The Touro Buildings on Canal Street – Podcast

The Touro Buildings on Canal Street – Podcast

The Touro Buildings

Touro Buildings

Touro Buildings, 1873 (public domain image courtesy THNOC)

The Touro Buildings – Canal Street Retail

This pod begins a series we’ll be presenting on the connections between Krauss Department Store and other merchants up and down Canal Street. The logical place to start is the 700 block of Canal Street, between Royal and Bourbon Streets. From it’s beginnings as the first location of Christ Episcopal Church, to the end of the 19th Century, the 700 block is the story of the Touro Buildings and the merchants who set up shop there.

Touro Buildings

Second Christ Episcopal, Bourbon and Canal (public domain image courtesy THNOC)

Christ Episcopal

Touro Buildings

700 Block of Canal Street, ca 1842. (public domain image courtesy THNOC)

Christ Episcopal was founded in 1805. They built their first church on Canal and Bourbon in 1816. That church lasted about 25 years. Because Protestant Americans kept moving to New Orleans, they outgrew the church. So, the chapter demolished the first church. They built a second on the same corner. The second church looked like a Greek temple, with six massive Ionic columns. The second church serviced the congregation until 1846. The chapter needed more land for a larger church. They purchased the corner of Canal and Dauphine, in the 900 block of Canal Street.

The chapter sold the second church to businessman Judah Touro. Touro worked to buy up the 700 block of Canal. While he acquired the rest of the block, he set up Temple Sinai in the church in the 700 block. While Touro wrapped up the 700 block, he moved Temple Sinai further uptown. He demolished the buildings in the 700 block of Canal. He built the “Touro Buildings,” a set of four-story buildings with shared walls, townhouse-style. Touro opened the buildings for lease in 1852.

A. Shwartz and Sons

Touro Building

Sanborn Fire map of 700 block of Canal St, 1856 (public domain image courtesy Tulane Howard-Tilton Library)

Abraham Shwartz was born in 1820. He opened his store, A. Shwartz Dry Goods, in the 1840s. In 1852, he moved into the newly-opened Touro Buildings. So, the store become A Shwartz & Sons in the 1870s, when Abraham’s firstborn, Nathan, joined the company. Abram’s second son, Leon, soon followed. When third son Simon was old enough to join the company, he traveled to New York, to become the company’s buyer in that city.

Bernard and Leon Fellman

Touro Buildings

Touro Buildings, 1880s. (S.T. Blessing photo in the public domain)

Bernard and Leon Fellman came to New Orleans in the 1860s, and opened their first store in the Touro Buildings in 1873. In 1878, they expanded from the first store at 133 Canal, opening a second store down the block at 129 Canal. In 1889, The brothers split. Leon bypassed the 800 block of Canal, moving to the Mercier Buildings in the 900 block. So, Bernard closed 133 Canal, keeping 129 Canal as B. Fellman Dry Goods.

The Fire, 16-February-1892

Touro Buildings

Fire in the 700 block of Canal Street, 16-Feb-1892 (public domain photo courtesy THNOC)

Almost the entire 700 block of Canal Street, the Touro Buildings, were destroyed in a fire on February 16, 1892. The fire burned out both the Shwartz and Fellman stores. The impact of the fire was dramatic. Abram Shwartz died weeks later, of a heart attack. The family always said the loss of the store killed him. Bernard Fellman’s store burned as well. While Bernard’s health was not good before the fire, the circumstances did not improve him. He passed away on September 3, 1892. His family did continue to operate the store into the 20th century.

The MB Book!

Maison Blanche Department Stores

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maison Blanche Airline

Maison Blanche Airline

Maison Blanche Airline

maison blanche airline

Maison Blanche Airline, 1956 (Franck Studios photo)

The first suburban MB – Maison Blanche Airline

When S. J. Shwartz founded Maison Blanche in 1897, MB was a single store on Canal Street. It remained that way until 1947, when the company opened its second location, at Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues. A year later, the company went out to Gentilly, opening a store at Frenchmen Street and Gentilly Boulevard. In the late 1940s, post WWII, Gentilly was considered a “suburb” with respect to the rest of the city.

The “real” suburbs of New Orleans at that time were around, but did not have the economic significance they would have later. Jefferson Parish had three distinct neighborhoods close to the city: Jefferson, Metairie, and Bucktown. Going downriver from the city, St. Bernard Parish had Arabi, Chalmette, and Meraux. While both parishes had towns further out, these were the ‘burbs.

Getting to Jefferson Parish

maison blanche airline

Tulane Avenue in the 1950s (Morrison Collection, NOPL)

The main conduit connecting modern East Jefferson to New Orleans is I-10, but the interstate highway system was just in the planning stages in the 1950s. President Eisenhower saw the value of the autobahn system in Germany, and wanted that for the US. In the meantime, folks living outside the city proper needed routes to get back into the stores, shops, and other establishments.

mid-city new orleans maison blanche airline

Shopping center at S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues, 1952

Rather than expand out into Jefferson Parish immediately, MB opened their first store in Mid-City. The Tulane and Carrollton location appealed to the the growning Mid-City and Lakeview neighborhoods, because folks didn’t have to go all the way to the CBD. S. Carrollton Avenue was where Tulane Avenue became Airline Highway. Airline was US Hwy 61, which led out of town and northwest to Baton Rouge. As Metairie began to expand, those folks came to the edge of town to shop at MB.

Opening in the suburbs

Crescent Drive-in on Airline Highway in Metairie, 1950 (Franck Studios Photo)

The property along Airline Highway in the late 1940s was largely undeveloped and inexpensive. In 1950, the Crescent Drive-In opened, along with the Crescent Shopping Center next door. The main reason drive-ins across the country closed was rising property values. The owners would sell to developers, and they’d move the drive-in further out into the burbs. By 1955, this happened to the Crescent. Developers built the Airline Village Shopping Center on the property. The main anchor of Airline Village was Maison Blanche Airline.

MB Airline attracted shoppers from the growing subdivisions along Metairie Road. Folks who lived near St. Martin’s Episcopal and St. Catherine of Sienna churches took Metairie Road to Atherton Drive, and turned towards Airline. They’d cross the railroad tracks (the “back belt”), and ended up right in the back parking lot of Maison Blanche Airline.

Shopping at MB Airline

Maison Blanche Airline

Like the stores on Carrollton and in Gentilly, MB Airline carried the same product lines the main store on Canal Street did. If there was something advertised in the paper that wasn’t available on the sales floor at Airline Village, the store gladly transferred it from downtown, or the customer could arrange for free home delivery.

My personal memories of MB Airline were when we lived in Old Metairie. I was a Cub Scout in the pack that was sponsored by Mullholland Memorial Methodist Church on Metairie Road. My parents would bring me from our house on Dream Court, up Metairie Road and that back route into Airline Village. MB was one of the “official” Scouting stores back then. So, that’s where we bought my uniforms, t-shirts, pocket knives, etc.

Clearview and decline

maison blanche airline

Architectural rendering, Airline Village Shopping Center

MB Airline was a resounding success for the chain well into the 1970s. When Interstate 10 opened and dominated the traffic patterns, Maison Blanche recognized the shift. They opened a new store in the Clearview Shopping Center. That mall is between I-10 and Veterans Boulevard, at the Clearview Parkway exit.

MB Airline declined rapidly after the Clearview store opened. New subdivisions developed between Veterans and the lake. Lakeside Mall and Clearview Mall became the focal points of retail shopping in Metairie. While MB Airline was convenient for residents of “Old Metairie”, everyone else favored the malls. Maison Blanche recognized this, and closed the Airline Village location.

Airline Village Today

maison blanche airline

Celebration Church (Darrell Harden photo)

The main anchor of Airline Village is now Celebration Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation.

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Maroon Monday

Maroon Monday – 1944

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

MB ad Loyola Maroon 1944

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…

mb book

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.