I was truly surprised when I mentioned “riding the belt” at my “Second Thursday” lecture for the Friends of the Cabildo earlier this month, and nobody knew the term. Now, I’m 58, and the St. Charles/Tulane belt service ended in 1950, but there have always been folks older than me who remember this.
Streetcar Belt Service for Seven Cents
NOPSI 434 on the St. Charles Belt, 1947 (courtesy George Friedman)
Belt service was practical. The idea was for streetcars to run in a loop. Cars on one line would go in one direction, cars on the other line in the opposite direction. So, from 1900 to 1950, the St. Charles line went outbound. Starting at Canal and Rampart:
Inbound (towards the river) on Canal
Right turn onto St. Charles Avenue
Outbound (towards uptown) on St. Charles
Right turn onto S. Carrollton
Outbound (heading towards Mid-City) on S. Carrollton
Right turn on Tulane Avenue
Inbound (towards the CBD) on Tulane
Tulane to Elk Place
Elk Place to Canal
Back at Canal and Rampart
The cars whose roll boards said TULANE ran this in reverse, Elk to Tulane to S. Carrollton. Then, left turn onto St. Charles, inbound to Lee Circle. Curve around Lee Circle to Howard, then right turn on Carondelet (since St. Charles between Canal and Lee Circle is one way the other way). Left turn at Carondelet and Canal to Rampart.
NOPSI 817 on the Tulane Belt at the New Basin Canal Bridge (courtesy George Friedman)
Equipment on the St. Charles/Tulane belt was Brill double-trucks until 1915, then 400-series arch roof cars. In 1923, 800-900 series arch roofs also ran on these lines.
NOPSI 1182 trackless trolley at Canal Station (courtesy Streetcar Mike)
Belt service was discontinued in 1950, when the New Basin Canal was filled in, forcing changes in roads and traffic patterns. Tulane line converted to trackless trolleys in 1950. St. Charles was re-configured to its present-day route.
“Palace” Car on a test run on the Esplanade Belt, 1911. (courtesy NOPL)
Riding the belt also was a thing on the downtown side of Canal, from 1903 to 1931. The Canal and Esplanade lines ran streetcar belt service as follows:
Outbound on Canal Street from N. Rampart
Canal Street to City Park Avenue
Right turn on City Park Avenue to the bayou bridge.
Cross the bayou, then inbound on Esplanade Avenue
Right turn from Esplanade onto N. Rampart
Left turn onto Canal Street from N. Rampart
Inbound on Canal to Liberty Place
Loop around Liberty Place
Outbound on Canal to N. Rampart
Inbound at Canal and N. Rampart to Liberty Place
Loop around Liberty Place
Outbound on Canal to N. Rampart
Right turn onto N. Rampart
Left turn onto Esplanade
Outbound on Esplanade to the bayou
Cross Bayou St. John to City Park Avenue
Right turn on City Park Avenue
City Park Avenue inbound to Canal Street
Left turn on Canal Street
Inbound on Canal to Rampart.
Equipment on the Canal/Esplanade belts was Brill double-trucks until 1915, then American Car Company “Palace” cars.
Streetcar belt service on Canal/Esplanade was discontinued in 1931. After the “beautification program” of 1930, The Esplanade line was converted to bus service.
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.
Maunsel White, Irishman, planter, and veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, is the subject of our first pod of 2017.
Beyond Bourbon Street by Mark Bologna
Guest Starring on Podcasts!
Our first pod for 2017! We’re behind a bit, because @NOLAHistoryGuy started out the year doing a guest segment on another podcast. It was fun to sit and chat with Mark Bologna of Beyond Bourbon Street about the Battle of New Orleans. Mark is @BeyondBourbonST on Twitter – note the “ST” for “Street” in Mark’s Twitter handle and website.
After attending a wonderful talk by Mr. Winston Hu of the University of New Orleans Department of History (my old stomping ground as an undergrad) on the history of Chinese people in New Orleans, I went out to Cypress Grove Cemetery to photograph the “Chinese Tomb” that Hu discussed.
(editor’s note: Let’s be honest here, walking through Cypress Grove isn’t a huge sacrifice for me, since I park on Canal Street by the cemetery, then walk over to Banks Street, to go to Wakin’ Bakin’ for breakfast, coffee, and writing time.)
Maunsel White, 1851
Maunsel White and Cemetery Exploration
White family tomb in Cypress Grove Cemetery, on Canal Street
As I walked through Cypress Grove, I came across a mausoleum with “Maunsel White” carved in the top. There was a small bronze plaque at the base of the mausoleum, indicating that the senior White was a veteran of the War of 1812. I remembered the name, that he was one of Jackson’s officers on 8-Jan-1815. I shot a bunch of photos, then made a note to do an article on him for my cemetery website. Then I looked him up, and realized he was part of the bigger story of the Battle of New Orleans. Not to steal the thunder from what Mark and I chatted about on his pod, I decided that talking about White would be a good complementary discussion.
Plaque on Maunsel White’s tomb
So, have a listen to White, and his involvement in the days following the Battle of New Orleans. Be sure to add Beyond Bourbon Street’s pod to your playlist, and recommend it to your friends.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Signbox for a 900-series arch roof streetcar. “DESIRE” sign made for the box by Earl Hampton.
Tennessee Williams (courtesy of Hotel Monteleone)
Tennessee Williams, relaxing at the Hotel Monteleone, 1950s.
“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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Streetcars of New Orleans, by Hennick and Charlton, 1964 (amazon link)