The Ashton Theater in Hollygrove – a classic neighborhood movie palace

Ashton Theater – neighborhood news and entertainment

ashton theater

Ashton Theater, on Apple Street in Hollygrove (courtesy Infrogmation)

Pre-television entertainment

A friend asked me yesterday what I knew about a theater in her new neighborhood, The Ashton. Hollygrove/Leonidas isn’t my ‘hood. So my answer was, not much. My curiosity was piqued, though. I did some basic research. It’s not all that unique but interesting. The building was a typical neighborhood theater. You found these all around the United States in the days before television. It opened in 1927, a time when radio was just coming on the scene. The average American got their news from the local paper, and radio was speeding up that process. Movies made it possible to add visuals to that knowlege base. Theaters would show “newsreels” before the feature film. The news in those newsreels was way dated by the current standards of the 24/7 media beast we feed today, but they satisfied the public’s need to see what was going on.

Ferdinand Rousseve – The Ashton Theater’s architect

The Ashton Theater was designed by Ferdinand L. Rousseve. Rousseve was a New Orleans native who was a descendant of a Battle of New Orleans veteran. He attended Xavier University, as well as Coyne Trade and Engineering School in Chicago. Rousseve received an engineering degree from Coyne in 1924. So, the Ashton was one of his first design jobs. He went on to have a distinguished career, both as an architect and a civil rights leader. In 1947, Rousseve became the provisional chairman of the Urban League of New Orleans. Upon moving to Boston, Rousseve remained active with the Urban League. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1948. Rousseve became chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Boston University in 1958. He died in 1965.


The Ashton is located at 8437 Apple Street, which is one block off Leonidas, two blocks off Claiborne, in Hollygrove. Hollygrove is an “uptown backatown” neighborhood. It’s close to both S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenuses. So, that makes the area easily accessible by bus and streetcar. Hollygrove endured some tough times economically, with crime being problematic. As gentrification hits other neighborhoods, it’s naturally spreading into Hollygrove as well.

Pipe Organ

Ashton Theater had a Reproduco pipe organ installed. I don’t know if the organ is still in the building. It closed in 1958. The building is now privately owned. While this neighborhood got a good bit of flood water during Hurricane Katrina, it survived. It’s now an artist’s studio.




The Grand Lodge of Louisiana and Scottish Freemasonry

grand lodge of louisiana

Etoile Polaire #1 Lodge, on N. Rampart Street (Infrogmation photo)

Scottish Freemasonry in the Grand Lodge of Louisiana

Freemasonry in the Grand Lodge of Louisiana has a rich history. BBC Travel has a great article on Freemasonry’s Scottish roots and its connections. Very much worth the read. So, I want to add some thoughts on the Scottish and English influences on Freemasonry in New Orleans.

The first lodge in New Orleans was Parfaite Union (Perfect Union). A group of masons organized in New Orleans in 1793. These men petitioned the Grand Lodge of South Carolina in 1794, received a charter under their auspices. As a lodge chartered in South Carolina, they became Perfect Union #29.

Also in 1794, a group of masons formed a lodge, Etoile Polaire (Polar Star).  They petitioned the Grand Orient of France for a charte. The French Revolution complicated that petition. Etoile Polaire then petitioned the Provincial Lodge in Marseilles, in 1796. They constituted under that authority in 1798. In 1804, they finally received a charter from the Grand Orient of France. Because the Spanish governed Louisiana at this time, both lodges were forced to meet outside the city limits. They gathered just outside the city’s ramparts, just to north and east of the original city. Etoile Polaire eventually build a lodge hall there. Its location is at Kerlerec and North Rampart Streets.

Freemasonry in the State of Louisiana

France sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803. That released the masons of New Orleans from the complications of a government subordinate to the Catholic church. Freemasonry “came out” at that time. Louisiana was granted statehood in 1812, and the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was constituted at that time. Because of the confusion and close dates of the charters of Etoile Polaire and Perfect Union, both lodges are listed as “1” in the roll.

Louisiana in the early 19th Century was a complex mix of ethnic groups. This resulted in those groups chartering their own lodges. A number of the early lodges did their work in languages other than English. The original two lodges did their Work in French; Germania and Kosmos Lodges in German, Cervantes in Spanish, and Dante Lodge in Italian. In terms of ritual and traditions, however, they took their cues from the two #1 lodges.

Connections to Scotland

Now, what does all this have to do with Scottish Freemasonry? From the BBC article, it’s clear that “modern” Freemasonry goes back to Scotland:

From the Middle Ages, associations of stonemasons existed in both England and Scotland. It was in Scotland, though, that the first evidence appears of associations – or lodges – being regularly used. By the late 1500s, there were at least 13 established lodges across Scotland, from Edinburgh to Perth. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 16th Century that those medieval guilds gained an institutional structure – the point which many consider to be the birth of modern Freemasonry.

Freemasonry then extends south of Hadrian’s Wall to England, and by 1717, English masons formed the Grand Lodge of England. The Craft also traveled across the English Channel to France. With the House of Stuart living in exile in France, the brand of Freemasonry that came to that country was more directly linked to Scotland than England. As Freemasonry spread from France to the French colonies in North America, that Scottish influence in ritual and organization went along.

Modern “Scottish” Freemasonry

By the time Freemasonry reached Louisiana, there were two distinct styles of ritual in North America. Lodges chartered in the Thirteen Colonies were under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England, and inherited their traditions. Louisiana picks up the more-Scottish traditions from France (via Haiti). By 1812 and the formation of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, both styles of lodges existed. To this day, there are ten “Scottish Rite Blue Lodges” in New Orleans:

  • Etoile Polaire #1
  • Perserverance #4
  • Cervantes #5
  • Germania #46
  • Kosmos #171
  • Union #172
  • Dante #174
  • Galileo-Mazzini #368
  • Albert Pike #376
  • Paul M. Schneidau #391

These lodges are part of Grand Lodge of Louisiana. Their ritual is significantly different from those whose roots originate in England. There are more “English” Lodges in town, but these ten proudly proclaim their Scottish heritage.


Mortagage executed by Bernard Marigny, 1836

bernard marigny mortgage

Mortgage executed by Bernard Marigny, 1836 (courtesy LaRC at Tulane)

Bernard Marigny de Mandeville and Faubourg Marigny

Bernard is the man the neighborhood is named after. He inherited Marigny Plantation in 1806. Almost immediately he subdivided it, turning the plantation into New Orleans’ first neighborhood outside the French Quarter. He was still selling lots into the 1820s,

Cashflow issues

Marigny was quite the rake, and that lifestyle isn’t cheap. Property owners have it easier than a lot of folks in terms of financing an extravagant lifestyle. It’s easy for them to pay the bills, because all they have to do is sell off something, like lots in a subdivision. He took an interest in horse racing in the 1830s. Marigny founded the Louisiana Race Course, located on what now is the Fair Grounds Race Course. The first races at his track were held in 1839. Borrowing money in 1836 fits with the timeline for this project.

This is mortgage document is written in French, so I don’t know the details. I’m quite curious to see what he was borrowing against. Marigny would have been fifty-one in 1836 (he died in 1868, at the age of eighty-one).

One of the cool things about primary sources such as this is that they bring larger-than-life characters like Marigny down to earth. Here’s the guy who had connecitons to the Battle of New Orleans, brought the dice game Hazard to the New World, where it morphed into what we now know as “craps”, and expanded the city’s footprint. Did he run out of property to sell by 1836? What did he own that he could borrow against? Analyzing antebellum mortgage documents is an interesting twist on forensic accounting.

If any of y’all can read the French here (and the script it’s written in), please, please let me know! Will pay in beer or burgers for some insight into Marigny. 🙂

What date is Louis Armstrong’s Birthday?

What date is Louis Armstrong’s Birthday?

louis armstrong

Pops in 1919

Louis Armstrong’s Birthday, he claimed, was the Fourth of July, but many records say otherwise. James Karst of Da Paper shared an interesting article from last year on the blog, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong. The blogger is Ricky Riccardi, who is Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens.

The article explores the research done by various folks on Pops’ birthday. Was he born in 1900 or 1901? Was the date really 4-July, or was it 4-August? Riccardi explores the issue, looking into research done by Tad Jones, along with John McCusker’s comments/defense of Jones’ work. He also cites a 2014 article by Karst, documenting Pops’ first trip to the Colored Waifs’ Home, at age 9.

The conclusion? Jones’ research into Armstrong’s baptismal records appears at face value to document the 4-August-1901 date. Karst’s find of the arrest record when Pops was nine tends to confirm 1901 as the year.

Here’s my only quibble with the baptismal record; while the date of the administration of the sacrament is not in doubt, the recording of the date of birth could be. Here’s Riccardi’s remarks on this:

Okay, it starts with baptism number 69, done on August 25 of a child born on August 15, ten days after. Next, number 70 is Louis Armstrong, baptized on August 25 and given the birthday of August 4. Now we’re 21 days away. Next, baptism number 71, done on August 25 is for a child born on JUNE 30! Nearly two months before. McCusker says August 4 has to be true because “those notations in the register happen in real time.” They were indeed happening in real time on August 25 but the birthdays of the kids being conceived varied from 10 days before until almost two months earlier. When I mistakenly wrote on Facebook that a “clerk” wrote the above, McCusker corrected me and said it was the priest and insinuated the priest is the most reliable source. But that priest wasn’t there when Mayann delivered Louis and if she remembered it being July 4, I don’t know why she gets discounted entirely.

The baptismal register at Sacred Heart Church on Canal Street would indeed be in “real time” – for baptisms. When a family brings the baby to the church for that baptism, however can vary. It’s not surprising to see babies ranging from two weeks to three months in age receiving the sacrament. So, to have one kid born on 15-August and another born on 30-June being baptized on the same day would be business as usual. The priest administers the sacrament, and records that act in the register. Louis Armstrong’s birthday would be secondary to his baptismal date in those records.

Is the priest a reliable source? Certainly for the date of baptism, but for the date of birth? What makes the priest’s recording of 4-August for DOB authoritative? Consider that this is 1901. The priest would be white, and Pops was listed in the register as “niger, illegitimus”. In other words, just how seriously did the priest take this record? Certainly he took the sacrament seriously. He brought a soul into the Church. But exactly when that soul’s mother gave birth would not be as important to him., given that he was African-American and illegitimate. All this research is done now because of what baby Louis became; on 25-August-1901, he was just another black baby. Jim Crow was in full force by 1901, essentially making African-Americans second class citizens. Without more info on the priest, it’s hard to tell here.

Go read the article, see what you think Louis Armstrong’s birthday is!

Seafood at West End

Seafood at West End

Fitzgerald's Restaurant at West End, New Orleans, 1995 (Edward Branley photo)

Fitzgerald’s Restaurant at West End, New Orleans, 1995 (Edward Branley photo)

The craziest day at West End was always Good Friday! After the solemn aspects of Good Friday were observed, many New Orleans families headed out to West End for seafood. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly as solemn as perhaps the Church wanted, but the food was good. Two of the popular restaurants were Brunings (top) and Fitzgerald’s. Both of these photos are from 1995. My family always preferred Brunings; their whole stuffed flounder is still the standard by which that dish is judged.

The Bucktown Bridge, connecting Orpheum Street in Metairie to West End in New Orleans, 1995 (Edward Branley photo)

The Bucktown Bridge, connecting Orpheum Street in Metairie to West End in New Orleans, 1995 (Edward Branley photo)

We would come from the Metairie side of West End, crossing the old Bucktown Bridge, which, alas, ATNM, between storms and the enhanced flood protection/controls on the 17th Street Canal.

Hurricanes during the 1990s all but obliterated the restaurants, bars, and nightclubs at West End. Even before Katrina, it was impossible for the property owners to re-build, because of wind and flood issues. No insurance company would underwrite reconstruction or new development.

West End for dining and entertainment is a thing of the past, but many folks still have fond memories of fun evenings looking out on the water.



Mapping the wreck of the USS Hatteras

CSS Alabama sinks the USS Hatteras, 11-Jan-1863 (Engraving courtesy US Navy)

USS Hatteras was originally a 126-ton side-wheel steamer that was purchased by the Union Navy early in the war. She was sent down to Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico, in November of 1861. After doing a bit of damage in and around Florida, Hatteras was assigned to the Gulf Blockading Squadron, harassing Confederate shipping and naval operations west of the mouth of the Mississippi.

After Rear Admiral David Farragut took New Orleans in May of 1862. his focus was on capturing the port of Galveston, TX. Action began around Galveston in November, 1862, but on January 11, 1863, Hatteras encountered the CSS Alabama, who engaged and sank the sidewheeler.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, along with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and various Texas state entities, have initiated a 3D mapping program for the Hatteras. Here’s their description of the wreck’s location and status:

The Hatteras today rests in 58 feet of water about 20 miles off Galveston. Her 210-foot long iron hull is completely buried under about three feet of sand. Only the remains of her 500-horsepower walking beam steam engine and her two iron paddle wheels remain exposed above the sea floor. Since the site’s discovery in the 1970’s, BOEM has engaged in periodic monitoring of the wreck to ensure that it is not damaged by surrounding oil and gas lease development. Although the wreck remains the property of the U.S. Navy, BOEM has joined forces with the THC and Texas A&M at Galveston to preserve this important archaeological treasure for posterity.

BOEM has a great video showing their progress:

(h/t Accessible Archives for the pointer to Hatteras and the project!)