The Fellmans and Marks Isaacs contributed to the formation of Maison Blanche Origins.
The Pickwick Hotel, 800 Canal Street, 1895. Two years later, Leon Fellman moved his store to this location.
Maison Blanche Origins
The “Greatest Store South,” Maison Blanche Department Store, opened in 1897. These three ads, from The Daily Picayune on 16-February-1890, present a segment of the New Orleans retail scene at the time. L. Fellman & Co., operated in the 901 block of Canal Street. Leon’s brother, Bernard, continued solo in the 701 block. The Kaufmans and Marks Isaacs dominated the Dryades Street corridor. These men shaped the decisions made by S. J. Shwartz as he planned the Maison Blanche.
L. Fellman & Co.
“Dry Goods and Fancy Goods!” Leon Fellman immigrated to New Orleans in the 1870s, following his older brother, Bernard. He adopted Bernard’s anglicized surname, going from Feibelman to Fellman. After working for other established retailers, the brothers opened a store of their own in the 701 block.
In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal sold their church at the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The The Mercier family constructed what became known as the Mercier Building. They sectioned into separate retail spaces. That’s why L. Fellman & Co. lists 173, 175, and 177 Canal Street as addresses.
Leon Fellman operated a “Dry Goods” store that sold “Fancy Goods” as well. He sold fabrics and accessories for women and men. The concept of a “department store” selling ready-to-wear clothing was not yet a thing in the South. So, Leon’s advertising focused on the tried and true:
The many friends, patrons, and strangers would do well to pay a visit to our Grand Emporium before going elsewhere. Having the advantage of procuring all of our merchandise from the “Fountain Head” — the Center of Manufactory — be they Foreign or Domestic — we can with pride declare that our assortment CANNOT BE EXCELLED, OUR PRICES NOT LOWERED, this side of Mason and Dixon’s Line. We shall mention only a few prices. EVERYTHING WILL BE REDUCED!
Competition with Shwartz
Fellman occupied the lake-side of the Mercier Building, “Next to the Grand Opera House.” After the devastating fire in the Touro Buildings in February, 1892, Simon Shwartz moved his family’s business, A. Shwartz and Son, to the other half of the building. Shwartz, backed by his father-in-law, Isidore Newman, acquired the entire Mercier Building. Leon moved out in the Spring of 1897. Shwartz opened the Maison Blanche that October..
Leon moved his store across the street, to the Pickwick Hotel at 800 Canal Street. His store evolved into a department store in the style of Maison Blanche.
While Leon’s involvement with Shwartz and MB was as a competitor, his investments sparked other Canal Street retail. Fellman bought the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal in 1899. He demolished those buildings. In their place, a new, two-story store rose, in 1903. Since Fellman’s store at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet) was well-established and successful, he invited the Krauss Brothers to lease 1201 Canal. Thus began the 94-year run of Krauss Department Store.
Leon’s older brother preferred to stay in the Touro Buildings (701 block of Canal Street). Maybe it was his age, perhaps his health, but the brothers parted. Bernard operated his dry good store, declaring it, “The Pioneer Of Low Prices.” So, Bernard competed not only with his brother, but with Abraham Shwartz. A. Shwartz and Son stood at the lake-side corner of the 701 block, Canal and Bourbon Streets. This ad lists an extensive inventory of dry goods. He also advertises “over 2000 Jackets, Cloaks and Wraps, from the lowest ordinary to the best.” A half-off sale always garners attention!
Charles Kaufman’s first store opened on Poydras Street in 1877. Charles partnered with his older brother Simon in the venture. In 1889, Charles joined with Marks Isaacs in a partnership. They opened Kaufman and Isaacs. The partners encouraged shoppers to “Join the Procession of Wise and Discerning People” to their store, on Dryades, Euterpe, and Polymnia Streets. They leveraged their proximity to the Dryades Public Market.
In 1901, Marks Isaacs left the partnership. He joined S.J. Shwartz at Maison Blanche. Charles Kaufman passed in 1917. The family continued operation of the store until 1961. They closed the store and sold the building, in the midst of a great deal of strife related to the Civil Rights Movement. The Kaufman’s building is now the Ashe Cultural Arts Center. Dryades Street now bears the name of Civil Rights pioneer Oretha Castle Haley.
So many connections among the Jewish retailers of New Orleans! You’ll find more history on MB and Krauss in my books:
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store
Additionally, lots of photos of Canal Street in my history of the most important streetcar line in New Orleans:
New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line
800 Canal Street started as the Pickwick Club, then the Pickwick Hotel
The Pickwick Hotel
Photo of the Pickwick Hotel, 800 Canal Street at Carondelet Street, from New Orleans the Crescent City, as it Appears in the year 1895. The Pickwick Club build their “clubhouse” on that corner in 1884. The “Pickwickians” operated a social club whose members formed the Mystick Krewe of Comus. Comus changed Carnival in New Orleans in 1857. They presented the city’s first “modern” Carnival parade. The building later became Leon Fellman’s department store, then Feibleman’s. It was demolished in 1948.
The Pickwick Club
In 1880, the Pickwick Club called a building at Canal and Exchange Alley home. So, they leased the corner of Canal and Carondelet Streets, just down the street from Boston Club. The club moved into their new home in 1884. They remained on the corner for about ten years. A fire broke out in the club in 1894, causing severe damage. The Pickwick Club abandoned the building, moving up the street to 1028 Canal Street.
Col. R. E. Rivers acquired the Pickwick Club building after the fire. He repaired the damage and opened a hotel on the property. New Orleans the Crescent City… described the hotel thusly:
The beautiful Pickwick Hotel is located at the corner of Carondelet and Caral streets , in the very heart of the retail business portion of the city , near the Cotton Exchange and every place of interest . Almost every street car line passes the door . The building itself is one of the handsomest in the city. This house is a bijou resort and only caters to the very best trade. It is furnished throughout in the most elaborate manner, costing nearly S300,000 to outfit. The restaurant attached is without an equal in the South , either in furnishings or the table. The Pickwick is the property of Col. R. E. Rivers , who has succeeded in making it the most popular hotel in the South . The house is always filled with guests.
While the hotel and its restaurant enjoyed critical acclaim, it only lasted for two years. In 1897, S. J. Shwartz acquired all of the Mercier Building, just up the street at 901 Canal. He evicted Leon Fellman and his store from the building. Fellman proposed converting the Pickwick Hotel into retail space. Rivers accepted the proposal, and Leon Fellman’s re-opened at 800 Canal in late 1897.
Leon Fellman’s re-branded to Feibleman’s in 1920, when Leon passed. So, the store remained at 800 Canal until 1931. The family re-located Feibleman’s to a new building they constructed at Baronne and Common that year. The Gus Mayer store chain bought the building in 1948. They demolished it and moved their store from the other side of Canal to that corner.
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Big changes in Canal Street Retail 1897 shook up shopping.
The Mercier Buildings, combined as Maison Blanche, 1898.
Canal Street Retail 1897
Front-page ad for S. J. Shwartz & Co, 3-January-1897
When 1897 opened, changes to the landscape of Canal Street retail were already shaping up. The year-end clearance ads published on January 3rd looked as one would expect. The ads in the first three pages of that day’s edition of The Daily Picayune tell a fascinating tale.
Simon J. Shwartz, youngest son of Abraham Shwartz, set plans in motion that brought the first true department store to town. Shwartz’s store, S.J. Shwartz & Sons, operated from the Mercier Buildings. Simon had the section of the building on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. In 1892, his family’s store, A. Shwartz and Sons, burned, along with most of the businesses in the Touro Buildings. This was the 701 block of Canal Street. The Shwartz family believed the fire was what brought on the heart attack that took Abraham, the patriarch.
Ad for D. Mercier’s Sons, 3-January-1897
While the Jewish families dominated Canal Street, the Merciers operated two blocks down Dauphine Street. “D Mercier’s Sons – The Renowned Clothiers and Hatters” purchased the property in the 901 block of Canal in 1884. They won it at auction, when the chapter of Christ Episcopal decided to move uptown. The church sold off their magnificent church in that year. The Merciers demolished it, constructing a four-story retail building.
701 to 901 to 701
Ad for A. Shwartz & Sons, Canal and Bourbon Streets, 3-January-1897
After the fire, Simon moved quickly, re-opening A. Shwartz and Sons at 901 Canal. He disagreed with his brothers on the direction of the business. So, the family moved back to the Touro Buildings. They secured the four-story building on the corner of Canal and Bourbon. This offered A. Shwartz and Sons a better location. So, back to the 701 block they went. Simon remained at 901 Canal. He gave the 901 store his name.
The Fellman Brothers
Ad for L. Fellman & Co., 3-January-1897
Bernard and Leon Fellman operated Fellman Brothers from a storefront in the Touro Buildings. When the Merciers opened their building at 901, Leon wanted to move down the street. Bernard disagreed. The Fellmans split. Leon moved, opening L. Fellman & Company. His store stood on the lake side of the Mercier Building, next to the Grand Opera House (now the S. H. Kress Building). The store in the 701 block became B. Fellman’s.
By February of 1897, S. J. Shwartz secured purchase of the entire Mercier Building. He served Leon Fellman with a notice of eviction. Fellman had to hustle to re-locate his store. Leon convinced the owners of the Pickwick Hotel (named so because the Pickwick Club met there) to close. He leased that building, across the street, at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet). Fellman converted the hotel into a dry goods store, Leon Fellman’s. So, 1897 saw major expansion, where both Shwartz and Fellman greatly expanded their stores. Meanwhile, the others kept on going in the 701 block.
Shwartz renovated the Mercier Buildings in 1897. He converted the property into a single store floor plan. S. J. Shwartz and Company became Maison Blanche in October of that year.
Ad for D. H. Holmes, 3-January-1897
Between Shwartz and Fellman stores stood D. H. Holmes, in the 801 block. Daniel Henry Holmes opened his store on Canal Street in 1842. He died in 1898. The store continued on until 1989, when Dillard’s acquired the chain. Holmes advertised a wide range of reductions on 3-January-1897. Silks to Brocaded Satin, to Opera Glasses, all on sale.
Ad for Kaufman and Isaacs on Dryades Street, 3-January-1897
Merchants on Dryades Street (now Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) presented the biggest competition to the Canal Street stores. Kaufman & Isaacs announced “Sacrifice week” on January 3rd:
The coming week will be specially devoted to clearing up old lines of merchandise which were overlooked in the Christmas crush. Every price is special–every value is noteworthy. This is, indeed, the store of the people–the store of economy.
Marks Isaacs split with the Kaufmans in 1905. At the same time, the members of the Newman family who opened Maison Blanche with S. J. Shwartz left the company. Isaacs joined Maison Blanche. He later left MB, opening his own store in the 701 block.
While the players remained, the landscape shifted significantly in 1897.
More on Canal Street
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
To learn more about Canal Street Retail 1897, check out my books, Maison Blanche Department Stores and Krauss: The New Orleans Value Store.
Patreon Note: Usually a blog post such as this would be behind the Patreon wall. I couldn’t figure out how to publish a suitable 100-word introduction to the tale, though. I’ll make it up to my Patrons. We really appreciate you and your support.
The Storyville debate continued past the District’s creation. .
In their edition of 9-October-1897, The Mascot re-printed a letter from “CITIZEN,” originally published in The New Orleans Item. The letter decries the establishment of the Storyville District, not so much because of the morality of brothels, but because of the behind-the-scene shenanigans taking place between property owners and the New Orleans City Council. The City Council created the District via an ordinance passed on 6-July-1897. They designated the area between Basin, Customhouse, N. Villere, and St. Louis Streets as a red-light district, where prostitution was legal.
Opposition to Storyville
Those who objected to the District did so on more than moral grounds. The neighborhood broke down into the up-scale “sporting palaces” along Basin Street, to the “cribs,” small houses going back into the District, towards N. Villere Street. The price of the evening’s activities reflected the location. So, whether the customer was punter with some money, or a working man looking for some action on a budget, the houses of Storyville met the needs. While those who objected to prostitution in any form howled, the notion of creating a red-light district appealed to many. In particular, property owners in the Vieux Carre and in Faubourg Treme on the east side of the Carondelet Canal liked the idea.
The letter writer, “CITIZEN,” decries the shifts in property values created by the ordinance:
The ordinance has not only done an unjustified injury to the property holders owning real estate, to the value of more than half a million dollars, in the former district occupied by the lewd and abandoned, but has really been a barefaced scheme to speculate to the detriment of a large portion of our population, for the benefit of a few, who are on the ground floor of city affairs, and has afforded several human vampires an opportunity for extorting for old dilapidated shanties fabulous rentals out of all proportion to the value of their properties.
Essentially, CITIZEN argues that houses in a red-light district lose value. At the same time others jacked up the rental prices. The description of “old dilapidated shanties” fits with many of the descriptions of “cribs” in the District.
The flowery prose of the letter writer, combined with the parallels of the issues surrounding short-term rentals of modern times make this a fascinating read.
L&N uptown tracks were where the railroad staged passenger trains.
L&N uptown tracks
Parlor car 395, Louisville and Nashville Railroad, on the L&N Uptown tracks near Gravier and S. Front Streets. The photo is part of the George F. Mungier Collection from the Louisiana State Museum. Photo is undated, but details in the photo place it in the mid-1890s. The Anheuser-Busch stables (left) and brewery (right) are visible, as is the Daniel Edwards Iron Works. The railroad staged passenger trains on the uptown side of Canal Street, then brought them into the station.
American railroads offered seating in parlor cars as an upgrade from coach class. While European railroads offered first- and second-class coach cars, American railroads resisted seating by class. Additionally, American railroads had to maintain “separate but equal” seating for African Americans. So, the railroads added “parlor” cars as an upgrade. These cars sat fewer passengers, and offered food and beverages in the car. The parlor car offered the passenger willing to pay extra an escape from the crowds in coach. On overnight trips, the parlor car enabled the passenger to split the difference between coach and a sleeper. While the sleeping car was the best option, the parlor car’s lower capacity and extra amenities made the trip better.
L&N Canal Street
The L&N railroad operated a station on Canal Street since the early 1890s. The railroad used terminal tracks on the uptown side of Canal Street to assemble passenger trains. They then pulled the train across Canal, up to the boarding platforms. From Canal Street, L&N trains traveled along the river to Elysian Fields Avenue. They turned north there, using the Pontchartrain Railroad tracks to head out of town to the East. L&N used the train bridge over the Rigolets Pass to cross the lake and move north-and-east. The well-known station appeared on Canal Street in 1902. So, this parlor car pulled up into the original station.
Daniel Edwards Iron Works
According to the “Standard History of New Orleans,” 1900, the Daniel Edwards Foundry opened in 1846. The business underwent ownership and management changes in the second half of the 19th Century.
Bucktown 1900 was a fishermen’s village at the end of the 17th Street Canal.
Photo of shacks along both sides of the 17th Street Canal in Bucktown 1900. Source is the New Orleans Jazz Club. While the photographer is unidentified, the note at the bottom is similar to a number of images in Doc Souchon’s collection. The photographer stands several blocks back from the entrance of the canal at Lake Pontchartrain. The plant growth in the foreground is foliage from the swampy ground in the area. The fishermen kept the canal clear for their boats from here to the lake.
The 17th Street Canal
The canal gets its name from 17th Street, in the “uptown backatown” part of New Orleans. While the city changed the street’s name to Palmetto Street in 1894, the old name stuck for the canal. Rainwater from uptown collected in smaller canals, eventually draining into this one. Since land was higher closer to the river, gravity did most of the work for decades. Water flowed into the canal, which in turn flowed out to the lake. There was little development along the 17th Street Canal in the 19th Century. So, by the time the canal reached the lake, the water dissipated into swampy ground. The city built a pumping station across the canal, near Metairie Road. Station #6 opened in 1899, using pumps designed by A. Baldwin Wood.
Connecting the canal to the lake offered an opportunity to fishermen. Even though the New Canal wasn’t that far away, that waterway was navigable. With luggers, tugs, barges, and other vessels traversed it daily. That presented challenges for the fishermen. Moving over to the outfall canal enabled the fishermen to come and go into the lake at their leisure. By the 1890s, fishermen built shacks with small piers for their boats, moving into this, the “East End” of Jefferson Parish. As the area grew, commercial buildings popped up. That lead to restaurants and nightclubs. Those businesses meant gambling and jazz, but that’s another story.