NOLA History Guy December (2) – the founders of Maison Blanche

NOLA History Guy December (2) – the founders of Maison Blanche

Our second installment of NOLA History Guy December features Maison Blanche.

nola history guy december

Maison Blanche Department Stores – NOLA History Guy December

Simon J. Shwartz was an experienced realtor. He grew up in the family business, A. Shwartz and Son. Simon was the third son of Abraham Shwartz. With two older brothers working with their dad to run the shop in the Touro Buildings, S.J. went up to New York City. He became the store’s buyer. He came home to work in the store in the late 1880s, and married the daughter of Isidore Newman, a successful banker.

After the devastating fire in the Touro Buildings (the 701 block of Canal Street) on February 14, 1892, S.J. moved the family business up the street to the Mercier Building at 901 Canal Street (corner Dauphine). The family then re-built the 701-block store. S.J. was at a crossroads.

Creating Maison Blanche

Shwartz restored the success of A. Shwartz and Son after the fire, but his brother wanted to bring the store back down the street. So, S.J. pitched an idea to his father-in-law. He wanted to open the first true “department store” in New Orleans. Up until this point, “dry goods” stores like his family’s, the Fellman’s, and Daniel Henry Holmes’ store, serviced the city. They were joined by boutiques, like the Krausz Brothers shop at 811 Canal Street. Shwartz wanted to acquire the entire Mercier building, and he needed an investor.

Newman liked S.J.’s concept and backed it. Shwartz purchased the building, evicting Leon Fellman (who moved his store to the Pickwick Hotel Building at 800 Canal). Shwartz remodeled his building’s interior. By the Fall of 1897, he was ready to open.

The “Brain Trust”

Newman’s investment had strings attached. He had Shwartz hire Gus Gus Schullhoefer, Newmman’s brother-in-law, and Hartwig D. Newman, his son. They were smart guys, and gave Newman some eyes loyal to him inside the business. When Maison Blanche opened on October 31, 1897, the Daily Picayune gave over most of their front page to the store’s opening. In addition to details on the store, they profiled the three top executives. Here’s the caption for the image in the paper from the book:

The Maison Blanche Brain Trust. Isidore Newman’s son-in-law, S.J. Shwartz, his brother-in-law, Gus Schulhoefer, and his son, Hartwig Newman, were the first management team of Maison Blanche, from a profile piece in the New Orleans Picayune in 1897.

Into the 20th century

The was a success from the start. While it would be another fifty years until their precious Christmas Mascot, Mister Bingle, made his debut, Maison Blanche quickly earned their tagline, “Greatest Store South.”

Maison Blanche Department Stores

Mr. Bingle 1952

Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley

From the back cover:

On October 31, 1897, S.J. Shwartz, Gus Schullhoefer, and Hartwig D. Newman–with financial backing from banker Isidore Newman–opened the Maison Blanche at the corner of Canal Street and Rue Dauphine in New Orleans. Converting Shwartz’s dry goods store into the city’s first department store, the trio created a retail brand whose name lasted over a century. In 1908, Shwartz tore his store down and built what was the city’s largest building–13 stories, with his Maison Blanche occupying the first five floors. The MB Building became, and still is, a New Orleans icon, and Maison Blanche was a retail leader in the city, attracting some of the best and brightest people in the business. One of those employees, display manager Emile Alline, created the store’s second icon, the Christmas character “Mr. Bingle,” in 1947. Mr. Bingle continues to spark the imagination of New Orleans children of all ages. Even though Maison Blanche has become part of New Orleans’s past, the landmark Canal Street store lives on as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Available at local bookstores, Walgreens stores, other local shops, Bookshop, and other online outlets. Give history! Support NOLA History Guy December.

 

Downtown Railroads 1961

Downtown Railroads 1961

All the downtown railroads shifted to Loyola Avenue in 1954.

downtown railroads

 

Downtown Railroads in 1961

Aerial photo of Union Passenger Terminal (UPT), Illinois Central (IC) rail yards, and buildings in the vicinity, 1961. Charles Franck Studios photo via The Historic New Orleans Collection.

The highway at the top is the Pontchartrain Expressway (US90 Business). The expressway leads across the river in 1961, with the opening of the (now-named) Crescent City Connection bridge in 1958. Below the highway are UPT and its tracks, then the Post Office and railroad tracks for that facility. Then other commercial buildings stand at the bottom of the photo. The Illinois Central service yard is below those buildings.

The old Federal Building on Loyola Avenue, with the big weather radar tower on the roof, is visible on the left.

Union Station to UPT

downtown railroads

Union Passenger Terminal, Loyola Avenue

This photo shows no real trace of old Union Station, seven years after UPT opened. The city centralized passenger rail operations at UPT in 1954. They quickly demolished the five passenger terminals operating prior to 1954. Mayor Chep Morrison implemented a “burn the boats” strategy. So, the railroads had little choice but to go along. Prior to UPT, Illinois Central and Southern Pacific operated from old Union Station. Amtrak presently operates UPT, station name NOL. Greyhound Bus also uses UPT.

US Post Office

The Post Office facility originally stood next to Union Station. Since passenger railroads carried the mail from city to city, the main post office was next to the train station. The cars on tracks below UPT carried the mail. They’re parked at the back of the post office. The Post Office (now the US Postal Service) canceled transportation contracts with the railroads in the 1960s. The downturn in passenger rail service is sort of a chicken-and-egg story. The railroads cut back passenger trains. The Post Office shifted to trucks and air mail. Which killed the trains? A little of both.

Additional rail facilities

The Illinois Central RR operated the yard near the bottom of the photo. They staged both passenger and freight cars there. An IC train arrived at the station, then IC switchers pulled the cars out of UPT. They crossed over to the service track for the yard, then parked them.

Da Dome

The city razed much of the land visible here below the Post Office. This made room for construction of the Louisiana Superdome in the 1970s. While the downtown site was one of several proposed locations for the stadium, any changes to the area were just on paper in 1961. The city performed a number of land swaps in the area. This avoided having to buy property outright.

While the USPS facility remains, all of its railroad tracks were torn up during Dome construction. Compare the roof of the Post Office here with the current configuration in a map/satellite program and you’ll see the evolution.

 

I tell stories

I tell stories

Re-introducing myself – I tell Stories.

maison blanche postcard

Detroit Publishing Company postcard of Maison Blanche Department Store, 1910

I Tell Stories

I’ve written six books on various aspects of the history of New Orleans. They’re stories ranging from streetcars to department stores to schools to Jazz. I earned a BA in Social Sciences Education from the University of New Orleans in 1980. I taught Social Studies at a local high school for a few years. Teaching History is indeed storytelling. It’s a good bit more, of course, particularly when working to improve students’ reading skills, but the content is stories about things in the past. I moved on from high school, using retail sales as a bridge. Invariably, I came back to telling stories, as an adult education instructor (UNO Metropolitan College), and later moving into the world of corporate training. Everything involved storytelling.

While delivering corporate training, I needed things to stay occupied when out of the classroom. So, in 2003, I pitched a book idea to Arcadia Publishing. Streetcars vanished from Canal Street in New Orleans in 1964. The city planned to bring them back, forty years later. It was a great story to share. Even though many stories exist about the older, senior streetcar line, St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street remained essentially an untold story. Arcadia liked the idea and I wrote the book. Promoting a book means telling stories to get folks to buy it.

More stories

St. Alphonsus Church, New Orleans, by Theodore Lilienthal, 1880

St. Alphonsus Church, New Orleans, by Theodore Lilienthal, 1880

After the first book, more storytelling opportunities materialized. I pitched a book about my high school, Brother Martin, in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. The school’s roots go back to 1869, when the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened St. Aloysius in the Vieux Carré. Promoting two books opened up more possibilities. I told shorter stories as the “history blogger” for GoNOLA.com, a site sponsored by the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation, now New Orleans, Incorporated. Monthly exposure led to weekly exposure. Various groups around the area invited me to speak to their membership. I’m particularly flattered that the Friends of the Cabildo’s Tour Guides regularly have me in to talk.

Of course, none of this history stuff, from teaching to writing to speaking, pays quite like corporate computer consulting and training. I lived a double life in this respect. That presented challenges for my LinkedIn Presence.

Ramping up LinkedIn

The "second" St. Charles Hotel, stereo card by Theodore Lilienthal, 1880.

The “second” St. Charles Hotel, stereo card by Theodore Lilienthal, 1880.

I’ve had a presence on LinkedIn since 2007. While I was a good bit active when developing a client base for YatMedia, my activity diminished after that side of what I do scaled back. The computer work I do rarely involves anything local. I traveled extensively for years, teaching UNIX and Enterprise Storage for international companies. The market for those products and services only touches New Orleans very lightly. So, I flew literally around the world, delivering training. The sales staffs of the companies I’ve taught for did the dirty work. I showed up and taught. I still do, in fact, even though “showing up” now means walking here to my home office and firing up WebEx.
The corporate training landscape changed dramatically around 2016 or so. I remember, during the pandemic, a good friend started a podcast for IT professionals. Jeff interviewed folks, and we talked about how the pandemic changed work habits, etc. I explained that my training workload went “virtual” long before people knew what Zoom was about. Traditional job recruiters didn’t help me, since I work through a training company that contracts me out to computer companies. So, even though I’m self-employed, I don’t present a target for those looking to increase their business using LinkedIn.

Local/History LinkedIn

It’s fun to include LinkedIn users when I tell stories. The larger the audience, the more people I can interest in buying the books! Still, LinkedIn remained secondary to Twitter and Facebook. Now that those platforms morphed into dumpster fires in many ways, the stability of LinkedIn is appealing.

Southern Pacific Passenger Car #TrainThursday

Southern Pacific Passenger Car #TrainThursday

This Southern Pacific passenger car operated on the Sunset Limited.

southern pacific passenger car

Southern Pacific passenger car

A Budd corporation built passenger car operating on the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Limited” train. The Historic New Orleans Collection dates this photo as prior to 1941, but that’s not accurate. The SP replaced the “heavyweight” cars running on the Sunset Limited with “streamline” cars like this one in 1950. So, this photo is likely from 1950 or 1951.

Four across

This car model offered four-across seating. Modern airlines offer this layout in their first class/business class cabins. Amtrak continues the four-across layout in their Superliner cars. Toilets were at the back of the car.

Railroads offered coach cars as bare-bones service. Amtrak’s incarnation of the line takes 46 hours to get from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The upside of a long train ride in coach is you’re not locked into the chair, as you would be on a plane. Riders ate in the dining car, strolled down to the lounge car, or just walked up and down the train to stretch. SP offered sleeper car service for a premium.

What’s important to remember is not everyone rides a long-haul route the entire way. So, if you wanted to take the train from New Orleans to, say, Lake Charles or Houston, hop on a Southern Pacific passenger car like this. Eight hours to Houston isn’t so bad.

The Route

SP inaugurated the route in 1894. They transferred it (along with all other passenger operations) to the national passenger railroad corporation, Amtrak, in 1971. The train runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles and return. The Amtrak’s Sunset makes twenty stops in between.

The cars

Prior to 1950, SP ran steel-sided “heavyweight” cars. They upgraded the flagship train in 1950, using corrugated aluminium siding. These cars weighed less. Their “streamlined” design offered a smoother ride. Additionally, the newer cars used upgraded trucks, better shock absorbers, etc.

The station

This car appears to be part of a ready-to-depart or just-arrived Sunset Limited consist. SP operated from Union Station on Rampart Street until Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. Trains coming into both stations used a car maintenance facility just to the side of the station tracks. Amtrak continues to use this facility, which back up to Earhart Boulevard. Pretty sure this isn’t the station itself, since there’s no roof over the tracks.

 

Christ Church 1845

Christ Church 1845

Christ Church was the first Episcopal congregation.

second Christ Church 1845

Christ Church, 1845

Illustration of Christ Episcopal Church, corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets, in Norman’s New Orleans and Environs, 1845. The artist is unidentified. Benjamin Moore Norman describes the church thusly:

A fine Ionic building, situated on Canal, at the corner of Bourbon street, was designed by Gallier and Dakin, architects, and its erection begun in the autumn of 1835, under the direction of Mr. D. H. Toogood. It was completed in the summer of 1837, and consecrated during the same year. The cost of the edifice was about $70,000. The form of the ceiling, being a flat dome, is much admired. The Rev. Dr. Hawkes is pastor of this church.

This was the second incarnation of Christ Episcopal. The congregation formed in 1803. They worshiped in various Vieux Carré buildings until 1816, when they bought the property on the corner of Canal and Bourbon. In 1833, the congregation’s growth required something bigger. They commissioned James Gallier, Sr. and James H. Dakin to build this second church.They consecrated the new church on March 26, 1837.

Judah Touro

By 1845, real estate developer and merchant Judah Touro set his sights on the 701 block of Canal Street. He acquired most of the property on the block.  In 1845, Touro made the congregation the proverbial offer they couldn’t refuse. Christ Episcopal acquired the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets, one block up from the existing church. By 1847, Touro completed the deal. Christ Episcopal moved up the street. Congregation Dispersed of Judah moved into the church building at Bourbon. They remained there until 1855. While Touro passed in 1854, the project continued. They moved Dispersed of Judah to a new schul uptown and demolished the Canal Street synagogue. By 1857, the entire block consisted of a row of four-story buildings.

Church migrations

Christ Episcopal moved one more time, in 1884. They put the gothic church at Canal and Dauphine up for auction. The congregation used the proceeds from the sale to build the current cathedral, located at St. Charles Avenue and Sixth Street.

St. Charles Street, 1880

St. Charles Street, 1880

St. Charles Street in 1880

St. Charles Street

Canal and St. Charles

The 100-200 blocks of St. Charles Street, looking up from Canal Street, 1880. This is one side of a stereoscope card from S. T. Blessing Studios on Canal. The foreground shows the 100 block of St. Charles. Meyer The Hatter and Kolb’s Restaurant open on St. Charles fifteen-ish years later. The St. Charles Hotel dominates the background of the photo. Two Stephenson “bobtail” streetcars travel up St. Charles. They run on the Great Northern Station line. The Carrollton line still came to Canal Street via Baronne. I decided to change my profile picture on Twitter (yes, I’m still on Da Twittah, as @NOLAHistoryGuy) to this image.

St. Charles Street

No, that’s not a typo. At this time, the city listed the portion of St. Charles between Canal Street and Tivoli Circle as a “street.” Above Tivoli Circle, it morphed into “Naiads Street.” The New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company named their streetcar line for its destination, the City of Carrollton. Carrollton served as the seat of Jefferson Parish. Orleans Parish later annexed the area. So, the line ran up Naiads to Carrollton Avenue. It cnnected the CBD with the eastern end of Jefferson.

Tivoli Circle

The circle was named after Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. During the Southern Rebellion, it was used as an encampment for both Union and Rebel soldiers. The White League erected their monument to the traitor Lee in 1884. That statue was removed by the city in 2017, and the circle is now known as Harmony Circle, renamed by a unanimous vote of the City Council in 2021.

The hotel

This photo shows the second incarnation of the St. Charles Hotel. It opened in 1853, after the first incarnation (the one with the dome and rotunda) burned down. This building burned down in 1894. The third incarnation replaced it. That hotel was demolished in 1974. The Place St. Charles office building (now the Capital One Building) replaced it in the 200 block.