Rapp’s Luggage still sells leather goods and luggage in Metairie
Rapp’s Trunk Store sign on the side of 604 Canal Street.
George Rapp came to New Orleans from Germany, just at the end of the Civil War. He got settled and entered the leather goods business. By 1865, he put together the means to purchase Mack’s Trunk Store, located on Common Street. Rapp changed the name of the business to his own, and moved it to Canal Street.
Rapp continued to refer to the business as a “Trunk Store” when he took over. That’s because “steam trunks” were a huge part of his sales. When folks from New Orleans went to Europe, they did so by taking a four to five week trip on a steamship. Since it took four weeks to get there, people didn’t just turn around and go home in a few days, or even a week. That meant they needed to bring enough clothing and accessories for a months-long adventure. So, Rapps sold those trunk. They also repaired steam trunks. Those things weren’t cheap! Customers wanted to extend their life as much as possible.
604 Canal Street, next to the JW Marriott Hotel, was the home of Rapp’s Luggage.
This building is 5 stories tall. The Merchants Mutual Insurance building at 624 Canal is four stories tall. So were the buildngs that were demolished to make room for the hotel in-between 604 and 624. So, with most of the block four stories tall, Rapp was able to paint a sign on the lake side of 604 Canal. While the building on the river side of his store was also five stories, the lake side was more important. People walked down Canal Street in the afternoon and evening, heading back to the ferry landing, or the L&N passenger termnal. The building is currently home to a store in The Athlete’s Foot chain.
Leaving Canal Street
Canal Street faced competition from suburban malls in the 1970s. Rapp’s recognized this shift. They left Canal Street, moving across Severn Avenue in Metairie. They also opened stores in The Plaza at Lake Forest, and the Uptown Square Mall. Later, the company expanded to Baton Rouge. They opened a store in the Bon Marche mall.
The faded sign remains on Canal Street!
Just Hotels – Where once retail ruled.
This photo from the 1950s sums up the “before” of Canal Street beautifully. The corner of Canal and Camp Streets was one of the first to be demolished, to make way for a hotel. While the old Godchaux Building gave way to the Marriott New Orleans on the French Quarter side of Canal, the Sheraton New Orleans went up on the CBD side.
Waterbury’s Drug Store
Waterbury’s was a drug store chain that had two locations on Canal Street. One store anchored Canal and S. Rampart, the other Canal at Camp. The chain competed for business with K&B and Walgreens for prescription and retail business. Families chose drugstores for a number of reasons. Proximity to the home was often the main factor. Chains that also had downtown locations boosted their popularity. K&B opened their first location Uptown. The Canal Street location gave customers the option of picking up prescriptions on the way home from work. S. J. Shwartz opened the “Maison Blanche Office Building” in 1908. Many doctors rented space on the floors above the retail space. Shwartz opened a “Maison Blanche Pharmacy” in the building. The tenant docs brought their patients’ prescriptions straight to the pharmacy. K&B feared losing business. Their Canal Street store was two blocks down. They thought folks would go for the closer location. They opened a location on the corner of Canal and Dauphine, across from the MB building
Waterbury’s adopted a similar strategy. They placed multiple locations on Canal Street. This caught the folks on multiple bus and streetcar lines.
Older New Orleanians fondly remember Waterbury’s for its soda fountains. They made nectar-flavored sodas. Folks passionately debated who had the best nectar ice cream soda.
I’m too young to have memories of Waterbury’s, but my dad said we went there occasionally in the 1960s. We’d take the Franklin bus downtown, from my grandmother’s house in Gentilly. Most of my soda fountain memories are of the K&B in Clearview Mall. The chain closed that location last. Because I worked at MB Clearview, I ate there a lot. Chocolate shake (with K&B vanilla ice cream, of course), please.
Unpacking the photo
Waterbury’s Drug Store occupied a two-story building at Canal and Camp Streets. The store placed a billboard on the roof. They painted a wall sign on the building next door. Businesses regularly took advantage of height mismatches such as this. The photo shows the two-track main line in the Canal Street neutral ground. The city ripped those tracks up when the line converted to buses in 1964. “Just Hotels” as a trend came along with the return of the Canal streetcar in 2004.
The big hotels
The Sheraton New Orleans and Marriott New Orleans, as seen from the French Quarter (courtesy Flickr user Dieter Kramer)
The Marriott and Sheraton demolished the old buildings on their property. Later hotels converted existing buildings, because the city didn’t want to lose the Canal Street facades. The Waterbury’s wall sign contrasts well with the modern skyscraper hotel. It may make it into the book.
Pathways lead the way to fading signs.
Uneed a Biscuit wall sign on Dumaine, just off Bourbon. (Audrey Julienne photo)
We all follow paths and pathways in our lives. Some of us step off the well-trodden paths, forging ahead, making new ones. Most of us, however, follow regular paths. So, we leave home and go to work. At lunchtime, we duck out of work. After grabbing a bite to eat, we reverse directions and finish the work day. Our daily rituals follow regular paths.
Working on the book introduction
I’ve looked at a couple of books in The History Press “fading sign” series. While the introductions are well-written, they didn’t offer me a template. I don’t care for writing in the first person. The history isn’t about me. Because New Orleans isn’t like any other city in the nation, this book needs an introduction just as special. So, I considered some of the locations of fading signs. The signs on shops and other businesses mark their locations on our paths. The ads distract us while we travel on the path.
The “Uneed a Biscuit” ad on Dumaine Street, just off of Bourbon Street, puzzled. me. So, a friend (and denizen of Cafe Lafitte in Exile) pointed out that the ad hits home with patrons of that pub. When standing on the balcony, you look up and see it saying what Uneeda. Thing is, that didn’t start happening until almost seventy years after the ad appeared on the side of that house, half a block down on Dumaine.
So, who looked at the ad?
Streetcars rolled down Bourbon and down Dumaine. The Desire line (yes, of Tennessee Williams fame) traveled outbound on Bourbon. That means riders looked out at the Uneeda sign as they rode home from jobs in the Central Business District (CBD). Riders heading inbound (towards the river) on the City Park line looked up and saw the ad. They rode that streetcar, possibly from as far out as its terminus at City Park Avenue and Dumaine Street.
My friend Grey always uses #lookup to tag photos taken on her early-morning walks. Looking up challenges a walker. It’s easy for a rider, though. Paths into town. Paths back home. I’ve got my intro.
Downtown signs tell stories of families and their businesses
I’m still in the gathering phase for Fading Signs of New Orleans. Last week, I requested locations of electric signs from businesses gone by. They count as “faded” for the book. The response was incredible! Y’all gave me some great suggestions.
Ryan Bordenave of the Downtown Development District commented on the “Ain’t There No More” group on Facebook with a photo of downtown signs. The photo includes wall advertising and electric!
500 Block Baronne
Baronne Street attracted businesses in the CBD because of the streetcars. The St. Charles Avenue line originally used Baronne to access Canal. Both inbound and outbound streetcars on the line passed up and down Baronne.
The 500 block contained a movie theater and furniture store. The theater opened in 1906 as the Shubert The location declined in the 1940s and 1950s. The Shubert offered vaudeville and burlesque, rather than films. New owners renovated the Shubert in 1950. They renamed the theater. It operated until the late 1960s. The location re-opened as a disco in the 1970s . The theater changed ownership in 2012 and reopened as live entertainment venue.
Signs advertising “air conditioning” hearken back to times when the average house in New Orleans didn’t include that feature. Department stores and movie theaters enabled folks to escape the summer heat for a little while. Not every theater offered air conditioning.
Mintz Furniture, 501 Baronne, 1950 (Franck Studios photo)
The Mintz family has operated furniture stores in New Orleans for generations. Their stores included the Baronne Street location, as well as a store in the French Quarter. The current incarnation of the family business, Hurtwitz Mintz, operates on Airline Highway in Metairie.
The height difference between the Mintz building and its neighbor offered the opportunity to place a wall sign on the side. While the electric sign was removed, the painted sign remains. We’ll tie in both to tell the story in the book.
Kolb’s Restaurant arguably has a “fading sign” right out front.
Kolb’s on St. Charles Avenue
I had three targets in mind in the 100 block of Canal Street for the Fading Signs book. One was the “Russell Stover” in the sidewalk tiles at the entrance of what used to be the candy store. The other two were restaurants, The Pearl, and Kolb’s.
The Fabacher family originally opened a restaurant in the 100 block of St. Charles. The Fabachers were beer brewers. They ran into difficulties placing their beer in restaurants and bars in the city. So, they opened up restaurants of their own. By 1899, they built up a solid clientele on St. Charles Avenue. The St. Charles Hotel was just in the next block. They sold the location to Conrad Kolb that year. Kolb ran with the Fabacher’s success.
Way too many folks forget the strong German roots of New Orleans. Sure, the city changed “Berlin Street” to “General Pershing Street,” but otherwise, Germans are an important part of the overall gumbo. German cuisine attracted visitors staying at the big hotel, as well as locals.
The restaurant closed in 1995, just short of a century of operation. The big electric sign out front remains, though. When THP approached me about doing this book, I worried about how many faded signs there were locally. After reading the books in the series on Detroit and Cincinnati, I used a much tighter standard for the Preservation in Print article on “ghost ads” than the publisher’s. In the Cincy book, the author presents the electric sign from the old baseball park, now that it’s been related to Great America Park, the current home of the Reds. I saw that and thought, well, that brings in Kolb’s!
Kolb’s and cooperation
Looking at the 100 block of St. Charles Avenue, from the St. Charles Hotel. (courtesy Ryan Bordenave)
While walking around on Canal Street, I came across a fading sign on 622 Canal, the building that’s currently occupied by a PJ’s coffee. It’s really faded. So, I took a quick photo and shared it on the NOLA History Guy page on FB. Got some good input on what it was. That’ll be the subject of another article in this series. The Kolbs connection is the photo above. Ryan Bordenave, my go-to expert for All Things Canal Street, shared a photo he has down at the DDD. The sign at 622 Canal is visible, but blurry. What’s not blurry is the Kolbs sign on St. Charles! I didn’t mention Kolbs at all in that discussion, and up this popped!
That’s why this will be a fun project.
Fading Ads Contest
A. Shwartz ad, 800 block of Canal Street (Infrogmation photo)
Fading Ads Contest
Thanks to everyone who submitted suggestions and photos of fading ads around New Orleans. Some of them I had, some I didn’t, and everyone suggesting something was entered into the contest.
Kirk Landry is our winner! Kirk gets to choose between one of my books and a $20 gift card to Wakin Bakin.
If you shared more than one idea, you’re rolled into week 2. If you didn’t, share an idea!