Locals usually simply referred to the area as The District. The nickname Storyville was in reference to city alderman Sidney Story who wrote the legislation setting up the district. Most of this former district is now occupied by the Iberville Housing Projects, 2 blocks inland from the French Quarter.
New Orleans has long been a major international port, and like many such cities, prostitution flourished there. The District was set up to limit prostitution to one area of town where it could be watched and regulated by authorities. In the late 1890s the New Orleans city government studied the legalized red light districts of northern German and Dutch ports and set up Storyville based on such models.
Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap "cribs", rooms furnished with little more than a mattress where low-priced prostitutes turned tricks, through more expensive houses up to a row of elegant mansions along Basin Street for well-heeled customers.
The District was adjacent to one of the main train stations where travelers arrived in the city, and became a noted attraction for many visitors.
Jazz did not originate in Storyville (it started off as a New Orleans style of music played all over town), but it flourished there as in the rest of the city and many out-of-town visitors first heard this style of music there before the music spread up north. Some early jazz writers suggested that Storyville was key in the development of jazz and that its closing was responsible for New Orleans musicians leaving for Chicago, but this is not now regarded as accurate. Nevertheless the earliest forms of jazz music are still often termed 'Storyville Jazz'
The District was closed down by the Federal Government (over the strong objections of the New Orleans City Government) during World War I in 1917. New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman's final pronouncement concerning the District's vices is fondly remembered by some locals: "You can make it illegal, but you can't make it unpopular."
The District continued in a more subdued state as an entertainment center through the 1920s, with various dance halls, cabarets, and restaurants. Speakeasies, gambling joints, and prostitution were also regularly found in the district, despite repeated police raids.
Almost all the buildings in the former District were demolished in the 1930s to clear the land for the building of the public housing project. While much of the area contained old and decayed buildings, the old mansions along Basin Street, some of the finest built structures in the city, were leveled too. The city government wished to do all it could to blot the notorious district from memory. Basin Street was even renamed "North Saratoga" (although the historic name was reallowed some 20 years later).
A remarkable collection of photographs by E.J. Bellocq depicting Storyville prostitutes was published in 1971 under the title Storyville Portraits.