Pullman Porters didn’t earn a living wage from the company.
Linen postcard of one of the Pullman-built sleeping compartments aboard the KCS train Southern Belle, which originated in New Orleans.
The Pullman Porters
A Pullman Porter assists a passenger, Chicago, 1880s.
When George Pullman’s company began providing sleeping car service to passenger railroads in the US, he hired Black men, formerly enslaved, to staff the cars. Those men staffed sleeping cars, dining cars, and lounge/club cars. Pullman provided these services from the 1860s until the company ceased operations at the end of 1968. Pullman insisted that all his porters be dark-skinned black men. He knew that these men struggled to find employment as free men. So, He paid them incredibly low wages. The porters relied upon tips from passengers. Wikipedia lays out the economics of life as a Pullman Porter:
The company required porters to travel 11,000 miles, nearly 400 hours, per month to earn a basic wage. In 1934, porters on regular assignments worked an average of over 73 hours per week and earned 27.8 cents an hour while workers in manufacturing jobs averaged under 37 hours per week and earned an average of 54.8 cents per hour.
What’s interesting is that, in spite of the deck being stacked against them, the porters’ hard work formed the backbone of the Black middle class in cities with lots of passenger rail activity, particularly West Oakland, Chicago, and New Orleans.
Since railroad workers’ unions were segregated, Black porters received no representation. A. Phillip Randolph formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). The union organized the porters. It enabled collective bargaining and negotiation.
The national passenger railroad company took over in 1971. Amtrak dropped use of the term “porter,” referring to their employees in that role as “sleeping car attendants. The BSCP merged into the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks in 1978.
After the original Canal Station streetcar/bus facility was demolished. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority replaced it with a new bus terminal. The Authority named that facility for A. Phillip Randolph, founder of the BSCP.
Tipped Minimum Wage
The Pullman Porters normalized the concept of “working for tips.” While the concept originally enabled white passengers to control how much Black men got paid, the system continues to this day. Diners at restaurants control how much money servers and bartenders earn beyond the $2.13/hour mandated by the federal government.
Public swimming pools have a long history in New Orleans.
Architectural rendering of the City Park Swimming Pool complex, 27-July-1924, by Favrot and Livaudais.
Beat the heat in public swimming pools
City Park and Audubon Park both opened public swimming pools in the 1920s. City Park was first, in 1925, followed by the uptown park in 1928. So much of their stories is enmeshed with local politics and national cultural shifts.
The City Park pool opened in 1924. The Times-Picayune wrote about the start of construction on 27-July-1924:
The park commissioners announce that the pool will include beautiful buildings and equipment complete in every detail. It will be constructed between the famous deulling oaks, in the west section of the park, about 400 feet from Orleans Avenue. the completed structure will blend with the surroundings and make an attractive landscape picture.
The location made sense, as the western side of the park was pretty much undeveloped. The park expanded from the old Allard Plantation. Commercial air conditioning didn’t come to New Orleans until the 1930s, so public strategies to beat the heat were important.
The pool opened upon completion of construction. When the park built the miniature railroad, they naturally added a stop at the pool. The pool operated until 1958. Rather than comply with court orders directing the city to integrate public park facilities, the New Orleans City Park Improvement Association closed the pool. The park converted the facility into a sea lion pool, featuring an island in the center. They populated the island with monkeys, creating a zoo-like attraction.
Monkey re-capture at City Park, 9-July-1965
While I wasn’t able to find a photo of the “monkey island” phase, there was a photo in Da Paper on 9-July-1965. There was a “mass escape” of twelve monkeys the day before. Mr. S. H. Daigle, one of the attraction’s attendant, is shown fishing a monkey out of one of the park’s lagoons.
The park closed “monkey island” in 1967. They converted the facility into a miniature golf course. That feature closed in the 1980s. The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s office (OPCS) used the facility for storage and maintenance equipment. Long-time Criminal Sheriff (and later Louisiana Attorney General) Charles Foti built the pool area out as a “haunted house” attraction for Halloween. When the park began the incredibly-popular “Celebration in the Oaks” attraction for Christmas, the OPCS would re-decorate the old pool into a “Cajun Christmas” feature.
The entire pool area simply ain’t there no more. After Foti left OPCS, the department lost interest in using the pool facility. The remains of the pool were razed and the area is now green space.
Shushan Airport is now known as Lakefront Airport.
Art Deco administration building at Shushan Airport
2010 photo of the restored art deco facade of the Lakefront Airport administration building. Infrogmation photo.
Architectural drawing of the Administration building of Shushan Airport. The state built the airport on the eastern side of the Industrial Canal. Then-governor Huey P. Long authorized the construction of the airport in 1929. The airport opened in 1934. Airport visitors pull up to this splendid example of art deco style. The Army Air Corps hardened the administration building at the outset of World War II. While the original art deco design remained, the AAC covered it with a “bomb proof” exterior. The building underwent extensive renovations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Its original facade was restored, as well as the art deco fixtures, floors, etc., in the interior.
Shushan to Lakefront
architectural rendering of Shushan Airport administration building.
The state originally named the airport after Huey Long ally Abraham Shushan. Long rewarded Shushan’s loyalty (and financial contributions) with a position on the Orleans Parish Levee Board. Shushan became president of that board. That’s why the airport took his name. Shushan got caught up in several political scandals in the 1930s. Abe became a liability to his patron. The Long faction cut him loose and re-named the airport in 1939. It became New Orleans Airport, with the three-letter designation, NEW. When Moisant Field in Kenner evolved into the city’s primary airport, New Orleans Airport became Lakefront Airport. It still retains NEW as its code, with now-named Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport as MSY.
This rendering is part of the Franck Studios collection at THNOC. The architectural firm that created it is uncredited.
As tensions increased in Europe in the late 1930s, the United States Army Air Corps created antisubmarine aircraft squadrons along the Gulf of Mexico. One of these bomber squadrons operated from Lakefront Airport. While the planes parked at the airport, there wasn’t enough space to house the squadron’s personnel and offices. The Army acquired land on the west side of the Industrial Canal. They built the support facilities for the squadron there. Pilots and maintenance crew worked back and forth across the canal. The western base later became part of Camp Leroy Johnson, an army supply depot.
Stores like 1303 St. Ann Street were a common sight in the Treme.
1303 St. Ann Street
Painting of the corner store at 1303 St. Ann Street by Boyd Cruise. Here’s the description of the painting from THNOC:
View of a corner building in Faubourg Tremé with a grocery sign. Parts of the rain gutter and gallery railing are missing.
The location is currently part of Armstrong Park, across from the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Chase painted 1303 St. Ann Street in 1938. Chase painted a lot of locations at this time for various federal projects.
This building displays a “Grocery” sign and two coffee advertisements, one for Luzianne and one for French Market. Even though Prohibition ended five years earlier, the store may not yet have returned to alcohol sales.
The owners chose not to put a name on their sign. That’s not surprising for the 1930s. Most customers shopping here walked from around the corner. While the big stores on Canal Street installed air-conditioning in the early 1930s, this store likely relied on fans and open windows. Without refrigeration, they offered dry goods, canned foods, flour, spices, etc. Neighbors looking for meat and seafood still walked over to the Treme Market. The transition to a wider inventory would have started at this time, but WWII slowed the process down for ten or so years.
Alvik Boyd Cruise was born in 1909, and came to New Orleans in 1928. Read this great profile of him at 64 Parishes. His body of work contains a number of architectural paintings commissioned for a Historic American Buildings Survey of the French Quarter. The National Park Service started the HABS project in 1933. It’s currently administered by the NPS and the Library of Congress. The HABS survey of Canal Station is a great example of the product.
64 Parishes notes that Cruise made use of “plan books” archived at the Orleans Parish Notarial Archives to create representative portraits of various structures. While 1303 St. Ann Street isn’t explicitly listed as one of HABS paintings (the survey was for the Quarter), it’s certainly of that style.
Cruise later became the first director of The Historic New Orleans Collection.
1925 photo of the the railroad depot at Biloxi. According to the Biloxi Historical Society, the Biloxi Daily Herald reported that the plans for the depot were in the hands of T.J. Rosell & Company as of January 5, 1901. On April 3, 1901, the paper reported that the depot was expected to open in two weeks.
This photograph, by John Tibule Mendes, is listed by THNOC as “Unidentified Location.” To me, anything “unidentified” is a challenge. I put the image out on social media, and local railroad historian and expert Tony Howe replied back within minutes (thanks, Tony). So, that was enough to do a proper search. According to UNO Press:
Between 1916 and the mid-1930s, John Tibule Mendes (1888–1965) was a consistent and curious observer of life in New Orleans. His photographs are archived in The Historic New Orleans Collection.
It’s no surprise that Mendes meandered over to the Gulf Coast.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N) owned and operated Biloxi Depot. Mendes likely traveled to Biloxi on an L&N train. L&N arrived and departed New Orleans from their passenger terminal at Canal Street and the river. The Aquarium of the Americas now stands on that site.
The State of Kentucky chartered the L&N in 1850. The railroad acquired the Pontchartrain Railroad in New Orleans in 1871. That acquisition enabled the connection of L&N’s system to downtown New Orleans. The L&N operated local and express passenger trains along the Gulf Coast. Those trains also provided mail service.
After several attempts at restoring passenger service along the Gulf Coast, Amtrak extended the route of the Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to New Orleans) to Jacksonville, Florida, in 1993. The railroad discontinued that service in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Amtrak plans to restore service along the coast in stages. The first stage extends the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Mobile. With that in place, they would continue eastward.
Street railways connected Algiers with Gretna and even Marrero.
I had the privilege of speaking to the Algiers Historical Society last month, on the subject of street railways on the Westbank. I’d spoken to the group on East Bank subjects in the past, so it was fun to dive into an Algiers topic.
Street Railways pod format
So, I didn’t record the original talk, I sat down this week with the Powerpoint presentation and did it as a Zoom. Zoom generates both video and audio recordings. I uploaded the video recording to YouTube. Video podcasts have been a thing for a while, so we’ll join that bandwagon.
I’ve also included a PDF of the slides, for those of you who listen to the audio format, along with images from the presentation.
Portion of the Robinson Atlas, New Orleans, 1883, showing Algiers Point
Louis Hennick map showing street rail in Algiers, 1895
Sketch of planned Algiers Coruthouse, 1896
1907 Photo of the first electric streetcar in Algiers
Louis Hennick map of Westbank street railways in 1916