At 170 feet wide, Canal Street is often called the widest street (as opposed to avenue or boulevard) in the United States, and it's certainly one of the liveliest—particularly during Carnival parades. It was once slated for conversion into a canal linking the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain; plans changed, but the name remains. In the early 1800s, after the Louisiana Purchase, the French Creoles residing in the French Quarter segregated themselves from the Americans who settled upriver. What is now Canal Street—specifically the central median running down Canal Street—was neutral ground between them. Today, animosities between these two groups are history, but the term "neutral ground" has survived as the name for all medians throughout the city.
Some of the grand buildings that once lined Canal Street remain, many of them former department stores that now serve as hotels, restaurants, or souvenir shops. The Werlein Building (No. 605), once a multilevel music
store, is now the Palace Café restaurant. The former home of Maison Blanche (No. 921), once the most elegant of downtown department stores, is now a Ritz-Carlton hotel. One building still serving its original purpose is Adler's (No. 722), the city's most elite jewelry and gift store. For the most part, these buildings have been faithfully restored, so you can still appreciate the grandeur that once reigned on this fabled strip.