Kenneth Jackson wasn’t quite old enough when it mattered, and I could tell how much he wish he had been. (You can play the show with his interview including music from the Dew Drop era while finishing this short article.)
During the mid-20th Century, the Dew Drop Inn rocked New Orleans, making musical history and forging a special place in the hearts of all the musicians and fans that were lucky enough (and had IDs) to have been there.
“I never was really old enough to enjoy the shows and everything. You know I would kind of sneak in whenever I was down here late and had to bring somebody something but they would run me from out of there,” said Jackson as we toured the fabled nightclub, hotel, and restaurant.
If love could rebuild the Dew Drop Inn, Jackson would have enough to build it twice over. His affection for the shuttered double-storefront on LaSalle Street is almost as obvious as his love for the man who started it all, his grandfather, Frank Painia.
As detailed in my previous post, Painia built a key piece of music industry infrastructure during the New Orleans R&B golden age. But when Painia died in 1972, the music at the Dew Drop Inn stopped as well. The family retained and operated the business, primarily as a hotel, until Hurricane Katrina.
The flood mess has been cleaned out. Artifacts have been saved. Some framing and some new wiring has been done. Also, the building has a temporary facade that highlights the history contained with in. But its not yet ready to be open to the public.
Jackson envisions a day when folks can come back to the Dew Drop and get a meal, catch a show, even spend the night or host a party. He thinks the time is right. Nearby streets like Freret and O.C. Haley are undergoing a renaissance of new business and renovation.
Across the street from the Dew Drop, the infamous “Magnolia,” a crime-ridden housing project that also was home to hip hop artists Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Jay Electronica and Magnolia Shorty, is gone. In its place is a lower density, stylish new development called Harmony Oaks that provides a mix of market rate rentals and public housing.
One of the groups to spearhead the community’s revitalization, Harmony Neighborhood Development, is working with Jackson and his family to secure the funding necessary to get renovations started. But all the pieces have yet to come together.
Tulane University’s School of Architecture has weighed in with plans and archival assistance. And there’s a wealth of love and affection for restoring the business by New Orleans musicians, young and old.
There may be a day soon when Kenneth Jackson will be able to enjoy a club performance at the Dew Drop Inn. After all, while its possible to be too young to party at the Dew Drop Inn, you’re never too old.
This is the second installment of the Dew Drop Inn. Read about its history here.
(Article Update July 2018: Hope for renovation have faded. The Paina Family has put the property up for sale. )