Hurricane Betsy demonstrated the resilience of New Orleans and MS Gulf Coast

Hurricane Betsy demonstrated the resilience of New Orleans and MS Gulf Coast

Hurricane Betsy showed how resilient and strong the Third Coast is.

hurricane betsy

Damage to the old NAS New Orleans buildings at then-LSUNO, 1965 (Courtesy Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans)

Hurricane Betsy

On 10-September-1965, Hurricane Betsy hit Grand Isle, Louisiana. The storm formed as a tropical depression on 27-August-1965, in the Caribbean, near French Guinea. After Grand Isle, Betsy crawled up the Mississippi River. The wind pushed “storm surge” water from Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. The monetary damage from Betsy surpassed $1B. Betsy was the first storm hitting that mark.

Damage to New Orleans

hurricane betsy

Classroom damage at then-LSUNO, 1965 (Courtesy Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans)

Betsy damaged New Orleans on three fronts. Water pushed by the storm’s winds topped the levees along the lakefront. That flooded the “levee board neighborhoods”, subdivisions between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and the lake. Surge in New Orleans East pushed into the Lower Ninth Ward. That surge, as well as flood walls from the south slammed St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes hard. Second, wind blew down trees, utility poles, large signs, etc. Those falling objects damaged houses and businesses. Roofs fell victim to wind as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Hurricane Betsy spawned tornadoes in Metairie and Jefferson. While tornadoes are more localized, they still inflicted tremendous damage in small areas.

Aftermath

Hurricane Betsy ran up a big tab. New Orleanians paid the bills. They city was wet but not defeated. The people were windblown, but fully intended to stay.

The US Army Corp of Engineers, along with the city, learned much from Betsy. They learned the levees along the lake needed to be much higher. The Corps raised the levees. We built new floodwalls. City Hall developed new evacuation strategies. All that work protected the city for almost forty years.

Katrina

Hurricane Betsy

Flood waters from Katrina swallow the Lakeview branch of NOPL, 2005 (courtesy Loyola University New Orleans)

Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans on 29-August-2005. The preparations of the late 1960s and 1970s, for the most part, held. Some failed, most notably the levees and floodwalls on the city’s outfall canals. Evacuation strategies worked, particularly the “contraflow” lane configurations on interstate highways around the metro area.

The city got wet. The people got windblown. New Orleans and the federal government paid the bill. The people recovered from the damage. Others moved here, strengthening the city. Even the Superdome area came back strong, after serving as the “shelter of last resort”. The Katrina Diaspora continues to affect the city’s culture. While city wrestles with gentrification and “new” influences, groups and neighborhoods preserve what was here before Katrina.

Florida

Folks on the Florida Gulf Coast tell similar stories of wind and rain. National writers would be best advised to take a deep breath and consult history before writing off any town on the Third Coast as “gone”.

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NOPSI Buses and the 900s on Canal Street #StreetcarMonday

NOPSI Buses and the 900s on Canal Street #StreetcarMonday

NOPSI Buses

NOPSI buses

Canal Street, late 1960s (Aaron Handy III photo)

NOPSI Buses on Canal Street

NOPSI buses and not much streetcar action in this #StreetcarMonday photo. That’s because it’s from the 1970s. The St. Charles Line operated solo from 1964 to 1988. Buses ran on all the other lines.

The appeal of buses

New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated the New Orleans public transit system from 1923 until 1984. NOPSI was a private corporation. Middle South Utilities owned NOPSI. A holding company owned by General Electric, Electric Bond and Share Company (EBASCO) owned MSU. So, essentially, NOPSI belonged to General Electric. The power company owning the transit system made sense when streetcars dominated. They needed electricity, after all.

There are a number of reasons transit companies adopted buses over streetcars. NOPSI switched over a number of lines before World War II. The government forbade further conversion during the war. The War Department wanted the rubber used for bus tires for the war effort. After WWII, conversion to buses resumed. Most of the remaining streetcar lines converted to buses between 1948 and 1952. That left only Canal Street and St. Charles. In the early 1960s, Air-conditioned NOPSI buses tempted riders from Lakeview with a cool ride downtown. When buses took over Canal Street in 1964, that left only streetcars on St. Charles.

Buses on Canal

From the river to Claiborne Avenue, Canal Street buses ran in the street’s neutral ground. Three lines named “Canal” and two Express lines serviced Canal Street:

  • Cemeteries
  • Lake Vista via Canal Blvd.
  • Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Blvd.
  • Express 80 (Lake Vista)
  • Express 81 (Lakeshore)

So, all three Canal lines stopped at every stop from the river to City Park Avenue. NOPSI buses on Express lines picked up passengers until Claiborne Avenue. So, from Claiborne to City Park Avenue, they did not stop. Riders paid an extra nickel (in addition to the quarter base fare) for Express service.

When Canal-Lake Vista and Express 80 reached City Park Avenue, both lines turned onto Canal Blvd. From there the route was:

  • Canal Blvd (all stops)
  • Right turn on to Robert E. Lee Blvd. to Marconi Drive
  • Left turn onto Marconi to Lakeshore Drive
  • Lakeshore Drive to Beauregard Avenue
  • Right turn onto Beauregard to Robert E. Lee

Therefore, the inbound run began at Robert E. Lee and Beauregard

The Canal-Lakeshore and Express 81 route, from City Park Avenue:

  • Left turn onto City Park
  • Right turn onto Pontchartrain Blvd.
  • Curve along Pontchartrain Blvd, continuing on Academy Drive
  • Continue under I-10 at the 17th Street Canal, where street becomes Frontage Road
  • Left turn from Frontage Road onto Fleur de Lis Avenue
  • Fleur-de-Lis to Veterans Blvd.
  • Right on Veterans to West End Blvd.
  • Left on West End to Robert E. Lee Blvd.
  • Right on Robert E. Lee to Canal Blvd.
  • Left on Canal Blvd. to the end of the line at Lakeshore Drive.

Inbound run started at Lakeshore Drive.

One block of streetcar track

NOPSI 972, at the left of the photo, runs outbound on the single block of streetcar track remaining on Canal Street. The streetcars turned right onto St. Charles from Canal, for their outbound run to S. Claiborne.

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.

 

 

Southern Belle – Kansas City Southern service – New Orleans to KC

Southern Belle – Kansas City Southern service – New Orleans to KC

Southern Belle

southern belle

1940s postcard promoting the KCS Southern Belle.

Southern Belle – New Orleans to Kansas City

southern belle

Southern Belle ad, 1940s

The Southern Belle was the best-known named train operated by the Kansas City Southern railroad. The train ran from New Orleans to Kansas City. The Southern Belle route:

  • Kansas City
  • Joplin
  • Texarkana
  • Shreveport
  • Alexandria
  • Baton Rouge
  • New Orleans

Here’s the full timetable.

The distance of the trip was 861.1 miles, and the trip took 21.5 hours. The Southern Belle was listed as trains #1 and #2 for KCS. The train’s inaugural run was on September 2, 1940. Here’s some footage of one of its first runs:

The train left Kansas City for its final run on November 3, 1969.

KCS in New Orleans

southern belle

Louisiana and Arkansas/KCS Station, 705 S. Rampart (NOPL)

Kansas City Southern passenger service operated out of the The Louisiana and Arkansas-Kansas City Southern station. The station opened in 1923, at 705 St. Rampart Street. Kansas City Southern acquired Louisiana and Arkansas in 1939. This motivated the railroad to operate New Orleans-KC service.

The city opened Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. So, the train operated from there. The original station became a NOFD fire station. The city demolished it in the 1960s. The 700 block of S. Rampart consists now of surface parking lots.

The Kansas City Southern Railroad

The KCS originated in 1887, with the formation of the Kansas City Suburban Belt Railroad. Consolidations and bankruptcy created the Kansas City Southern Railroad on April 1, 1900.

KCS is the smallest Class 1 railroad in the United States. It connects New Orleans and Kansas City. Therefore, size isn’t everything. Therefore, the area serviced is lucrative.

Southern Belle consist

southern belle

Southern Belle ad

EMD E3 locomotives powered the train.

KCS entered the “streamliner” market late. The train’s initial consist combined old and new equipment. The 1940 consist:

  • Baggage-RPO-Dorm
  • Coach
  • Heavyweight Pullman Sleeper
  • Heavyweight Pullman Sleeper
  • Dining/Observation

KCS painted the sleeper cars to match the newer equipment.

1949 Upgrades

southern belle

Pullman Standard ad featuring the Southern Belle, 1950s

The railroad upgraded the equipment on the Southern Belle in 1949:

  • Baggage-RPO-Dormitory
  • 62-seat Coach
  • 60-seat Coach (2)
  • 36-seat Diner
  • 14-roomette, 4-double bedroom sleepers (4)

Sleeper service ran only from Shreveport to New Orleans. This consist ran basically unchanged, from 1949 to 1968. Meal service in observation cars replaced diner cars in the mid-1960s. KCS dropped sleeper service in 1968.

The face of the Southern Belle

Southern Belle

Margaret Landry on the Southern Belle, 1940

KCS put a “face” to their new train. They created “Miss Southern Belle”. The railroad chose 18-year old Margaret Landry for the job, at contest in New Orleans on August 24, 1940. She toured with the train for a few weeks.

The train featured her photo as the drumhead.

End of KCS passenger trains

Southern belle

1966 Southern Belle timetable.

Passenger service was lucrative for KCS. The railroad continued to order new cars into the 1960s. This was the 1965 consist, from the train’s Wikipedia entry:

  • Baggage (Kansas City to Texarkana)
  • Baggage (Kansas City to Shreveport)
  • Box Express (Alexandria to West Yard)
  • Box Express (Shreveport to West Yard)
  • Baggage (Shreveport to New Orleans)
  • RPO-Baggage-Dormitory
  • 60-seat Coach
  • 72-seat Coach
  • Diner
  • 14-4 Sleeper
  • 60-seat Coach (Kansas City to Neosho)

While the railroad publicly committed to its passenger trains, things changed in 1967. The US Postal Service cancelled mail transportation contracts with the railroads. Without that income stream, The railroad reconsidered service. KCS discontinued the Southern Belle two years later, in 1969.

Southern Belle business train

KCS created a business train in 1995. They acquired two FP9As and a F9B unit from CN. The railroad sold the original cars in 1969. So, KCS bought cars from Canada. They painted them in the original train’s livery. Here’s a video from 2017 of the business train:

 

Maison Blanche Budget Store Carrollton and Tulane, 1964

Maison Blanche Budget Store Carrollton and Tulane, 1964

Maison Blanche Budget Store Carrollton

Maison Blanche Budget Store Carrollton

S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues, 1964. (Franck photo)

Maison Blanche Budget Store Carrollton

This 1964 photo of the strip at S. Carrollton and Tulane shows the transition of the Maison Blanche store at that location. The store opened in 1948, as the company’s first store away from Canal Street. The location appealed to many New Orleanians. Uptowners could come down Carrollton, Mid-City folks were right there, and the folks moving out to Metairie.

Budget Store Transition

As more and more people moved out to Metairie, Maison Blanche followed them. The company opened a store on Airline Highway, in the Airline Village Shopping Center, in 1955. MB Airline was much larger than the Carrollton store, so shoppers went there more. As sales dropped off at Carrollton, the company shifted its focus. They made Carrollton a “budget” store. The company also converted the store in Gentilly, at Elysian Fields and Frenchmen. The Gentilly Woods store made the Frenchmen location redundant.

Interestingly enough, the two stores that replaced the original locations ended up replaced themselves. MB Airline closed after Clearview Mall opened, and MB Gentilly Woods closed after the company opened a store at The Plaza at Lake Forest. You can find the entire story in Maison Blanche Department Stores.

Budget Store Operations

Maison Blanche Budget Store Carrollton was a forerunner of “outlet malls”. Maison Blanche used the stores to sell older merchandise at discounted prices. The store didn’t want deep-discounted items on display right next to the new merchandise, so the bargains were at the Budget Stores.

In addition to discontinued new merchandise, theMaison Blanche Budget Store Carrollton (and Gentilly) also sold the company’s “debits”, the items returned by customers. When a customer returned an item, the department’s managers would determine if they could simply put that blouse or pair of trousers back in stock, or if it was worn/damaged. If the item wouldn’t work back in stock, it would be considered a “debit” and returned to Canal Street. From there, the assistant buyers evaluated the items again. Items that could be sold at a discount made their way to the budget stores.

Tulane and Carrollton

This Franck Studios photo shows MB Carrollton in the background. Mid-City Lanes is in the foreground. The Walgreens at the end of the strip is barely visible, behind the MB.

Maison Blanche Department Stores
by Edward J. Branley

mb book

On October 30, 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.

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

Part 2 of a series. Part 1 here.

New Orleans History Books for Christmas – Part 2

Three more books tonight! Links go back to Octavia Books’ website, but you can get these books at all the usual suspects.

Lake Pontchartrain by Catherine Campanella

new orleans history books

Lake Pontchartrain by Catherine Campanella

This book brings back so many fond memories for me, as well as a lot of interesting history. I always like to say, I “slept” in Metairie, and “grew up” in Gentilly, because my dad worked at LSUNO/UNO, and I went to Brother Martin High School. My dad was not a fan of driving on I-10. He enjoyed his morning sunshine on Lakeshore Drive. So, he would cruise with no red lights to Elysian Fields, and drive me down to school. While this took him a bit longer, it gave him peace. He got peace, therefore I got quiet time to listen to the radio with him, occasionally talk about what was going on.

From the book’s description:

Native Americans used Okwata, meaning wide water, as a shortcut for inland trade between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. When the Europeans arrived, the original inhabitants showed them the route the settlement near the river became the city of New Orleans, other lakeshore communities grew, and Lake Pontchartrain continued to be a vital waterway well into the 20th century. Aside from its economic value, Lake Pontchartrain was a cultural mecca: Mark Twain wrote about it and jazz sprang from its shores; locals and visitors traveled out to the amusement parks and opera pavilions, simple fishing villages and swanky yacht clubs, forts and lighthouses; and majestic hotels and camps perched precariously over the water. In Images of America: Lake Pontchartrain, photographs document memories of a time that not even Hurricane Katrina could erase.

Of Ms. Campanella’s books, this is still my favorite.

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store by Edward J. Branley

new orleans history books

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store by Edward J. Branley

My latest book! Released in September, Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store tells the story of Krauss, the department store that occupied 1201 Canal Street from 1903 to 1997. I got an email from The History Press around this time last year, asking if I’d be interested in this project, since Krauss closed twenty years ago this past October. I jumped at it! While I worked at Maison Blanche back in the day, I felt a kindred spirit with Krauss. From the description:

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.

By the way, if anyone wants someone to talk about Krauss, Jewish retailing, Maison Blanche, Canal Street, or streetcars, email me. 🙂

New Orleans Radio by Dominic Massa

New Orleans History Books

New Orleans Radio by Dominic Massa

Massa’s second “Images of America” book. Just as entertaining and informative as his television book. From the description:

From humble beginnings in a physics lab on the campus of Loyola University came the sounds of the first radio station in the lower Mississippi River Valley when WWL Radio signed on in 1922. The little station would grow into a national powerhouse, with its morning Dawnbusters show and nightly broadcasts from the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. The city’s second oldest station, WSMB, with studios in the Maison Blanche Building, developed its own cast of favorites, including Nut and Jeff. Later, in the city known as the birthplace of jazz, radio played a key role in popularizing early rock and roll. Disc jockeys at leading stations WTIX and WNOE helped develop the Crescent City sound, along with local personalities with colorful names like Poppa Stoppa, Jack the Cat, and Dr. Daddy-O.

This book was fantastic for me, when I was working on the Jazz book.

Go get ’em!

Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store

by Edward J. Branley

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.