Our sixth installment of NOLA History Guy December features Krauss Department Store
NOLA History Guy December – Krauss
At the end of the 19th Century, the 1201 block of Canal Street consisted of a series of single-family homes. In 1899, Businessman and real estate developer bought those buildings. Fellman demolished those buildings in 1903, building a two-story retail store.
Fellman was a well-established merchant in New Orleans. He started with his older brother, Bernard, running a dry goods shop in the 701 block of Canal. The brothers split, with Leon opening his own store in the Mercier Building at 901 Canal. When S. J. Shwartz acquired 100% of that building, Fellman moved to 800 Canal. While he saw potential for a successful store in the 1201 block, he wasn’t going that far up the street.
Leon invited his nephews, the Krausz brothers, to open their own store in his new building. The brothers changed their last name to Krauss, and opened what the Daily Picayune called “a veritable trade palace” in 1903. Krauss Department Store operated there, eventually occupying two city blocks. The store closed in 1997.
Growth and expansion
Krauss was an instant hit. Since the four Krauss brothers were bachelors, none of them had family to turn the store over to upon their retirement. So, they passed control over to Leon Heymann, their brother-in-law. Leon a New Orleanian with business interests in Houma, married Tekla Heymann. He assumed control of Krauss in 1920. Heymann acquired the entire square block behind the store, as well as the block directly behind that. With help from his son, Jimmy, and brother-in-law, Leon Wolf, Heymann expanded the store to fill the 1201 block, back to Iberville Street.
In the 1950s, J. Phil Preddy managed the store’s displays and advertising departments. Preddy, a talented artist in his own right, created works for the store ranging from ad illustrations to giant murals painted on the front of the store. What better for NOLA History Guy December than Preddy’s Christmas display mural for the 1952 holiday season.
For almost one hundred years, generations of New Orleans shoppers flocked to Krauss. The Canal Street store was hailed for its vast merchandise selection and quality customer service. In its early days, it sold lace and fabric to the ladies of the notorious red-light district of Storyville. The store’s renowned lunch counter, Eddie’s at Krauss, served Eddie Baquet’s authentic New Orleans cuisine to customers and celebrities such as Julia Child. Although the beloved store finally closed its doors in 1997, Krauss is still fondly remembered as a retail haven. With vintage photographs, interviews with store insiders and a wealth of research, historian Edward J. Branley brings the story of New Orleans’ Creole department store back to life.
Available at local bookstores, Walgreens stores, other local shops, Bookshop, and other online outlets. Give history! Support NOLA History Guy December.
The block at 1201 Canal was a row of houses in 1899.
Portion of Plate 7 of the Robinson Atlas of New Orleans, 1883, Courtesy of the New Orleans Notarial Archives.
1201 Canal Street 1899
Section of Plate 7 of the Robinson Atlas of New Orleans, 1883, showing square 127 of the 2nd District, 1201 Canal. This block later transformed into Krauss Department Store. Square 127 is bounded by Canal Street, N. Franklin (now Crozat) Street, Custom House (now Iberville) Street, and Basin Street. Eventually, the Krauss Corporation acquired the entire square, as well as square 124, behind it. These parcels become the main store and the warehouse buildings. The process required over half a century to complete. It began in 1899, with the purchase of the buildings in square 127 that front Canal Street. Leon Fellman bought them, setting the story in motion.
Square 127 stands just above (in river-to-lake terms) the Basin Street neutral ground. A railroad station stood there. The Spanish Fort Railroad (SFRR) originated at that station. Prior to street rail electrification, the SFRR offered day-trip service out to the amusement area next to Fort St. John. The fort guarded the mouth of Bayou St. John, at Lake Pontchartrain. After the Southern Rebellion, several incarnations of an amusement district on the east bank of the bayou developed. Steam trains (whose engines were usually disguised as trams) departed Canal and Basin. They turned lakebound on Bienville Street, making their way to the lake.
Steam service to Spanish Fort fizzled in the mid-1890s, as the popularity of the entertainment district waned. In 1910 developers resurrected the area. By 1911, New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) offered electric streetcar service. Rather than using the Bienville Street route, the Spanish Fort streetcar line operated on the Canal Street line’s tracks. The line followed the West End line’s path, to Adams Street (now Allen Toussaint Boulevard in Lakeview). While West End traveled to its terminus by the New Canal, the Spanish Fort’s cars turned right on Adams, ending at the old railroad station by the fort.
The original SFRR station on Basin stood unused in the late 1890s. That’s when Leon Fellman, merchant, and owner of Leon Fellman’s Department Store, at 800 Canal Street, enters the picture. Fellman acquired those Canal Street buildings in square 127 in 1899. They stood unused until 1903. Fellman then demolished them. He built a two-story retail complex on the site. Satisfied with his existing store, four blocks down Canal, Fellman invited the Krauss Brothers to lease the new building. The brothers took him up on the offer, opening Krauss Department Store.
Terminal Station, Canal and Basin Streets, 1908. Detroit Publishing Company photo via LOC.
Five years later, in 1908, the New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) acquired the old SFRR station. They replaced it with Terminal Station, a grand passenger terminal. NOTC extended the railroad tracks down the Basin Street neutral ground to St. Louis Street. They turned north, just before the Carondelet Canal. These tracks offered an outlet for trains leaving town to the east. The New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NONE) leased the tracks and station from NOTC. NONE merged into the Southern Railway system in 1916. Southern operated its trains from Terminal Station from 1908 until the move to Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. Upon completion of Terminal Station, Krauss stood next to a major transit connection. The railroad came in on Basin Street. One block down, Rampart Street served as a streetcar and bus nexus for NORwy&Lt.
Did Leon Fellman know of NOTC’s plans when he purchased the property in square 127? It’s hard to determine. Fellman maintained a number of business and social networking connections. No doubt those included NOTC investors. Anything involving railroads takes time, and usually remains quiet until plans are solidified. Since the 1201 block was ripe for retail expansion, it’s possible Fellman saw the property as a good investment, regardless of what the railroad men did. His moves in 1899 and 1903 set in motion the opening of one of New Orleans’ retail institutions.
Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store by Edward J. Branley
There’s a lot more Krauss history in my book, Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store. Check it out, it’s available at all the usual suspects!
1952 was the year of peak Krauss growth, as the store expanded fully.
Peak Krauss Growth
Photo of Krauss Department Store, taken in 1953, for the 50th Anniversary of the store. The photo, courtesy the Times-Picayune newspaper, The photo appears to have been shot from either the Roosevelt Hotel across the street, or possibly from the MB building in the 901 block. The dates indicate the years each segment of the store joined the existing building. From the first two-story construction in 1903 to the completed five-story complex going back to Iberville Street Krauss continued to grow until it filled out the block.
Leon Fellman purchased the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal Street in 1899. He demolished them, and built the original two-floor storefront in 1903. By this time, Fellman operated his own department store at 800 Canal. So, 1201 was essentially investment property for Fellman. He encouraged the Krauss Brothers to run with his new building. While the “Krausz Brothers” store in the 801 block closed in 1901, they jumped on the proposal. They opened, as the T-P described it, “a veritable trade palace.”
The Krauss Company quickly expanded Fellman’s original plans. The brothers installed the first escalator in New Orleans. It connected the first and second floors of the 1903 building. As the store grew, that second floor space became known as the “Mezzanine.” It contained the original luncheonette, as well as other service departments, such as optical and the camera department. The better-known wooden, five-story escalator enters the story in 1940.
The four Krauss Brothers (Leon Heymann doesn’t enter the Krauss story until 1920) recognized the need for more retail space almost immediately. They expanded the store’s footprint in 1911. They built a five-story extension behind the storefront. While the escalator connected the first and second stories, shoppers accessed the 1911 expansion via elevators.
The brothers stopped at the 1911 point because that’s all of the property they owned. Fellman only purchased the buildings fronting Canal Street. The brothers purchased the portion of the block behind it for the 1911 expansion. That was all they could afford at the time. The store did well, though, enabling them to continue real estate purchases.
We’ll come back to this photo periodically, as we discuss the store’s journey.
Unpacking Homer E. Turner’s Canal Street at Night painting offers interesting details.
Turner’s Canal Street at Night
Painting, “Canal Street at Night” by Homer E. Turner, 1950. The artists stands in the neutral ground of Canal Street at N. Rampart. Turner looks up Canal, towards the lake. Released from the restrictions of the war, neon signs dominate the street. While there are numerous color photos from the period, this painting is so detailed, it’s not surprising that casual viewers take it for a photograph, maybe on a rainy evening where the camera lens was a bit misty.
Homer E. Turner
Born in 1898, Turner painted New Orleans scenes from 1938 to 1950. The landmarks captured in this painting place it at the end of that period. He died in 1981. The New Orleans Art League, an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans. took notice of Turner’s work and exhibited his paintings. The League featured visiting artists in shows at their gallery 630 Toulouse Street. They also held annual exhibitions at the Delgado Museum of Art (now the New Orleans Museum of Art).
Canal Street, 1950
Turner captures Canal Street, above Rampart. The established retail stores in the city stood in blocks closer to the river. Starting with Godchaux’s in the 501 block, shopping came to an end in with Maison Blanche in the 901. j
That changed in the first half of the 20th Century. Leon Fellman, bought the houses in the 1201 block of Canal in the late 1890s. He built a new store building there and leased it to the Krauss Brothers. By 1908, Southern Railway moved their passenger terminal to Canal and Basin Streets, next to Krauss. Move theaters, such as the Saenger, Loews, and Joy, popped up. While not physically on Canal Street, the Roosevelt Hotel, (originally the Grunewald) towered over Canal.
Turn on the lights
Nighttime changed the vibe of Canal Street. The stores closed around 6pm daily. So, nobody ran downtown to pick up something in the evening. Streetcars carried workers and shoppers alike to the residential sections of the city. By dusk, signs on Canal Street enticed riders and drivers with things other than shopping. Some signs were practical in nature, such as The Roosevelt’s, directing drivers to turn onto Baronne Street and the hotel’s entrance.Other hotels, such as the Hotel New Orleans (now the Vinache) and the Jung, made sure visitors and taxi drivers knew where they were going. So, advertisers presented large neon clocks to those on the street. They kept people looking up. Additionally, the marquees of the theaters proclaimed what was playing that evening, and you didn’t want to be late.
Food and beverage products used neon, enticing passersby to eat Blue Plate products, such as mayonnaise and coffee. Then there was Three Feathers, a popular blended American whiskey. You might
It was not uncommon for stores to light up the night in front of their main entrances. The one prominent exception to this on Canal Street was Maison Blanche. So, its thirteen-story building (behind the artist in this painting) stood large without illumination.
After the rain
Turner shows the streetcar tracks in the center of Canal Street as if it’s just rained. The neon reflects on the concrete. the rows of fleur-de-lis lamposts reflect as well. That rain was likely welcomed by diners and moviegoers waling the street in its aftermath.
The Fellmans and Marks Isaacs contributed to the formation of Maison Blanche Origins.
The Pickwick Hotel, 800 Canal Street, 1895. Two years later, Leon Fellman moved his store to this location.
Maison Blanche Origins
The “Greatest Store South,” Maison Blanche Department Store, opened in 1897. These three ads, from The Daily Picayune on 16-February-1890, present a segment of the New Orleans retail scene at the time. L. Fellman & Co., operated in the 901 block of Canal Street. Leon’s brother, Bernard, continued solo in the 701 block. The Kaufmans and Marks Isaacs dominated the Dryades Street corridor. These men shaped the decisions made by S. J. Shwartz as he planned the Maison Blanche.
L. Fellman & Co.
“Dry Goods and Fancy Goods!” Leon Fellman immigrated to New Orleans in the 1870s, following his older brother, Bernard. He adopted Bernard’s anglicized surname, going from Feibelman to Fellman. After working for other established retailers, the brothers opened a store of their own in the 701 block.
In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal sold their church at the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The The Mercier family constructed what became known as the Mercier Building. They sectioned into separate retail spaces. That’s why L. Fellman & Co. lists 173, 175, and 177 Canal Street as addresses.
Leon Fellman operated a “Dry Goods” store that sold “Fancy Goods” as well. He sold fabrics and accessories for women and men. The concept of a “department store” selling ready-to-wear clothing was not yet a thing in the South. So, Leon’s advertising focused on the tried and true:
The many friends, patrons, and strangers would do well to pay a visit to our Grand Emporium before going elsewhere. Having the advantage of procuring all of our merchandise from the “Fountain Head” — the Center of Manufactory — be they Foreign or Domestic — we can with pride declare that our assortment CANNOT BE EXCELLED, OUR PRICES NOT LOWERED, this side of Mason and Dixon’s Line. We shall mention only a few prices. EVERYTHING WILL BE REDUCED!
Competition with Shwartz
Fellman occupied the lake-side of the Mercier Building, “Next to the Grand Opera House.” After the devastating fire in the Touro Buildings in February, 1892, Simon Shwartz moved his family’s business, A. Shwartz and Son, to the other half of the building. Shwartz, backed by his father-in-law, Isidore Newman, acquired the entire Mercier Building. Leon moved out in the Spring of 1897. Shwartz opened the Maison Blanche that October..
Leon moved his store across the street, to the Pickwick Hotel at 800 Canal Street. His store evolved into a department store in the style of Maison Blanche.
While Leon’s involvement with Shwartz and MB was as a competitor, his investments sparked other Canal Street retail. Fellman bought the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal in 1899. He demolished those buildings. In their place, a new, two-story store rose, in 1903. Since Fellman’s store at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet) was well-established and successful, he invited the Krauss Brothers to lease 1201 Canal. Thus began the 94-year run of Krauss Department Store.
Leon’s older brother preferred to stay in the Touro Buildings (701 block of Canal Street). Maybe it was his age, perhaps his health, but the brothers parted. Bernard operated his dry good store, declaring it, “The Pioneer Of Low Prices.” So, Bernard competed not only with his brother, but with Abraham Shwartz. A. Shwartz and Son stood at the lake-side corner of the 701 block, Canal and Bourbon Streets. This ad lists an extensive inventory of dry goods. He also advertises “over 2000 Jackets, Cloaks and Wraps, from the lowest ordinary to the best.” A half-off sale always garners attention!
Charles Kaufman’s first store opened on Poydras Street in 1877. Charles partnered with his older brother Simon in the venture. In 1889, Charles joined with Marks Isaacs in a partnership. They opened Kaufman and Isaacs. The partners encouraged shoppers to “Join the Procession of Wise and Discerning People” to their store, on Dryades, Euterpe, and Polymnia Streets. They leveraged their proximity to the Dryades Public Market.
In 1901, Marks Isaacs left the partnership. He joined S.J. Shwartz at Maison Blanche. Charles Kaufman passed in 1917. The family continued operation of the store until 1961. They closed the store and sold the building, in the midst of a great deal of strife related to the Civil Rights Movement. The Kaufman’s building is now the Ashe Cultural Arts Center. Dryades Street now bears the name of Civil Rights pioneer Oretha Castle Haley.
So many connections among the Jewish retailers of New Orleans! You’ll find more history on MB and Krauss in my books:
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store
Additionally, lots of photos of Canal Street in my history of the most important streetcar line in New Orleans:
New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line
Canal Street 1958 is a view from the roof of the Jung Hotel.
Canal Street 1958
Franck Studios photo of Canal Street, looking inbound towards the river. The Franck Studios photographer stands on the rooftop of the Jung Hotel, at 1500 Canal. Krauss Department Store stands in the 1201 block to the left, with the Hotel New Orleans in the 1300 block on the right. The Saenger Theater is across Basin Street from Krauss, with the iconic buildings of the 901 block (Audubon Building, Kress, and Maison Blanche) in the background, left. The studio shot this photo in 1958 or 1959.
Krauss in the 1950s
This photo offers a great view of the expansion progress of Krauss. The original store, built by Leon Fellman in 1903, consists of the two-story section fronting Canal Street. Fellman acquired the property in 1899. He built that first 2-story section and leased it to the Krauss Brothers. The brothers acquired the property behind the building, along Basin Street. In 1911, they built a five-story expansion. You can see the line/seam after four windows on each floor. Leon Heymann (the “Krauss Brother-in-Law”) built the third portion of the store in 1921. Heymann continued expanding the store until it filled the block between Canal and Iberville Streets.
While HNOC dates this picture at “approximately 1955,” the streetcar tracks narrow it down for us. Note the two-track configuration in the Canal Street neutral ground. With streetcar operation limited to Canal and St. Charles, the city ripped up the two outside tracks on Canal. The lines using those tracks had been converted to buses by 1948. So, Canal operated on the two tracks running from Liberty Place to City Park Avenue. One block of the inbound outside track remained, between Carondelet Street and St. Charles Avenue. St. Charles streetcars turned for their outbound run on that track.
The city planted the palm trees in this photo as part of the 1957 “beautification project.” They also built planter boxes along the neutral ground. Unfortunately, those palm trees only lasted about three years, because of a couple of cold winters.