NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows on Twelfth Night.
NORTA 922 and the Phunny Phorty Phellows, Twelfth Night, 2023. Kerri Becker photo.
Seeing NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows is a treat.
The Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP) announce the arrival of the Carnival season. While there are other organizations parading on Twelfth Night, PPP are the senior members of the cohort. We’ve written a bit about PPP here, but the star of this post isn’t the krewe. It’s the streetcar! NORTA 922 is one of the remaining vintage 1923-24 arch roof streetcars designed by Perley A. Thomas. They dominated the New Orleans transit landscape from their debut to the conversion of the Canal Street line to buses in 1964. There are 35 remaining 900-series cars.
A streetcar numbered 922
While any of the “green streetcars” is more than capable of transporting PPP on their run, NORTA 922 adds a bit of flair to the proceedings. It’s the streetcar from the streetcar movie. The film adaptation of Tennesee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire required a streetcar. The rail department of New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) chose car 922 to be the streetcar. The movie opens with it, and the rest is, well, less history and more legend.
So, NORTA 922 was a movie star. By the 1970s, however, an imposter took credit for 922’s starring role! NOPSI 453, a wood-frame Brill streetcar, received the appelation, “Streetcar Named Desire.” This streetcar functioned for decades as the “training car.” NOPSI installed it at their facility on Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue. They rigged the operator’s console with the same equipment as the 900-series. New-hire motormen (and the “motorettes” during WWII) trained on 453. It was set up to rock and bump. Senior motormen taught the new folks.
As streetcar service in New Orleans dwindled, so did the training needs. NOPSI 453 stood idle. The story of how this streetcar became identified with the movie is fascinating. I invite you to go read this article by Earl W. Hampton, Jr. and H. George Friedman, Jr., for details and lots of photos.
922 back at work
In the meantime, NOPSI 922 went back to work on the St. Charles line. It’s done its duty well, coming up on a century of service. One of those duties is charter rides, like the PPP. On Twelfth Night, the news folks and photographers head to Carrollton Station to see off the year’s designated driver. They file their stories and go home, as the streetcar rolls the krewe down S. Carrollton Avenue, turning onto St. Charles Avenue. They announce the start of Carnival along St. Charles. When the streetcar reaches Tivoli Circle, the streetcar circles around. It becomes an outbound car, returning to the barn.
On a side note, streetcar 922 started live as NOPSI 922, and was designated as such from when it first rolled out of the barn. In 1983, NOPSI transferred its transit division to a new entity. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority assumed control of the city’s transit routes and assets. So, those 35 green streetcars switched to the new notation.
This Rex parade photo ID is a great challenge.
Rex Parade Photo ID
Photo of a Rex parade circa 1920. Handwritten caption says “Boys School in Rex Parade N.O. La.” The photo features a high school band, marching lakebound on Canal Street. They’re crossing Canal and Carondelet Streets, passing in front of Fellman’s Department Store at 800 Canal Street. The crowds are heavy, as the band approaches the official parade reviewing stand at the Boston Club (out of frame to the right). Via Col. Joseph S. Tate Photograph Album, LSU Special Collections. LSU notes the 1920 date as “questionable.”
Key ID factors
The photo contains three items that bring the 1920 date into question. Or do they? Let’s look.
Boys High School
The caption, “Boys High School” likely refers to what is now Warren Easton Charter School. The school stands at 3019 Canal Street, between N. Salcedo and N. Gayoso Streets in Mid-City. It’s been there since 1913. The city founded the school in 1843. In 1911, they changed the name from “Boys High School” to “Warren Easton High School.” The new name honored the first Supervisor of Education of the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans.
So, by 1920, the school had been Warren Easton for seven-ish years. While that’s ample time to change all the legal documents, old habits die hard. You can hear someone say, “What’s that band? Oh, that’s ‘Boys School.'” Additionally, the caption is handwritten, so we’re relying on someone’s recollection.
Leon Fellman moved his store from the Mercier Building at 901 Canal Street to the Pickwick Hotel at 800 Canal Street in 1897. He died in 1920. Fellman’s family returned to the German version of their name, Feibleman, upon his death. They also re-organized the structure of the corporation, changing the store’s name to Feibleman’s.
Again, legal changes don’t always jive with what people say. Additionally, it takes time to change signage and such. Still, that the storefront on Canal says “Fellman’s” here, it’s likely the photo is earlier than 1920.
OK, this is a deep dive, but there’s an interesting sign in the bottom right corner. It says:
AND TELEGRAPH CO.
Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph offered telegram and long distance telephone services at their “pay stations” in the south. Southern Bell merged with Cumberland in 1911. So, this sign likely stood there in the late 1910s. I haven’t seen the sign in photos of the 800 block from the 1920s.
I got nothin! The Islandora record for the photo says:
The photograph album (unbound) contains 103 black and white prints mounted on paper. The images show scenes from several locations in Louisiana during the 1920s. Photographer unknown.
Given the “Fellman’s” sign at 800 Canal Street, it’s certain the photo is no later than 1920. That re-branding was fast and severe. The telephone company wouldn’t have been so intent on replacing their sign. The caption is human.
What do you think?
Rex Dumbo 1960 – the flying elephant appeared in the big parade.
Rex Dumbo 1960
“Dumbo, the Flying Elephant” in the 1960 Rex parade, 1-March-1960. This photo, by Howard “Cole” Coleman, offers a great “unpack.” It features several Canal Street stores, Maison Blanche, Katz and Besthof, Chandler’s Shoes. The K&B had been converted to the “Camera Center” by this time. The parade rolled down St. Charles Avenue from Uptown. It turned left going the wrong way up Canal, then made a u-turn at Rampart. Rex then rolled down to the river.
901 Canal Street
Maison Blanche dominates the 901 block. The store boasted five floors of retail space. The two towers of the “Maison Blanche Office Building” rose up an additional seven floors. The store’s entrance was at the corner of Canal and Dauphine Street (right behind Rex Dumbo 1960 here). The “office building” entrance stood at the other side of the building. A separate set of elevators lifted you up to a myriad of doctors, dentists, and other businesses above the store. The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans uses the old office building entrace as the main entrance of the hotel.
Katz and Besthof
K&B opened their store in the 800 block of Canal in the 1920s, to service those going to doctors in the MB building. By the late 1950s, the store became redundant, as the chain also operated a store across the street. So, K&B created the “Camera Center.” They sold cameras and photographic supplies on the second floor. The Camera Center grew in popularity, to the point where it took over the first floor as well.
Chandler’s to Baker’s
The Edison Brothers opened the first in their chain of Chandler’s Shoe Stores in 1922. By the 1930s, they expanded to New Orleans. They opened a Chandler’s in the 800 block, next to Lerner’s, just up from Gus Mayer and D. H. Holmes. The Edisons opened a second chain they called Baker’s Shoes. The New Orleans Chandler’s became a Baker’s in the 1970s. Baker’s eventually moved out to the malls. The chain closed the CBD location. The retail front of the building is now a spa/massage place.
King of Carnival
While many of the retail outlets on Canal Street erected grandstands, the stores in the 801 block chose not to. That offered prime parade-watching spots to folks who just wandered around. Cole Coleman stood on the neutral ground to get his photos. Additionally,Coleman crossed the neutral ground to take shots of the parade on the other side of Canal. At this time, Rex toasted his queen and the court at the Boston Club at 824 Canal.
The streetcars stopped, as they do today, at Liberty Street. They “switch-back” there, beginning their outbound runs.
Proteus 1922 had a rose theme.
Krewe of Proteus chose “The Romance of the Rose” for their theme in 1922. Thanks to the Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, for maintaining the krewe’s archives. Those archives include design sketches of their floats throughout the years. This post features three floats from that parade, “The Painted Wall,” “Love Conquers All,” and “Sir Mirth’s Garden.”
Proteus first paraded in 1882. They took a hiatus from 1993 to 2004, because of the controversial “Mardi Gras Ordinance” of 1993. Proteus returned to the streets in 2004. The krewe quarantined in 2021, but plan to parade on Lundi Gras 2022.
Le Roman de la Rose
Title float, Proteus, 1922
Like the other “old line,” debutante krewes, Proteus often chose themes from literature and history. “The Romance of the Rose” is a typical choice. From Wikipedia:
Le Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose) is a medieval poem written in Old French and presented as an allegorical dream vision. As poetry, The Romance of the Rose is a notable instance of courtly literature, purporting to provide a “mirror of love” in which the whole art of romantic love is disclosed. Its two authors conceived it as a psychological allegory; throughout the Lover’s quest, the word Rose is used both as the name of the titular lady and as an abstract symbol of female sexuality.
To put this in Carnival terms, the poem offered the krewe a fertile ground for beautiful costumes and floats. Even if most of the parade-goers in 1922 had no idea about the poem, red! roses! costumes! The float designs lived up to the ambition.
“The Painted Wall”
“The Painted Wall”
Standing between “The Lover,” and the object of his desire, “The Rose,” was “The Painted Wall.” To reach his desire, the wall required our protagonist to overcome the trials of Poverty, Villainy, and Hate, among others. This float creates positions for six riders a side, with The Lover up front.
“Sir Mirth’s Garden”
“Sir Mirth’s Garden” Proteus 1922
Once he passes The Painted Wall, The Lover approaches the walled garden of Sir Mirth. Inside, he encounters couples dancing, led by Sir Mirth Lady Gladness.
Love Conquers All
“Omnia Vincit Amor”
This float bears the saying, “Omnia Vincit Amor” on the side. “Love Comquers All.” At the front of the float stands The Lover. The Rose, an artistic blending of a lovely flower with a woman at the center, highlights the float.
Floats then and now
Proteus 1922 floats sit atop old wooden wagons. The krewe use these same wagons to this day (well, to be sure, they’re regularly maintained/rebuilt). Proteus limits its size, so mega-floats are unnecessary. Additionally, a number of the members of Proteus also belong to other “old-line” krewes. It’s important to remember, these organizations present their daughters and granddaughters to society at their respective balls. Before the growth of parading organizations, the actual old-line parades served as glorified transportation to the bal masque.
George Mungnier Rex 1907 – A different angle from Allison’s.
Mugnier Rex 1907
also caught the Rex Parade in 1907. His photo shows the parade moving lakebound, in the 800 block of Canal Street. A “riding Lieutenant” stands behind a float. A classic jazz band is behind the rider. The stores of the 801 block appear background right. the Mercier Building, with its golden cupola, rises, background center. The crowd stands on either side of Canal Street, as the parade goes up the Uptown side, turns around, then goes down the French Quarter side. Mules, draped with white canvas, pull the floats. The flagpole, flag furled around it, is likely the Lazard’s store.
Maison Blanche 1907
In our #AllisonUnpack earlier today, Alexander Allison caught the steel frame of the “new” MB building in distance of his 1907 photograph. Allison stood in the 500 block of Canal to catch this parade. Mugnier’s perspective, standing in the 700 block, offers more detail of the progress of the new store. The Mercier Building went up at 901 Canal in 1884. The Merciers acquired the corner from Christ Episcopal Church. The church chapter auctioned off their gothic-spire church that year. The sale netted the chapter enough to build the current Christ Episcopal Cathedral. That church towers over St. Charles Avenue and Sixth Street. That corner is also a busy area on parade days.
So, Shwartz opened the Maison Blanche in the Mercier building in 1897. Ten years later, he felt growing pains. He planned a building with five stories of retail space. On top of that he built two office towers. The towers brought the total height of the building to twelve stories. A thirteenth story was added to the rear tower later. This became the studios of WSMB Radio.
Rear tower first
To keep MB operating during the construction, Shwartz moved everything from the store into the front half of the Mercier Building. The rear was then demolished. The rear tower rose in the empty space. When that tower was complete, MB moved into the new space. They tore down the front of the old building (alas, losing that magnificent cupola). In its place rose the front of the current building.
Mugnier may never have caught this transitional period for Maison Blanche, were it not for the Rex Parade. Allison’s and Mugnier’s photos are courtesy New Orleans Public Library.
Alexander Allison caught the 1907 Rex Parade from the 500 block of Canal Street.
1907 Rex Parade
The parade of Rex, King of Carnival, heading down Canal Street, on 12-February-1907. Photograph by Alexander Allison. The photographer stood on the roof of a building in the 500 block of Canal, looking up the street. The photo shows the 601, 701, and 801 blocks of Canal Street. The structure of the Maison Blanche Building is visible on the far left side.
Alexander Allison’s photographs
Allison was an engineer for the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board from 1900 until his retirement in 1959. He carried a camera with him all around the city. When Mr. Allison passed in 1964, his daughter donated his photo collection to the New Orleans Public Library (NOPL).
Allison’s photographs document the growth and changes in New Orleans in the first half of the 20th Century. His photos are an incredible resource.
So, Allison catches the Rex parade on Canal Street. The parade came down St. Charles Avenue from Uptown. They turned left at Canal, going on the wrong side of the street. Not a problem, of course, since the parade route was closed. This enabled Rex to pass in front of the Boston Club, in the 800 block. Rex toasted his queen and court there. The parade went up to Rampart Street, where it made a u-turn. They paraded down Canal, turning onto N. Front Street, where they disbanded.
Almost every building on the French Quarter side of Canal Street erected reviewing stands for Carnival. Mayer’s anchored the corner of Canal and Chartres Streets, at 601. The four-story Touro Buildings in the 701 block remain very much as they were when built in the 1840s. After the big fire of 1892, the building at the corner of Canal and Bourbon Street was raised to five stories. The dry goods store, B. Cohn Company, occupied that space in 1907. The first two floors of the Touro Buildings held retail shops, usually owned by Jewish retailers. Judah Touro rented to fellow members of that community, and the practice continued throughout the 19th Century. Marks Isaacs, previously partnered with Charles Kaufman on Dryades Street. He then joined with S. J. Shwartz at Maison Blanche. In 1907, Isaacs left MB, opening his own store in the Touro Buildings. The Marks Isaacs store closed in the 1960s. The 801 block included Hanan & Son Shoes, Kreegers, and D. H. Holmes. Allison’s position in the 500 block compresses the view of the 801 and 901 blocks.
The steel superstructure of the “new” Maison Blanche building is visible on the far left of the photo. S. J. Shwartz demolished the 1884-vintage Mercier Building in 1907. He tore down the back of his store, building the rear section first. When that structure was complete, Maison Blanche moved everything into the new building. They then tore down the rest of the old building, that fronted Canal Street.
Identifying the photo
The NOPL record for this photo lists several inaccuracies that made it a challenge to identify. While the photo said 1908, the theme of the parade and the Viking float at bottom right puts this as the 1907 parade. The MB construction also confirms this. The location listing says Allison was at the Chess, Checker, and Whist Club, but that is also inaccurate. That club stood further up, at 900 Canal Street. So, for this photo, Allison was five blocks further down. NOPL expresses concern about the accuracy of Allison’s dates and locations. The errors on this photo indicate they were likely made by someone going back through the collection, not Allison himself.
NOLA History Guy Patrons
Since this post is the first #AllisonUnpack of the series, it’s not behind the Patreon wall. We’ll elaborate on some of this in a second, patron-only post. After this, these unpacks will be in the usual format. Everyone will see the first 100ish words and the image, with the full story available for patrons.