleys

In Drehr Place.  A NS alley with bamboo
Here is the beginning of this project.  I was taking a walk going back to places where I had recorded the consequences of Hurricane Andrew, the one that destroyed much of Homestead, FL, in 1992 before crossing the Gulf of Mexico to damage Louisiana, coming north on the west side of the Mississippi.  It was my first experience of a hurricane, if only of the outer bands, and it took down many Pecan trees (to name one species) and with them power lines and left the whole Garden District without power for more than six days.  That was when I learned the minor price we pay for having no overhead power lines on the streets (for, of course, our ground water is too high for underground lines to be contemplated).  Minor because most of us cook and heat water with natural gas, and there are places to eat and to buy essentials just a couple of blocks away, on Government Street, where the franchises of large businesses have adequate backup generators.  But a major storm is likely to take down poles and blow transformers on Government Street itself, whence our own power supply comes.

In the same NS Utilities alley; here you see the power lines and a transformer for this block.
That is why we have NS alleys for electricity supply (and there you can look down a line of poles as in a Dutch landscape illustrating one-point perspective) and EW alleys for garbage collection and, nowadays, for the smaller poles for cable television.  The huge live oaks that keep us fairly cool with only a little AC also render rooftop satellite dishes hopeless.  Once, I am told, laundresses came through the EW alleys to do laundry at the stationary tubs usually installed in lean-to's by garages or in sheds.  But automatic washers had to be moved indoors, and the racial assumptions that gave most white wives laundresses, when ended, also put an end to relegating some of our neighbors to back doors.  All that was pretty well in the past before I came South.  The alleys do not issue onto the NS streets (Camellia and Park), which are slightly privileged thereby; the alleys have a T plan.  Where a street such as 20th does not cross Government Street, there is usually a second NS alley, making a I plan, for electricity.  This alley plan also (a) eliminates the necessity of driveways to get to garages, (b) enforces the prohibition of using the alleys as parallel through streets for vehicular traffic, while (c) facilitating the city's tree trimming and post-hurricane cleanups.  In Oregon I lived in neighborhoods that were fairly flat, south of the UO campus, which had alleys, but I don't recall that they were very functional, certainly not in the same way as here.  Here, now, things are a bit confused since the recycling truck demands that we wheel their cart to the front curb, and the ordinary garbage cart remains in back, on the alley.  New folks have it explained to them.  I think that our living closer together also is conducive to the continued usage of the alleys.  Fencing, on the other hand, seems to discourage remembering that the back edge of one's property is part of one's home.

Back to that lovely stand of bamboo.  Bamboo grows as easily as bananas, but it wants tending to be both dense and beautiful, so I was impressed and photographed it.  Then I noticed that the whole alley was lovely, and before the sun began to set I also had met the owners of the bamboo.  On the way home, and that evening, I considered following the example of one of our MFAs in photography, who had worked on the alleys more than a decade ago. On the whole the alleys in Drehr Place are more carefully tended, but I think that this one is in Roseland Terrace (later I placed the locations more carefully).

An exceptional alley, where several owners have made the EW alley a second view of their  homes.
I decided to learn whether all the alleys still were unobstructed.  In Roseland Terrace I found only a couple of instances where they were not, and these were in the first block S of Government Street where, as we shall see, some of the fine homes have become business premises (zoning at some point seems to have been relaxed to that extent, though, as we shall see, for the six blocks EW of Roseland Terrace and Drehr Place most of the proud homes retain their stately character, though needing a parking lot for clients (Government Street being a State highway).

The NS Utilities alley from Wisteria to Government Street
Here is the last block of the alley to Government Street, with its traffic driving past.

From the N side of Myrtle Street, looking north, we see the NS utilities alley running the full length of Roseland Terrace, past Olive, Tulip, Cherokee, Oleander, Wisteria to Government Street.
And here, six blocks to the south, is the other end of that alley.  Not all alleys are paved (when the subdivision was laid out none of the streets were, either).  Possibly, as in my hometown in California, curbs and gutters and paving came with the WPA.  There are so many things I should look up!  Even when the trees are in full leaf in the summer, you can pick out the utility lines if you know where to look, and the signs forbidding use of the alleys as thoroughfares are always present at the intersection.

I know this looks like some small town, almost bucolic, but it's only 20 city blocks from downtown, the River Road, and the Mississippi itself.  Fact is, when Roseland Terrace was being built up in the 1920s, a realtor's advertisement urged all to join in hoping that Baton Rouge might reach 50,000 population by the end of the decade.  And the Model T was not yet replaced by the Model A.  And movies were silent.  Movie crews come to us quite frequently.