Gap Bridge was also known as the Bucktown Bridge.
“The Gap Bridge” by Jeanette Boutall Ouest, via THNOC
West End from Bucktown
The “Gap Bridge,” captured in a watercolor painting by Jeanette Boutall Woest, 17-November-1968. Here’s the record entry from THNOC”
View of the wooden Gap Bridge in about 1915 bordered by Bruning’s (labeled John C. Bruning above sign) on the left, Martin’s Green House in the background on the right, and the White House (labeled Theodore Bruning above sign) in the foreground on the right.
By the time I was a kid in the 1960s, the Gap Bridge was known colloquially as the “Bucktown Bridge” It was the path of access to the West End restaurant/entertainment area from the East Jefferson side. Coming from Orleans Parish, one went up the start of Lakeshore Drive to Lake Marina Drive to W. Roadway.
West End offered an escape from the heat of the city for over a century. Beginning in the 1860s, locals and visitors alike headed out to Lake Pontchartrain. There were three main entertainment districts along the lake: Milneburg (at the end of the Pontchartrain Railroad), Spanish Fort (at the mouth of Bayou St. John), and West End (at the end of the New Canal). Hotels, restaurants, casinos, and music venues opened in all three locations. They were great overnight/weekend getaway possibilities.
Getting to West End
The New Orleans City Railroad Company (operators of the mule-drawn incarnations of the Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue streetcar lines) provided steam train service from Canal and Rampart Streets out to West End. When streetcars switched to electric operation in the 1890s, so did the West End line.
As “Bucktown” in Jefferson Parish grew, the parish constructed the bridge to cover the “gap” between West End and Bucktown. While the present “gap” is the 17th Street Canal, things were different in the early 1900s. The “Metairie Pumping Station,” also known as Station 6, stood near Metairie Road. The canal extended north from there, but it fizzled out into swampy land from there. So, the “gap” was more marsh than a real waterway. The bridge crossed that marsh. Later, as the parish and USACE modernized the lake end of the canal, the bridge still connected the parish.
Three restaurants are visible in Ouest’s painting. On the left stands Bruning’s, operated by John C. Bruning. On the right are the Green House and White House. The restaurants on the right were long gone by the 1960s, but Bruning’s remained until the 1990s.
Fate of the Gap Bridge
The USACE demolished the bridge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Abraham Shushan’s monuments marked Lakefront milestones.
New Basin Canal Lock monument, 1930
Two 1930 photos of lakefront monuments. The late 1920s were a time of major improvements to the lakefront. Lake Pontchartrain seawall improved flood protection. So, the Levee Board* erected monuments to the “New Basin Canal Lock” and the “Lake Pontchartrain Sea-Wall.” Board president Abraham “Abe” Shushan supervised their placement.
Abe Shushan inspects the seawall monument, 1930
The “Lake Pontchartrain Sea-Wall” was the finishing touch of a years-long series of land reclamation projects along the Orleans Parish lakefront. In 1915, the south shore of the lake went right up to Adams Street (now Allen Toussaint Boulevard). The Levee Board planned to drain the swampy ground and create new subdivisions. By 1930, the reclamation projects were completed.
The Levee Board built the finishing touch in 1929. Along with the stepped, concrete wall, they created Lakeshore Drive for access to recreational areas along the lakefront. Previous generations traveled out to the lakefront resorts at West End, Spanish Fort, and Milneburg via train/streetcar. With the completion of Lakeshore Drive, driving along the lake became a pleasant experience.
Both of Shushan’s monuments contain the same text, with the name as the only change:
Constructed During the Administration of
HUEY P. LONG, Governor
Board of Levee Commissioners
Orleans Levee District
The stones then list the members of the board and the various people who worked the projects. While John Riess built the lock, Orleans Dredging Company built the seawall.
Shushan’s Monuments display Abe’s name, as president of the board. Shushan is seen in the seawall photo, inspecting the massive tablet. Abe got his start in his family’s business, Shushan Brothers. Shushan Brothers sold dry goods wholesale. Additionally, they operated retail toy stores. Abe left the business founded by his father and uncle, entering government as a strong supporter of Huey P. Long. He moved up in the Long organization. They arranged his appointment to the Levee Board.. Accordingly, the board named New Orleans Lakefront Airport (NOL) for Shushan. In 1935, the government indicted and tried him for tax fraud. Furthermore, they charged him with money laundering. While Shushan was acquitted, the Longs cut him loose. Although he was cleared, the trial exposed massive corruption. So, his name was removed from just about everything it was visible on, including these monuments.
1964 Transit Improvement Program ended the Canal streetcar line.
1964 Transit Improvement
Flyer updating riders on the 1964 Transit Improvement Program. New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) planned the removal of streetcars from the Canal Street line for May 31, 1964. While advocacy groups organized in late 1963/early 1964 to oppose the program, it was too little, too late. The plans for this removal began in late 1959.
This flyer emphasizes the advantages of switching Canal to bus service. NOPSI rolled out new buses as part of this “improvement.” Those Flixible company buses were air-conditioned. Riders in Lakeview and Lakeshore could get on the bus close to the house and ride all the way into the CBD.
This flyer promotes the Phase 2 changes. In Phase 1 of 1964 Transit Improvement, the city cut back the width of the Canal Street neutral ground. This allowed for three traffic lanes on either side of the street. When streetcars returned to Canal Street in 2004, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA, successor to NOPSI’s transit operations) built a single-track terminal at Canal Street and City Park Avenue. There was no space to re-create the two-track end of the line. So, at the time, New Orleanians approved these changes. Preservationists were caught off guard.
NOPSI immediately cut down the electric overhead wires on 31-May-1964, as part of Phase 2 of 1964 Transit Improvement. The city ripped up the streetcar tracks within weeks of the switch to buses. Additionally, the air-conditioning started on 31-May.
NOPSI expanded the “suburban” bus lines. They extended buses going to West End and Lakeview into downtown. Streetcars on the Canal line ended their runs at City Park Avenue. So, a rider living, say, off Fleur-de-Lis Avenue walked to Pontchartrain Blvd. They caught the bus to City Park Avenue, transferring there to the streetcar. While that doesn’t sound like a big deal, NOPSI discovered an opportunity. The rider starts on a bus with a/c, but switches to a hot, humid streetcar. If it’s raining, well, you get the idea.
Additionally, NOPSI offered an enhanced service, the “express” lines. Express 80 followed the Canal-Lake Vista (via Canal Boulevard) route. For an extra nickel, riders boarded Express 80 rather than the regular line. When the express bus reached City Park Avenue, Express 80 made no stops until Claiborne Avenue. Same for Express 81, which followed the Canal-Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Boulevard line. So that rider could not only stay on the bus from home, they got to the office that much quicker.
Downtown workers relied upon public transit so much more in 1964. When something is part of your day-to-day routine, improvements that enhance your experience are easy to sell. Preserving forty-year old streetcars didn’t seem like a big deal compared to not sweating through your clothes by the time you arrived at work.
Thanks to Aaron Handy, III, for this image of the flyer!
West End Streetcar line ran until 1950.
West End Streetcar
NOPSI 933, running on the West End Streetcar line. Undated photo, between 1948 and 1950. This is the end of the line, out by Lake Pontchartrain. The streetcar ran from the the river, up Canal Street, turning left (West) on City Park Avenue, then turning right (North), following the New Canal to the lakefront.
The New Orleans City Railroad Company opened the West End line in April, 1876. It originally ran from the Halfway House, on City Park Avenue, out to the lake. So, if you wanted to get out to West End, you took the Canal Street line to the end, then the West End line. Two months later, in June, 1876, service was extended to Carondelet and Canal Street.
Service for the first twenty-two years of operation was via steam locomotive. A steam engine was made to look like a tram, a streetcar. The line was electrified in 1898, three years after the Canal Line.
Out to the lake
The West End line’s peak was in the 1920s. NOPSI operated the American Car Company’s “Palace” cars on the Canal/Esplanade Belt, along with West End. During the Spring/Summer seasons, The Palace cars pulled unpowered Coleman trailers. So, small trains of two to four cars went out to the lake.
Streetcars and canals
The West End line ran next to the New Canal, for all but the last year of its operation. While the main street connecting Mid-City to West End was Pontchartrain Boulevard, on the West side of the canal, the streetcar ran along West End Boulevard, on the East side of the canal. Confusing? Welcome to New Orleans. The streetcar tracks didn’t cross the canal. The line ran up to the lake, just past Robert E. Lee (now Allen Toussaint) Bouelevard. The West End line connected with the Spanish Fort Shuttle line, after the direct-from-downtown Spanish Fort line was closed in 1911.
The lakefront changed dramatically after 1940. The Orleans Parish Levee District reclaimed a massive amount of land and built the seawall in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1940, the US Army and Navy built hospitals in what are now the East and West Lakeshore subdivisions. The West End streetcar shifted from excursion service to commuter operation after 1940. NOPSI converted the line to buses in 1950.
This photo is courtesy H. George Friedman’s collection.
Southern Yacht Club still stands at the entrance to the New Canal.
Southern Yacht Club
Postcard from the Detroit Publishing Company of the Southern Yacht Club on Lake Pontchartrain. The club stands at the entrance to the New Canal. A local photographer shot this between 1900 and 1909. They sold the photo to the publisher, who colorized it and published it as a postcard.
The New Canal connected Lake Pontchartrain with the Central Business District for over a century. Locals refer to the canal as the “New Basin Canal,” distinguishing it from the Carondelet Canal. Creole businessmen financed the Carondelet Canal. They built it in 1795. While Canal Street was supposed to have a canal running its length, competing business interests changed the plans. The Creoles living in the Vieux Carre weren’t interested in helping the Anglo-Irish in Faubourg Ste. Marie. They built their canal just north of the Vieux Carre.
The Anglo-Irish responded in the 1830s by building the New Canal. Its basin stood on S. Rampart Street. The canal ran from there to the lake. So, by the 1840s, the city had two navigation canals. Eventually, the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (Industrial Canal) rendered both of the older canals obsolete.
Southern Yacht Club anchored the West End entertainment district. Roads and railroad service linked West End to the city proper. Beginning in the 1850s, entrepreneurs built hotels and restaurants at West End. While the Southern Yacht Club was the largest sailing club on the lakefront, a number of other sailing and rowing clubs established themselves along the New Canal.
This photo shows the New Canal outlet to the lake. This section of the canal is all that remains. The city filled in the rest of the canal in the late 1940s. So, with the canal gone, the city built the Pontchartrain Expressway. This highway followed the canal’s path, from what is now Veterans Blvd to downtown. This enabled Lakeview residents to easily commute by car into the CBD.
Maison Blanche Swimsuits 1956 for Memorial Day sale.
Maison Blanche Swimsuits 1956
Swimsuits and other summer wear filled up almost an entire page of the Times-Picayune on 31-May-1956. Cotton swimsuits for $5.50, and in stock after Memorial Day? Whoa. Sixty-four years later, women stress over buying a swimsuit in January.
Summering in the late 1950s
Many New Orleans families packed up and headed to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in June. School’s out, and the heat rolled in. Central air-conditioning wasn’t nearly what it is now. So, Mom and the kids left town. Literally. Dad worked, of course, joining the family Friday night.
Folks who didn’t have the means to buy or rent a summer home, or a fishing camp down the bayou, managed with day trips. The Elysian Fields bus transported generations to Pontchartrain Beach for a day of sun and swim. Others chose the West End bus, for picnics at the park. Black families rode out to Lincoln Beach, on Hayne Blvd., in New Orleans East. Others chose the shelters maintained by the Orleans Parish Levee Board along the lake. Shelter No. 3, by the old Coast Guard station, featured a roped-off swimming area. Lifeguards manned watch stations there, by the entrance of Bayou St. John. Whichever escape the family desired, the right clothes were essential.
By 1956, Maison Blanche operated three stores. The Canal Street store always served as the flagship and corporate headquarters. The buyers chose lots of clothing for deeper discounts as summer approached. The stockrooms on the second floor emptied, filling the displays on the first floor. They buyers sent stock and brand lists to the art department. Messengers delivered ads to the paper.
Those buyers factored in stock levels of certain items for these sales. Not only did they consider shoppers on Canal Street, but folks in Mid-City and Gentilly. MB operated the store at S. Carrollton and Tulane, serving Mid-City and the growing Metairie subdivisions. In Gentilly, the store at Frenchmen and Gentilly Blvd. offered a closer alternative than Canal Street to families out there.
The block-font “Maison Blanche” logo at the bottom of the page served as the “standard” for MB at the time. The top “MB” varied, depending on the artist.