Cover of Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store, by Edward J. Branley
The cover of the Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store
And here it is! Here’s the back-cover text:
For almost one hundred years, generations of New Orleans shoppers flocked to Krauss. The Canal Street store was hailed for its vast merchandise selection and quality customer service. In its early days, it sold lace and fabric to the ladies of the notorious red-light district of Storyville. The store’s renowned lunch counter, Eddie’s at Krauss, served Eddie Baquet’s authentic New Orleans cuisine to customers and celebrities such as Julia Child. Although the beloved store finally closed its doors in 1997, Krauss is still fondly remembered as a retail haven. With vintage photographs, interviews with store insiders, and a wealth of research, historian Edward J. Branley brings the story of New Orleans’ Creole department store back to life.
Krauss book drops on 25-September
I’m excited! This was a fun story to tell. So much here–Jewish retailing families, Storyville, the Creoles of Treme, transportation…even a Pontchartrain Beach connection! From Leon Fellman to the Krauss Brothers, to Leon Heymann, his son, Jimmy, grandson Jerry, Krauss was a family operation. Like many department stores, Krauss was a large extended family. Krauss to touched many people over the years.
The book chronicles the store’s how Leon Fellman decided to buy up the 1200 block of Canal Street. He built a store that the length of the block. Fellman leased that building to the Krauss brothers. They turned the building into a “veritable trade palace” whose lifetime spanned almost the entire 20th Century. Krauss rode the highs and lows of New Orleans, including two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the post-war boom years of the 1950s and 1960s. The store didn’t pop up at once, of course, growing back from Fellman’s original building. Krauss eventually filled up the entire block from Canal to Iberville Street, then the block behind that, Iberville Street to Bienville Street! The store was right in front of Storyville, right next to the train station, as well as in the hearts of many.
Milneburg, Alexander Milne’s port on Lake Pontchartrain.
‘Winter in the South’ – Article from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, December 1858. Woodcut engraving ‘The Light-House-Lake Pontchartrain’. (h/t Pontchartrain.net)
Milneburg – Port village on Lake Pontchartrain
A short drive or bus ride from downtown out to the campus of the University of New Orleans brings you back to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, Milneburg. The area is all commercial-use now, but it began as port area, then resort, then an important part of the city’s contribution to the war effort in the 1940s.
The area at Elysian Fields and the Lakefront was swampland when the French established New Orleans near the Mississippi River. The Spanish colonial government, seeing little value in the land, sold it to a Scottish businessman, Alexander Milne. Milne came to New Orleans in 1776, where he started a brick making business. That business became quite profitable after the great fires of 1788 and 1794, when the Spanish ordered the city be rebuilt with brick structures, rather than the wooden ones built by the French. Milne worked to develop his lakefront property, particularly on the eastern side of the city. By 1830, he had encouraged a group of businessmen to form the Pontchartrain Rail-Road Company, which built a five-mile right-of-way, connecting Faubourg Marigny with Milneburg.
Bypassing the Mississippi River
Fishing camps along the lake in Milneburg, 1923 (photo: public domain)
Milne constructed a small port on the lakefront, building a pier which extended out into the lake far enough that ocean-going ships could dock there, and their cargo could be taken by rail to the city. The path from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, to the Rigolets Pass, into Lake Pontchartrain and finally to Milneburg, was attractive to ship captains, since it was faster than coming up to New Orleans from the mouth of the river. To improve safety at the port, the Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse was constructed in 1834.
Theresa Gallagher and her husband, Conrad Freese, at Milneburg, New Orleans c. 1880 – 1890 (Photo: public domain)
Milneburg was the terminus of the Pontchartrain Railroad. The trains ran down what is now Elysian Fields Avenue, to the company’s station at Elysian Fields and Chartres, in the Marigny. The Pontchartrain Railroad operated for over a century.
Quarella’s Restaurant, Mlineburg, 1914 (photo: public domain)
Commercial use of Milneburg boomed during the antebellum years, and continued through the Civil War. The U.S. Navy so totally dominated the Confederate forces in 1862 that New Orleans surrendered without a land battle. Milneburg’s use as a commercial port waned in the late 1800s, but the area continued to be a popular day trip from the city. Saloons, clubs, and restaurants popped up in Milneburg as early as the 1840s. By the 1900s, the area was a network of fishing camps, resorts, and restaurants.
Milneburg also became known for its music. In his biography of Edward “Kid” Ory, Creole Trombone, John McCusker writes of Ory’s memories of busking for tips in Milneburg. Ory and his band would come into the city from LaPlace, and would head out to Milneburg during the day, going from fishing camp to fishing camp, playing for tips. Perhaps it was Ory and his band that influenced a number of Italian-American boys like Sharkey Bonano, who lived in Milneburg to play Jazz. Either way, Jazz stayed in Milneburg even after Ory’s band became well-known and played paying gigs uptown and in Storyville. Younger musicians would ride the “Smokey Mary” (as the Pontchartrain Rail-Road was known locally) out to the resort area, hang out, and play.
Milneburg in 1921 (photo: public domain)
Food and music kept Milneburg popular long after its usefulness as a port had diminished. The railroad continued passenger operations until 1932. When land reclamation projects around Bayou St. John and Spanish Fort pushed Pontchartrain Beach further back from the the lake shore, Harry Batt persuaded the city and the WPA to build bath houses and a beach area at Milneburg. He re-opened Pontchartrain Beach at the end of Elysian Fields in 1939.
NAS New Orleans, Pontchartrain Beach, and Camp Leroy Johnson, 1947. (Photo: courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Milneburg at war
World War II changed the character of Milneburg and the overall lakefront dramatically. The War Department appropriate the land on either side of the amusement park. Naval Air Station New Orleans opened on the western side of Pontchartrain Beach. On the other side, the Army built Camp Leroy Johnson, a supply depot. The aircraft manufacturer, Consolidated Vultee, built an aircraft factory at the end of Franklin Avenue. Consolidated built PBY seaplanes there. The assembly line ended at the lake. The planes rolled right out into the lake for testing.
After the war, the Navy moved the air station down to Belle Chasse. They returned the Lakefront base to the Orleans Levee Board. The OLB leased it to LSU. The school opened Louisiana State University in New Orleans, now UNO. The Army gave back the western section of Camp Leroy Johnson to the OLB. The board developed that parcel into what is now the Lake Oaks subdivision. The Consolidated Vultee aircraft plant on Franklin Avenue became an American Standard factory. The Army also gave the eastern portion of Camp Leroy Johnson back to the state. That area became the University of New Orleans “East Campus.” That parcel is now home to the UNO Lakefront Arena and the Privateer Park baseball stadium. The Department of Defense retained the eastern section of the Army base. It’s now home to the Army and Navy Reserve centers, and the local FBI headquarters.
Milneburg the port was long gone by the end of the 19th Century. Milneburg the resort vanished by World War II. Pontchartrain Beach closed in 1983, so now all that’s left of the original town is the lighthouse. Well, that and “Milneburg Joys.”
Elizabeth Olds flourished during the Great Depression
This is a wonderful lithograph by Elizabeth Olds, done as part of a WPA-funded project in New York. From Olds’ bio on Wikipedia:
From 1935 until the early 1940s, Olds was a nonrelief employee for the Works Progress Administration-Federal Art Project (WPA-FAP) in the Graphic Arts Division in New York, where she helped younger artists in the silkscreen unit. She also joined the American Artists’ Congress, Artists Union, and other groups with similar interests. Olds became friends with Harry Gottlieb, another nonrelief artist who also focused on industrialism. Together, they observed the mining and steel industries of New York, and their research lead to Olds’s creation of her award-winning print, “Miner Joe.” Olds used both silkscreen and lithography for the prints for ‘‘Miner Joe,’’ but it was her lithograph that won first place for the Philadelphia Print Club competition in 1938.
Jazz speaks to us in many ways. Olds, working with younger artists in New York, She’s teaching them how to do silkscreen and lithos, is inspired by a jazz band. The traditional brass band is an archetype; this scene could be from NYC, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, or here in New Orleans.
Jazz isn’t New Orleans-centric
I hesitate to say “especially New Orleans,” because sometimes we forget just how far jazz spread after Bolden. The musicians who left during the Great Migration went far and wide. We hear about King Oliver, Dutt, Pops, and the other icons of jazz, but there were journeyman musicians and others who left, bringing their horns to factories and other jobs in the north. They played casually, maybe on a stoop, passing the music on to others in their new neighborhoods.
I like to think this is what Elizabeth Olds captured, as she did her own part in passing on skills that encourage art and creativity.
The WPA kept a lot of folks going in dark times. It wasn’t about just roads and bridges, and our culture is much the better for that.
The Irish-Italian connection/tradition originates with the two cultures merging in New Orleans after WWII.
In terms of numbers and influence, the Irish were first in New Orleans. O’Reilly is an outlier on this; the Irish influence begins in the 1820s. That first wave of Irish immigrants provided the manpower to build the New Basin Canal.
Crescent City Living’s video on the Irish Channel, produced by Crista Rock, with commentary from NOLA History Guy.
These are articles about the Irish I’ve written over the years. This podcast doesn’t go into a ton of detail, since its focus is how all these folks ended up in the same parade. 🙂 Don’t let that deter you from looking further into the Irish. Their story is an important part of the bigger story of New Orleans.
In many ways, the Italians get more exposure in the touristy writing than the Irish. That’s mainly because the Italians all but took over the French Quarter. This was in the 1880s and 1890s. The Italians left a lasting mark on the French Quarter. It’s the one neighborhood just about every visitor sees. Naturally, this is going to leave an impression. The Italian groceries, St. Mary’s Italian church (next to the convent), so many other Italian-owned businesses. Even the building the Louisiana State Museum currently uses as a warehouse for their massive collection was at one time a pasta factory!
Anyway, I wasn’t kidding about going to the Beauregard-Keyes House, either. The mafia connection is fascinating!
It’s not all about the Quarter, though, for the Italians.
So, the Italians migrated from the Downtown side of Canal Street. They went to Gentilly, Metairie, and St. Bernard Parish. The folks who went out to Metairie teamed up with the Irish for the big parade.
Home Furnishings were an important part of the Krauss product line. While many dry goods stores at the turn of the 20th Century specialized in clothing, linens, etc., the Krauss brothers expanded out, offering a wider range of products. Rugs made perfect sense, since they were a fabric product, and the buyers were able to make the right connections in New York to get them. So, the store wasn’t satisfied with that, moving into other flooring options, like linoleum. Linoleum was common throughout the late 1800s. Invented in 1855, good linoleum was a practical and tough floor covering. The product is organic. Modern-day plastic flooring is often called “linoleum,” but that’s more a connection made by older folks who remember walking on the real thing.
Many of the same manufacturers who made rugs also made big blankets. After all, the setup of the production line isn’t all that different. The usually buying method used by Krauss was to negotiate with a factory for product. They’d go looking for one thing, identify other items out there at good wholesale prices, and bring them back to New Orleans. Sometimes they were marked as a special lot and sold as such. Other times that first purchase turned out to be a good thing for all, and the products entered the regular store inventory.
Krauss in 1921 looked a bit different than the big building at 1201 Canal Street now. The brothers expanded the original building back about fifty feet in 1911. That addition went up five stories. All of the expansions after that added on at five stories, goign to six in the back later. There were no escalators in 1921, so shoppers got to the upper floors via elevators.
Newspaper ads were the main way the store had to communicate with shoppers, even after radios became widespread.
When there’s road work on Canal Street, there’s chaos downtown, to this day.
Krauss and Canal Street after the crash
From 1930, Canal Street, shot from the corner of S. Liberty. Just off the blow that was the 1929 streetcar strike, NOPSI and City Hall decided the best way to get folks back on public transit was to rip up the city’s main street. This was the “Beautification Program” of 1930. Krauss is on the left side, with Terminal Station next to it on the other side of Basin Street. So, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the “fleur de lis” lamp poles in the neutral ground aren’t there in this photo. The poles and fixtures you see here are the last thing replaced in this round of Canal Street improvements.
Saenger-Maison Blanche Radio
You can see Maison Blanche looming over the rest of Canal Street, If the MB building seems like it’s even more dominant in these photos from the late 1920s/early 1930s, that’s likely due to the big radio towers on the front and rear of the thirteen-story building. The top floor of MB was the studio for WSMB-AM. MB removed the rooftop tower a few years later, when the station moved its transmission equipment to St. Bernard Parish.
Terminal Station, right next to Krauss, was a beautiful urban passenger terminal. It was demolished in 1954. So, that year, 1954, was the first time since 1907 that shoppers could walk up Canal Street and have a good view of the Basin Street side of the store. Krauss got a boost as a result of the station just across the street.
Because of the road work and financial decisions by the company in 1929, 1930 was one year shy of some big innovations and improvements to Krauss Department Store. Air-conditioning and the Luncheonette come to the store in 1931.
We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do yet in terms of the run-up to the drop of Krauss: New Orleans’ Value Store this fall, so keep an eye here and on Facebook for photos, ad clippings, and other Krauss tidbits. Additionally, we’ll be coming up with other creative ideas to keep you anticipating the release of the book. So, stick around! It’s going to be fun. So many photos of Canal Street are shot looking from the river up towards the cemeteries. We’re going to post more Krauss-to-the-river photos, because it gets you thinking.
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