800 Block Canal Street 1910

800 Block Canal Street 1910

The 901 block Canal Street in 1910 looks almost the same today.

901 block canal street

901 block Canal Street

Detroit Publishing Company postcard of the 901 block Canal Street, in 1910, possibly as late as 1915. While much of the Detroit Publishing collection dates to 1900-1905, the earliest date possible for this photograph is 1910. That’s because all three buildings in the block are completed. The Maison Blanche Building fully opened in 1908. The Audubon Building (at the corner of Canal and Burgundy) in 1909. While S. J. Shwartz built the MB building, the owners of the Grand Opera House next door demolished the theater and sold the property to S. H. Kress Company. The five-and-dime store chain built the Kress Building in 1910. Don’t let the automobiles fool you–the Model T began production in 1908.

Maison Blanche

The MB Building included two entrances on Canal Street. The elegant doorway on the left side in the photo, closest to Kress, led into the Maison Blanche Office Building. That lobby contained the elevators which lifted you to the sixth to twelfth floors of the building, where many professional firms, doctors, dentists, and attorneys operated. From the twelfth floor, there was a one-floor connector elevator that brought visitors and employees of WSMB radio to the thirteenth-floor studio. The entrance to the department store in the 901 block Canal Street was on the Dauphine Street corner, under those green awnings.

The Audubon Building

Originally intended to be a hotel, the Audubon Building evolved into office space. In 1929, Leon Heymann purchased the building. He did so as a fall-back in case he ran into lease renewal issues at 1201 Canal Street. Those issues never materialized. So, Heymann later sold the building. It continued to operate as office space, until it was converted into The Saint Hotel.

Streetcars on Burgundy

This postcard shows two-track streetcar operation on Burgundy Street. Streetcars on a couple of lines came up to the 901 block Canal Street on Dauphine. They turned right, in front of Maison Blanche, then right again, heading outbound on Burgundy. Additionally, streetcars came up Burgundy, turned right onto the 1000 block of Canal, then right again on N. Rampart Street.


Maison Blanche 1909

Maison Blanche 1909

Maison Blanche 1909, just after the “new” store was completed.

maison blanche 1909

Maison Blanche 1909

Detroit Publishing Company photo of the tallest building on Canal Street, the Maison Blanche Building. The department store demolished the old (1884) Mercier Building at 901 Canal Street the year before. In its place, they built this building. The first five floors were retail space. The upper floors housed offices for all sorts of professionals and businesses.

Greatest Store South

Simon J. Shwartz acquired the Mercier Building in 1897. He re-modeled the four-story structure, opening Maison Blanche that October. While New Orleans had a number of “dry goods” stores, MB was the first “department store” in town. Shwartz knew from the outset that the store would outgrow the location. So, he planned for a new structure. In 1907, MB moved merchandise from the back of the old store to its front. They demolished the back half and built the rear tower of the new building. They then moved the merch to the new building, and demolished the front of the old store. Upon completion, the store held a grand opening.

Office space

Shwartz accomplished two important goals with the new building. First, he expanded retail space for MB by a full floor. Second, the offices above the store attracted new shoppers. You take your mom to the eye doctor on the ninth floor. To pass the time, you shop in the store, then head back upstairs in an hour or so. In a few years, MB even opened a pharmacy in the office tower, to keep it all in the building.

What’s missing

This 1909 photo presents the 901 block of Canal Street as a work in progress. Look up the street from the MB building, to the corner of Canal and Burgundy. There’s nothing there! Within the year, construction began on the Audubon Building. The Grand Opera House (not to be confused with the more-famous French Opera House on Bourbon Street) stood in the middle of the block since the 1840s. New owners demolished the theater in 1908. The S.H. Kress store replaced the opera house in 1910.

Zoom Talk 2020-03-19 – Golden Age of Canal Street

Zoom Talk 2020-03-19 – Golden Age of Canal Street

Zoom Talk 2020-03-19

Zoom Talk 2020-03-19


I’ve presented this talk to several groups in the last year or so. With everyone holed up because of Covid-19, I did the talk yesterday (19-March) via Zoom. It’s a bit long, because I was sorting out the use of Zoom, so you’ll need to fast-forward through the first 20 minutes of the talk to get to its actual beginning.

Also, TIL: it’s too long for YouTube. I’ll edit out that first portion and get it up there over the weekend. If you’d like to view it now, the link will let you download the MP4 version.



Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture

canal street architecture

S. H. Kress Building, 921 Canal Street, 1959. (Franck Studios photo)

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress

The S. H. Kress store on Canal Street opened in 1913. It filled the niche between the Maison Blanche building, built in 1908, and the Audubon Building, built in 1910. The store operated from 1913 until 1981. It is now, along with the Maison Blanche building, part of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Canal Street architecture passed through several phases, but the hotels return to the classic looks.

Kress – “five and dime” stores

Samuel Henry Kress opened his first store, selling “stationary and notations” in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, in 1887. The store was a success, enabling Kress to expand. He took the concept of “5-10-25 cent” stores to the Main Streets of America, such as Fifth Avenue in New York City, Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, and Canal Street, in New Orleans. While the upfront investment was considerable, the stores were successful. Kress made a good bit of money. He established a family foundation to give some of it back.

The 900 Block of Canal Street

new orleans architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1883. Robinson Atlas Plate 6 (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)

In the 1880s, the 900 block of Canal Street consisted of the Christ Episcopal Church on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. Next was the Grand Opera House. Then several smaller buildings, leading up to the corner of Canal and Burgundy. In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal auctioned their church to the highest bidder. The Mercier family bought the property. The church moved up to St. Charles Avenue and Six Street. This shift brought major changes to Canal Street architecture.

canal street architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1910. The Audubon Building is on the left, then the gap that used to be the Grand Opera House, then the MB Building. (courtesy LOC)

The Merciers demolished the church and built a five-story retail building. Simon J. Shwartz acquired the building in 1897. The Grand Opera House was demolished around 1900. In 1908, Shwartz demolished the Mercier Building. His “new” Maison Blanche opened in stages. Construction finished on it in 1909. A year later, investors acquired the buildings between the Grand Opera House and Burgundy Street in the 900 block.  They built the Audubon Building.  The Grand Opera House was demolished. A gap existed between the Audubon Building and MB for a couple of years. S. H. Kress bought the site of the Grand Opera House, 921 Canal Street. They filled in the gap with one of their five-and-dime stores.

Civil Rights and Kress

S. H. Kress segregated its lunch counters in Jim Crow states. Protesters in Greensboro, NC, targeted Kress as part of their first sit-ins. Protests and boycotts followed in other Southern cities, including Nashville Jackson, MS. Protesters in Baton Rouge targeted Kress for their initial protests.

The Kress store at 921 Canal avoided the protests of other cities. Civil Rights activists focused on the F. W. Woolworth store down the street. While I have no documentation here, I suspect Kress wasn’t targeted because it was next to Maison Blanche. The entrance to the Maison Blanche Office Building was right next to the Kress entrance. Blocking the MB entrance meant blocking access to the offices of a number of doctors and dentists, along with other professional offices. Perhaps activists considered this when choosing to picket Woolworth.

The front facade

Canal street architecture

The 900 block of Canal Street in 1976. The white porcelain covering on the Kress building is visible on the right.

Kress remodeled the Canal Street store in 1960. They covered the original building’s facade with a white, porcelain overlay. The original facade remained underneath. New owners removed the porcelain overlay in 1983. The building returned to its 1913 look.

Sale to Genesco

In 1964, the Kress family sold out to Genesco, Inc. The new owners dropped the Kress business model. So, they expanded the chain, moving into suburban shopping malls. Genesco closed Kress stores, starting in 1980. The Canal Street store closed as part of that first wave. The building passed through several owners. In 2000, the building became part of the footprint of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. While the front facade remains, the interior is now the parking garage for the hotel.