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Uncategorized Archives - Edward Branley - The NOLA History Guy
Lenten Fridays at West End

Lenten Fridays at West End

New Orleans flocked to the West End on Lenten Fridays.

lenten fridays

Chic Sale’s, Fitzgerald’s, and Bruning’s in the background. Jeanette Boutall Woest watercolor, 1973.

Lenten Fridays tradition

Prior destruction of the “West End Restaurant Area” by hurricanes and the Corp of Engineers, going out to dinner at West End was a longtime tradition. Some of the busiest days of the year were Fridays during the church season of Lent. Ah, Lent, that time when Catholics reflected on the forty days Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Lent is the reason for Carnival in the first place. Fat Tuesday is the big blow-out before the fasting and abstinence began.

 

Let’s face it, unless you have seafood allergies, abstaining from meat on five or six Fridays in late Winter/early Spring isn’t all that much of a sacrifice. Gumbo, fish frys at the parish church, and seafood po-boys all serve as wonderful coping mechanisms. Even cheese pizza in the school cafeteria isn’t such a bad deal.

Restaurants

lenten fridays

Bruning’s from Club My-oh-My by Jeanette Boutall Woest, 1966.

And then there was dining out. While so many restaurants in town offer seafood (even chop houses have “surf-n-turf” items on the menu), going out to the Lakefront in the Spring was fun. The heat didn’t wack you over the head yet, so sitting out on a patio made for a lovely evening. The image above from the porch of Club My-Oh-My illustrates the vibe. Have a cocktail and look out over the lake. Maybe even walk over to Bruning’s Restaurant as you gaze at the restaurant and contemplate your plans.

lenten fridays

Bruning’s in the 1960s by Jeanette Boutall Woest

Bruning’s was my dad’s favorite of the East End restaurants. East End of West End? That’s so New Orleans, isn’t it? The line separating Orleans and Jefferson Parishes isn’t specifically the 17th Street Canal. The line cuts off the edge of West End, making it the “East End” of Jefferson Parish. This was a real thing–if you had a medical emergency at Bruning’s or Fitzgeralds, you had to call JPSO, not NOPD.

Back to Bruning’s. Known for their Stuffed Flounder, the restaurant also offered a full range of seafood, along with spaghetti and meatballs for the kids.

lenten fridays

Fitzgerald’s – Interior view of a curved wood bar and three bartenders standing behind it. (Franck Studios photo)

Fitzgerald’s was my late father-in-law’s pick for West End dining. Both were packed on Lenten Fridays.

Maggie and Smitty’s

lenten fridays

Maggie and Smitty’s Crabnett. Terry Marks Painting.

While I didn’t mind my dad or father-in-law picking up the check for taking us out to eat, the budget of a UNO Education major didn’t support such adventures on my own. That’s OK, we had Maggie and Smitty’s. The legendary Tom Fitzmorris nailed the vibe of the place:

 Maggie & Smitty’s was the most informal and cheapest of all the restaurants at West End. Although some of this can be discounted because of the low prices, a sizeable number of customers were of the opinion that Maggie & Smitty’s had some of the best fried seafood, and certainly the best boiled. They usually served boiled seafood hot—not a common practice in West End or anywhere else in town.

And the cats! Maggie and Smitty’s, offering primarily outdoor seating, was the headquarters of the West End Squad. Those were some badass cats!

lenten fridays

Exterior of Maggie and Smitty’s Crabnett. John DeMajo photo.

“Maggie” was Maggie Hermard, and “Smitty” was her sister, Elaine. Along with their brother, Lloyd, they opened the restaurant in 1956. It became “Maggie’s” in the 1980s, after Smitty passed away. By the time the building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the restaurant was closed. Ah, but the memories!

Comus 1909 costume

Comus 1909 costume

The costume of Comus for 1909 was traditional. Originally posted to krewehistory.info.

comus 1909

Comus 1909

Artist’s watercolor for Comus in 1909. The theme that year for the parade and bal masque was, “Theme: flights of fancy.”

Notes from the Tulane Library collection:

Drawing on paper; 7.5 x 9 inches; Comus costume design, Carnival Collection, Manuscripts Collection 900, Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Mystick Krewe of Comus

The Mystick Krewe of Comus (MKC) organized in 1856. They paraded for the first time in 1857. Unlike other Carnival krewes, Comus does not parade a king. Comus is a demi-god. He is “Comus,” not “King Comus,” or “King of Comus.” While turn of the century costume designs featured Comus wearing a crown, this evolved over time. Comus now sports a cap with feather plumes, decorated in rhinestones and fur.

Secrecy

MKC operates as a “secret society.” They maintain closed membership roles. All members of the krewe wear masks, for parades (when they took to the streets) and for the balls. This includes Comus himself. Additionally, other krewes follow Comus in this regard. The Knights of Momus also closely guard the identity of Momus annually. Therefore, Comus, Momus, and a few other organizations present their monarch wearing a full-face mask.

Consequences of secrecy

Comus and its affiliations with luncheon clubs such as the Boston and Pickwick Clubs, became problematic for the City of New Orleans in the 1990s. From Wikipedia:

In 1991, the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance that required social organizations to certify publicly that they did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, in order to obtain parade permits and other public licensure.[1][2] The Comus organization (along with Momus and Proteus, other 19th-century Krewes) withdrew from parading rather than racially integrating.

While Proteus returned to the streets in 2001, Comus and Momus only hold balls, in private hotels.

Modern Comus

comus 1909

Comus continues their role as the senior Carnival organization in New Orleans. They hold their bal masque annually. Towards the end of the evening, Comus invites Rex, the King of Carnival, to join him at the Comus ball. This photo shows the four Carnival monarchs (Rex in gold, Comus in silver) in 2018. Comus wears a full mask to protect his identity.

 

Podcast 39 – A Carnival Primer

Podcast 39 – A Carnival Primer

A Carnival Primer for everyone.

carnival primer

Comus Parade, 1858

Podcast 39 – A Carnival Primer

When I’m asked to speak to a group that’s come to town for a convention, meeting, etc., they often ask for a talk on a Carnival-related subject. I’ve expanded this into a Carnival Primer that traces the celebration back to its medieval European roots, up to modern times. Now it’s a podcast and “cornerstone” content.

YouTube

As y’all know, I record the podcasts using Zoom. I’m also going back through talks I’ve given re-recording them via Zoom. That way, y’all can clearly see the images used for that presentation. In the case of this Carnival Primer, the talk is a good bit longer than something I’d do for a live group. They can’t pause and run to get another glass of wine.

Zoom saves both video and audio files upon completion. So, I upload the video to YouTube. Here you go. The audio-only is classic podcast in our traditional format.

The Pod

We present a history of Mardi Gras:

  • Origins – Carnival’s Medieval Roots and how it came to New Orleans
  • Comus – the city’s first “modern” parade.
  • Old-Line Parades – Comus, Rex, Momus, Proteus
  • Black Mardi Gras – Indians, Zulu, Debutante Balls
  • Super Krewes – Bacchus, Endymion, Orpheus, Rex, Zulu
  • Yardi Gras – Carnival during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Going Forward – 2023 and beyond!

Images

Some images from the pod. The full presentation is available as a PDF here.

a carnival primer

Medieval Mardi Gras as a float in Proteus

Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent was a day of celebration and feasting in Medieval Europe. The lord of the castle would elevate eligible Squires to Knighthood. The time of fasting and preparation for Easter began the next day, on Ash Wednesday.

a carnival primer

Modern Flambeaux!

Using fire to light the way of the parade!

a carnival primer

#RexComus – The Meeting of the Courts

Carnival formally comes to a close when the courts of Rex and Comus meet at the Comus bal masque on Mardi Gras Night.

a carnival primer

King Cake from Adrian’s Bakery in Gentilly

The King’s Cake dates back centuries. Here’s a modern incarnation of the confection, from Adrian’s Bakery, located on Paris and Mirabeau Avenues in Gentilly.

a carnival primer

Masking Indian

Black Mardi Gras includes “Masking Indian,” a tradition dating back over a century. There are a number of origin stories for the tradition.

 

 

KreweHistory.info – Proteus 1925 – The Love of the Snow White Fox

KreweHistory.info – Proteus 1925 – The Love of the Snow White Fox

Watercolor float design from Proteus 1925.

proteus 1925

Proteus 1925 – The Love of the Snow White Fox

“The Love of the Snow White Fox” was the title of Float 12 in the Krewe of Proteus parade for 1925. The parade’s theme was “Tales and Romance of Old Japan.”

Proteus continued using the wagon-style floats when they returned to parading in 2000. Watercolors like this visualized the theme as determine by the Captain and other krewe officers.

Battle of Lake Borgne 1814 #watercolorwednesday

Battle of Lake Borgne 1814 #watercolorwednesday

The Battle of Lake Borgne preceded the 1815 battle in Chalmette.

battle of lake borgne

Battle of Lake Borgne

“Capture of American gun vessels off New Orleans December 1814,” by William Hole. THNOC’s record for this watercolor painting:

View of 5 American gunboats containing about 170 sailors commanded by Lieutenant Thomas Ap Catesby Jones surrounded by 33 British barges and sloops with around 1,000 men commanded by Captain Nicholas Lockyer. Scene depicts the Battle of Lake Borgne which occurred December 14, 1814. British lost 17 men, 77 wounded; U. S. lost 10 with 35 wounded, and the rest taken prisoner.

We’ve written a bit about the Battle of Lake Borgne, in 2022. While that article, “Cutting Out Lake Borgne,” offers a number of illustrations of the gunboats from the period, we didn’t include this particular painting. So, jump over there for more details. As mentioned in that article, I’ve always held a fascination for “cutting out expeditions” that dates back to my teen years, reading Forester’s “Hornblower” novels.

Clearing the way

For all the power of the British squadron that entered the Gulf of Mexico in 1814, getting to New Orleans was easier said than done. The city was guarded from attacks coming up the river. That left approaching New Orleans via Lake Borgne. That approach offered two options, Lake Borgne to Lake Pontchartrain to Bayou St. John was problematic because Fort St. John, located where the bayou and lake meet, was ready to greet the British with heated shot. That left landing on the eastern side of Lake Borgne, cut through the swamp, and approach the city from the plantations along the river in St. Bernard Parish.

Either way, the Royal Navy had to clear the path for the Army. That meant defeating the US Navy’s gunboats. The action was an unqualified victory for the RN. The delays and indecisiveness of the British Army were the primary contributors to Jackson’s victory in Chalmette.

The artist

William Hole was born 10 Nov. 1793. He was the only son of the late W. B. Hole, Esq., of the island of Jamaica. His uncle was Rear-Admiral Lewis Hole. William entered the RN in 1805. By the Battle of Lake Borgne, he was a master’s mate and commanded one of the open boats on the lake, and participated in the river actions related to the main battle:

On 14 Dec. 1814 he next commanded one of the boats of a squadron at the capture, on Lake Borgne, of five American gun-boats under Commodore Jones, which did not surrender until the British, after a stern conflict, had endured a loss of 17 men killed and 77 wounded. Joining then in the hostilities against New Orleans, he again had charge of a boat, an 8-oared cutter, on the river Mississippi, and bore an active part in all the scenes which were there enacted, including the storming and capture of a heavy battery. During six whole weeks he was in consequence exposed, in his unsheltered boat, to the inclemency of the season which then prevailed, undergoing the greatest hardships, and being often, with his men, severely frost-bitten.

Hole received a commission as Lieutenant in 1815, having passed the exam for that rank in 1812.

The painting

Since Hole participated in the naval actions, his painting presents a fairly accurate account of the battle.

Christmas 1958 at Maison Blanche

Christmas 1958 at Maison Blanche

Christmas 1958 meant Mister Bingle.

Christmas 1958

MB and Christmas 1958 Photo Unpack

Photo of Canal Street, 1958, featuring Maison Blanche Department Store at 901 Canal Street, decorated for Christmas. The store’s front displays a banner, “Our 50th Christmas.” Above the banner is a wreath encircling a starburst graphic that says “MB 50th.” Santa and Mr. Bingle wave from inside the starburst. NOPSI 815, a 1923-vintage arch roof streetcar, heads outbound on the Canal line. The picture shows the store’s main entrance at the bottom right. That’s the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The 1930-vintage Union Sheet Metal light poles sport holiday decorations. Just up from MB are the S. H. Kress store and the Audubon Building. Those three buildings remain in the 901 block to this day.

50th Year

While Maison Blanche opened at Canal and Dauphine Streets in 1897, the store often marked milestones based on the opening of the “new” building. S. J. Shwartz opened the store in the old Mercier Building. From 1907-1908, he demolished that building. The rear half of the 13-story store and office building went up first. When that was completed, Shwartz moved the store into the new, “back” section. He then demolished the old storefront and completed the building. So, MB hooked onto the opening of the iconic building for anniversaries.

Bingle

While Mr. Bingle appeared for the first time for Christmas, 1947, he didn’t get full exposure until 1948. The little guy went three-dimensional that year. So, Christmas 1958 marked Mr. Bingle’s tenth year. At this time, Santa dominated the holiday advertising. Mr. Bingle served as his sidekick. That changed in the 1960s, as the store presented the snow elf extensively in television and radio commercials. Santa stepped back, becoming the guy up on the third floor in the toy section.

“Beautification Project”

1957 marked the first major “beautification” project of the city’s main street since 1929. At that time, NOPSI ran four tracks on Canal Street, from the river to Claiborne Avenue. After WWII, the War Department allowed NOPSI to drop most of the city’s streetcars in favor of buses. By 1948, only West End, Desire, Canal, and St. Charles remained. The company discontinued West End and Desire that year. By 1957, there was no need for the four-track main on Canal Street. The city and NOPSI ripped up the two outside tracks in the neutral ground. They expanded auto traffic lanes. The work continued into 1958. This holiday photo displays the completed project.

NOPSI 815

The streetcar rolls lakebound on Canal Street, heading to City Park Avenue. The arch roof cars operated on the St. Charles line since 1905. Canal Street usually ran the “Palace” streetcars until 1930. That’s when the arch roofs stepped in. There were three series of arch roof cars, all designed by Perley A. Thomas. The 400s hit the streets in 1905. The 800s and 900s rolled out in 1923. While there are a number of subtle differences between the 800s and 900s, the most significant one was the doors. The 800s used manual doors (like you’d see on a school bus). The 900s have powered doors.

NOPSI discontinued streetcar service on Canal Street in 1964. The company retained 35 of the 900-series streetcars. While a few of the 800s were donated to museums, the majority were destroyed.

Down the street

Next to MB stands S. H. Kress. Developers demolished the Grand Opera House in 1909. The Kress building appeared in its place. The store closed and left Canal Street in the 1990s. Hotel developers acquired both the MB and Kresss buildings. They converted MB into the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. The Kress building was converted into the hotel’s parking garage, leaving the building front unchanged.

Next to Kress is the Audubon Building. The original developer intended this building to be a hotel, but it ended up as an office building. As part of the hotel-conversion craze of the 1990s, the building became The Saint Hotel.

Thanks to Keith “Pop” Evans for posting this photo in N.O.L.A. – New Orleans Long Ago, giving me the idea for an unpack!

Mr. Bingle tells his story in Chapter 3! Buy the book here!

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.

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