Podcast #4 – Pontchartrain Beach

Podcast #4 – Pontchartrain Beach

Pontchartrain beach

Pontchartrain Beach, 1940

Labor Day is considered the traditional end of summer. In New Orleans, that meant it was the last weekend of the year for Pontchartrain Beach, the beloved local amusement park.

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Main Gate of the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, 1929

Pontchartrain Beach opened on the east side of Bayou St. John in 1929. Harry J. Batt, Sr, had observed the highs and lows of the Spanish Fort venues on the other side of the bayou. His family’s ice manufacturing business supplied ice to many lakefront businesses, and Batt decided to start his own amusement park.

At Pontchartrain Beach

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Bath House built by the WPA at Pontchartrain Beach

The Great Depression actually gave Pontchartrain Beach a customer base, as locals didn’t have a lot of money to take out of town vacations. Works Progress Administration construction projects helped improve the infrastructure of the city, including a new bath house on Lake Pontchartrain at the end of Elysian Fields. That bath house prompted Harry Batt to move his amusement park from the bayou to Milneburg.

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Works Progress Administration badge in the sidewalk at Marigny St. and Gentilly Blvd.

Not only did the WPA build the bath house at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue, but they also improved many streets in Gentilly. The WPA turned Elysian Fields Avenue from a shell road into a 4-lane boulevard with a wide neutral ground, leading right to Pontchartrain Beach.

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Lincoln Beach

Because Pontchartrain Beach was a segregated facility that used Federal funds, the city was required to build a “separate but equal” facility for African-Americans, Lincoln Beach, in what is now New Orleans East.

War Effort

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NAS New Orleans, on Lake Pontchartrain

World War II saw a huge amount of development along Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. One of the big facilities on the lake was Naval Air Station New Orleans. It was right next to Pontchartrain Beach. While the base was important to the war effort, it was not very useful for the Cold War. The base is now the main campus of the University of New Orleans.

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Margie Johnson Thienemann, 3-June-1949 (Courtesy K. G. Thienemann)

While the Batts traveled the world to find quality rides for The Beach, the mile-long beach area was one of the main attractions. Hanging out on the beach was a great way to relax on a summer weekend. Margie Johnson Thienemann was one of many folks who soaked up the summer sun at the Beach.

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The Bali Hai at Pontchartrain Beach

Since food at The Beach was basically carnival-midway fare, the Batts also operated the Bali Hai, a “Tiki” restaurant next to the amusement park.

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), Holocaust survivor and educator

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), Holocaust survivor and educator

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New Orleans Holocaust Memorial, along the Riverfront (photo courtesy Ari Bronstein)

I don’t know of a direct New Orleans connection to Elie Wiesel, but his passing should be noted by the city where the National World War II Museum is located. From the New York Times:

Mr. Wiesel, a charismatic lecturer and humanities professor, was the author of several dozen books. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But he was defined not so much by the work he did as by the gaping void he filled. In the aftermath of the Germans’ systematic massacre of Jews, no voice had emerged to drive home the enormity of what had happened and how it had changed mankind’s conception of itself and of God. For almost two decades, the traumatized survivors — and American Jews, guilt-ridden that they had not done more to rescue their brethren — seemed frozen in silence.

When my younger son was between his freshmen and sophomore years at Brother Martin High School, the “great read” for that summer was Wiesel’s incredible work, Night. I have a serious block when it comes to Holocause literature and movies. I took World History in my sophomore year with the legendary “Uncle Pat” Schayot. Mr. Schayot showed us some of the US Army Signal Corps films of the army’s entry into the concentration camps. Nothing I’ve seen or read has quite topped the horror of the reality, and that includes “Schindler’s List”. So, when the school suggested Night, I demurred, with my usual plea of PTSD.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel

One positive thing to come out of viewing that primary source material: I have NO PATIENCE for Holocaust deniers of any stripe! Revisionist history of the worst kind! It’s not even good conspiracy-theory stories. With the uptick in white supremacist noise and foolishness in the wake of Mr. Trump’s campaign, we can all learn something from Mr. Wiesel’s story.

RIP, Mr. Wiesel. I’ll read Night this week, in your honor and memory.

Maroon Monday

Maroon Monday – 1944

This week’s Maroon Monday takes us back to World War II.

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Maison Blanche ad from the Loyola Maroon, October 27, 1944.

October, 1944 – The Allies invaded Europe in June of that year, and the war in the Pacific was still hot and heavy. Still, Loyola University continued its mission, educating the men and women still at home in the United States. The Loyola Maroon, the student newspaper, still went to press. Even students needed to have a “business dress” wardrobe, for school functions, social events, etc.

“Definitely collegiate” the ad says, and that makes sense. Wool herringbone pattern fabric made for a more laid-back suit than, say, classic blue serge. Herringbone tweed is the classic “professor’s” sport coat.  When I was on the Brother Martin High debate team in the mid-1970s, I absolutely loved my wool-herringbone suit. It was a dark green, and just perfect for scholarly pursuits like speech and debate. The ad’s suggestions show the level of formality of the time. Wearing a suit to “spectator sports?”

Naturally, the collegiate looking for a suit in 1944 would head to Canal Street for a suit. He’d likely pass on the higher-end men’s shops, like Porter’s or Rubenstein’s, in favor of one of the big department stores, like D. H. Holmes or Maison Blanche.

MB knew their prices would be better suited to the student budget. The young man in need of such a suit could jump on the St. Charles streetcar, ride it from uptown to Canal Street, and walk from Carondelet and Canal, cross Canal Street, then head one block up Canal to Dauphine and Maison Blanche. The men’s department of the “Greatest Store South” was on the first floor. The young man would be greeted by a salesman who would take his measurments, grab the suit that caught his eye in the proper size, and then mark it up for the tailor. It would be ready in a few days, and he would be ready for that next football game, or on-campus social function.

As a writer, this triggers all sorts of inspiration for a story. A young man, at MB, buying a suit, while other young men his age are in France and Belgium, fighting the Nazis. Why was he home? Why wasn’t he in a plane over Europe, or in a Higgins Boat, landing on islands in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese? Oh, the possibilities…

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Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley

For more on the fascinating history of Maison Blanche, be sure to pick up my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores.

Podcast #2 – “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Podcast #2 – “A Streetcar Named Desire”

NOPSI 830 on Bourbon at St. Peter, 1947. (Courtesy the Thelma Hecht Coleman Memorial Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries)

NOPSI 830 on Bourbon at St. Peter, 1947. (Courtesy the Thelma Hecht Coleman Memorial Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries)

This weekend is the annual Tennessee Williams Festival, and tomorrow will be the festival’s “Stella” yelling contest, conjuring the spirit of “Streetcar Named Desire” in the streets of New Orleans. “Desire” was a metaphor to Williams, but the Desire streetcar line was real, and an important route, tying the Upper Ninth Ward to the rest of the city.

Show notes:

Signbox for a 900-series arch roof streetcar. "DESIRE" sign made for the box by Earl Hampton.

Signbox for a 900-series arch roof streetcar. “DESIRE” sign made for the box by Earl Hampton.

Desire!

Tennessee Williams (courtesy of Hotel Monteleone)

Tennessee Williams (courtesy of Hotel Monteleone)

Tennessee Williams, relaxing at the Hotel Monteleone, 1950s.

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River – Lake – Uptown – Downtown by Dirty Coast

Buy this t-shirt from Dirty Coast and you’ll get oriented quickly.

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Route of the Desire line, 1920-1923

Desire Line route, 1920-1923. Dark = outbound, Light = inbound

desire line 1923-1948

Route of the Desire line, 1923-1948

Desire Line route, 1920-1923. Dark = outbound, Light = inbound

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Vivien Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951 (video screnshot)

“Why, they told me to take a streetcar named Desire and then transfer to one called Cemetery and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields.”

722 Toulouse Street

722 Toulouse Street

When Tennessee Williams arrived in New Orleans in 1938, he took a room here, at 722 Toulouse Street. Now it’s the offices of the Historic New Orleans Collection. WGNO “News with a Twist” did a great spot on the house this week.

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Royal Street in Faubourg Marigny, 1951 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)

The streetcar tracks are gone in this 1951 photo of Royal Street in the Marigny, but it’s a good idea of what riders of the Desire line saw on their way into town.

Looking down N. Tonti at Pauline Street, 1947 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)

Looking down N. Tonti at Pauline Street, 1947 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)

Looking up N. Tonti at Pauline Street, 1946 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)

Looking up N. Tonti at Pauline Street, 1946 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)

Two views of the Upper Ninth Ward from 1946 and 1947. These shots of N. Tonti Street at Pauline are a good illustration of the houses and buildings in the neighborhood serviced by the Desire line.

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NORTA 29, the last Ford, Bacon, and Davis streetcar. (Edward Branley photo)

The first streetcars to run on the Desire line were single-truck Ford, Bacon, and Davis cars. NORTA 29 (ex-NOPSI 29) is the last FB&D streetcar.

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NOPSI 888, running on the Desire Line, 1947 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)

The 800- and 900-series arch roof streetcars operated on the Desire line from 1923, until its discontinuance in 1948.

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NOPSI Bus on Dauphine, 1954 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)

The streetcar tracks were ripped up in 1948, and “A Bus Named Desire” took over bringing commuters to and from the Ninth Ward to Canal Street.

streetcars of new orleans

The Streetcars of New Orleans, by Hennick and Charlton, 1964 (amazon link)

The Streetcars of New Orleans by Hennick and Charlton – the authoritative reference on New Orleans streetcars to 1964

streetcars hampton

The Streetcars of New Orleans, 1964 – Present by Earl Hampton (amazon link)

Earl Hampton’s book, The Streetcars of New Orleans, 1964-Present, picks up where Hennick and Charlton leave off.

My book, New Orleans, The Canal Streetcar Line. Amazon Link | Signed Copies here.

Wakin’ Bakin’ on Banks Street in Mid City

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The Historic New Orleans Collection 

Yesterday, December Seventh…

From 2002, a US Navy photo of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) rendering honors to the USS Arizona Memorial. The battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) is moored behind the location of the Arizona, which was sunk on 7-December, 1941, in the surprise attack by Japanese naval and air forces on the navy base at Pearl Harbor and the adjacent air base, Hickam Field.

model of USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Navy photo of a model of the USS Arizona Memorial, showing the sunken wreck of the battleship.

night view of the USS Arizona Memorial

Night view of the USS Arizona Memorial.