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Podcast #3 – Day trips out to West End and Spanish Fort, by train or streetcar. Beating the summer heat is an ongoing challenge in New Orleans!
“The Coney Island of the South” – Spanish Fort
Welcome to NOLA History Guy Podcast! We’re back, talking about our hot New Orleans summers with an edition we call Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans
Hot summers in New Orleans are certainly not a new phenomenon. Staying cool in the Summer months has been a challenge since the French and Spanish explorers came Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. These days, we run from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned offices, then back again in the evening.
Now, think about doing that at a time when there was no air-conditioning! Every work day, riding the streetcar or a bus to the office, and home again. Older homes were designed to maximize air flow, and electrification provided power for fans in any rooms in the house. Still, it got hot. You know how that goes, when the a/c is broken and you have to rely on ceiling fans!
The men who went off to work had to deal with the same heat and humidity as the women, but they were on the move more. Mom was stuck at home with the kids. Day in, day out, doing the housework, cooking the meals, supervising the kids, Mom needed an escape!
The easiest escape route for mom and the kids, sometimes even dad, if he could take a day off, was on the streetcar, heading out to the Lakefront. There were two popular escape destinations, West End and Spanish Fort. We’ll talk about the attractions at both, and how folks got out to Lake Pontchartrain.
1860 – 1880 – Summer Heat at West End
Lake House Hotel, 1860s
1880 – 1900
West End Resorts, 1892 (Charles Franck photo)
1900 – 1920
West End Lighthouse, 1910 (courtesy NOPL)
Entrance to the West End Garden, 1911 (Charles Durkee photo)
1912 Postcard of West End
Mugnier Photo (stereo), bridge connecting New Basin Canal with West End Amusement pavillions, 1900s
Confederate Submarine at Over the Rhine at Spanish Fort, 1895 (Mugnier photo)
Casino at Spanish Fort New Orleans, 1890s
Barney & Smith motorized streetcar pulling dummy cars, 1911
Spanish Fort Casino, 1890s (Mugnier Photo)
Spanish Fort midway, 1900s (Franck photo)
End of the Spanish Fort Streetcar line, at the bathhouse, 1912 (Franck photo)
Swimmers at Spanish Fort, 1900s (Franck photo)
Dinner at West End
Bird’s eye view of Mannessier’s and West End Restaurant at West End, New Orleans, Louisiana. (LSM Collection, in the Public Domain)
Fridays in Lent usually bring out all the memories of going to Bruning’s, Fitzgerald’s, and other seafood places out at West End. Here’s a photo from an earlier vintage of West End, 1892. The restaurant on the left is Mannessier’s, on the right, West End Restaurant.
Mannessier’s Pavilion at West End, 1900s. (NOPL collection in the Public Domain)
Mannessier’s Restaurant was owned/operated by the same family that owned Mannessier’s Confectionary at 705 Royal Street, in the French Quarter. They opened the West End location in the late 1880s. They added a pavilion to the property in 1899, which was taken down in 1911.
At this time, West End was more of a day trip from downtown/uptown. You made your way to Canal Street and took the West End streetcar line out to the lakefront.
(h/t WebsitesNewOrleans.com for the pavilion photo)
Ford, Bacon and Davis streetcar, operating on Canal Street, ca 1915-16
Streetcars on Canal
The record for this photo of the Custom House by Frank B. More (in the University of New Orleans collection) is undated, but the streetcar narrows it down a good bit. The Ford Bacon, & Davis single-truck streetcar has “NO Ry & L Co.” painted on its side. This stands for “New Orleans Railway and Light Company”, the second attempt at consolidating streetcar operations in New Orleans. The company was formed in 1915, and eventually became New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated, in 1921.
The FB&D streetcars were the workhorses of the “backatown” lines at the turn of the century. While the larger, “double-truck” streetcars ran on the larger lines, such as St. Charles and Canal, the smaller “single-truck” cars spread out into the neighborhoods. Their smaller size enabled them to navigate turns on streets that would dramatically slow down the larger cars. At this time, the Custom House was undergoing extensive interior renovations. The building originally housed the federal courts for New Orleans, but what is now the John Minor Wisdom Building on Camp Street, by Lafayette Square, was just completed. The federal courts and the Post office moved out of the Canal Street building, over to the new location.
Another interesting aspect of this photo is the street vendor to the left, on Decatur Street. Unlike in the movies, I don’t have the technology to “clean that up”, and miraculously read the sign on the cart, to determine what he’s selling. Given all the federal employees that worked in the Custom House, I’m sure that cart did a brisk lunch business.
The easiest way to date most old photos is to look at the make and model of any automobiles in the photo. In the absence of automobiles, however, it can be a challenge. Streetcars were used for decades; the FB&D in this photo likely arrived in New Orleans and went into service in 1894-95. Since the iconic Union Sheet Metal light poles, with their three fleur-de-lis lamps are not visible, we can at least establish that this photo was taken prior to 1930. But the streetcar itself helps anyway for this one, because of the company name.
This photo is also in my book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line.
Canal Street, ca 1900, by Alexander Allison (courtesy NOPL)
Lovely photo of Canal Street from around 1900. The building with the big cupola in the background is the Mercier Building, the first home of Maison Blanche. The streetcars in this photo are a combination of single-truck (one set of wheels), and double-truck (two sets, like the streetcars in use on Canal and St. Charles today). The single-truck streetcars with a narrow monitor deck on top are Brills; the ones with a wider monitor deck are Ford, Bacon and Davis cars. The double-trucks at this time are Brills. New Orleans wouldn’t see the now-legendary arch roof style cars until 1915.
Usually this would be cross-posted to CanalStreetcar (dot com), but the site’s down temporarily, as we migrate its content to WordPress.