The area is also known as the Vieux Carre ("Old Quarter" in French) and the Barrio Latino ("Latin Section" in Spanish). To many it is simply called "The Quarter".
Most of the buildings date from before New Orleans became part of the USA, although there are some late 19th century and early 20th century buildings in the area as well. Since the 1920s the historic buildings have been protected by law and cannot be demolished, and any renovations or new construction in the neighborhood must be done according to regulations to match the period historic architectural style.
Despite the name, much of the architecture was built during the Spanish rule over New Orleans rather than the French. Elaborately decorated ironwork balconies and galleries from the 18th and 19th centuries abound. (In south-east Louisiana, a distinction is made between balconies, which have no roof over them, and "galleries", which do.)
Long after the American purchase of Louisiana, descendants of French colonists lived in this part of town, and the French language was often heard there as late as the start of the 20th century. In the late 19th century the Old Quarter became a less fashionable part of town, and many Italian immigrants settled in the section. In the early 20th century the Quarter's cheap rents and air of age and neglected decay attracted a bohemian and artistic community. In the 1980s many long term Quarter residents were evicted or driven away by rising rents as property values rose dramatically with expectations of windfalls from the planned 1984 World's Fair nearby. More of the neighborhood became developed for the benefit of tourism. The French Quarter remains a combination of residential and commercial properties.
Well known sights in the French Quarter include the old city center Jackson Square (formerly Place des Armes); The French Market; Bourbon Street (some 8 blocks of the upper portion of this street are heavily given over to catering to young hard-drinking tourists); and Royal Street (with elegant antique shops and art galleries).