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  • 9. The Tango Belt

    This brick structure at 1026 Conti St was the site of the last operating house of prostitution in New Orleans’ once booming Tango Belt. It’s most notorious resident, Norma Wallace, became famous for running her French Quarter bordello from the 1920’s to 1962.  Wallace also ran her business for a time in the rooms above Pete Herman’s Club, a nightclub located at 942 Conti Street also known through the years as the Ringside Café, the Plantation Club, and the Black Orchard. Norma Wallace was married for a time to Pete Herman who was also a world bantamweight boxing champ. Before committing suicide in 1974, Norma Wallace recorded memories of her life and business which is detailed in Christine Wiltz’s book The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld.

    The Tango Belt derived its name from a 1915 newspaper article and was a corner of the French Quarter bounded by and including Iberville, Dauphine, St. Louis, and N. Rampart Streets. This neighborhood was closely connected with its bawdier neighbor, Storyville, which was shut down in 1917. The Tango Belt featured many cabarets, dance halls, honky tonks, as well as 3 large theatres and boxing prizefights. During the first 2 decades of the 20th century the area thrived with a hopping nightlife featuring a high concentration of venues where jazz was played. Musicians like Armand Hug, Sharkey Bonano, Wingy Manone, and Raymond Burke performed frequently early in their careers here. When neighboring Storyville was shut down in 1917, prostitution did not simply cease to exist; rather it spread to other locales, including the Tango Belt. As a New Orleans mayor once remarked, “You can make prostitution illegal, but you cannot make it unpopular”.