Canal Street, New Orleans' widest thoroughfare, has long served as the retail heart of the city. With its broad "neutral ground,' it is the traditional dividing line between uptown and downtown and represents two centuries of American commercial architecture, Initially developed as prestigious residential property, Canal Street evolved into the favored location after 1850 for luxury shops housed in buildings faced in cast-iron and terra cotta. It was also central to the city's music and entertainment business.
Canal Street has hosted carnival parades for almost 150 years, was the first city street to be illuminated with electric lights in 1882, and was the city's transportation hub with as many as five streetcar tracks on the neutral ground. Following suburban development in the second half of the 20th century, Canal Street's role as the city's primary shopping street changed, but it retained its significance as one of New Orleans grandest streets.