If you didn’t have air-condition or a lot of fans, you might have lived in screen porch houses growing up.
(cross-posted to Eloquent Profanity)
House with a screen porch on Iberville Street in #NOLAMidCity
Screen porch houses
Before central air-conditioning became part of everyday home life, screen porch houses lined the blocks of New Orleans neighborhoods. Residents escaped the heat of summer by going outside. There were two problems with being directly outside, though. First, most folks avoided direct sunlight and sunburn. Second, the mosquitoes! So, homeowners screened in their front porches. Screens allowed the breeze in, but not the bugs. The offered protection from the sun. The wood floor gave the rocking chair a smooth surface.
Nothing to fans to a/c
It’s hard to remember a time before so many homes in New Orleans had air-conditioning. By 2011, 88% of homes in the United States were built with central a/c. Prior to the suburban expansions of the late 1960s/early 1970s, homes lacked a/c. While many were retro-fitted with wall units in bedrooms, living spaces often were not. Families believed you should go outside. Sit on the porch. Talk to the neighbors. Many a writer and literary critic supports the notion that central air conditioning dramatically changed the genre of “Southern Literature”, because people just didn’t socialize like they used to. They holed up inside and stayed cool.
There’s a lot of merit to this concept, In New Orleans, we sit outside for a few weeks in the Spring and the Fall. The rainy season (what the northern parts of the US call, “Winter”) just doesn’t accommodate outside activity. The humidity of the Summer and early Fall drain us.
New Orleans homes
Not everyone has a Spanish Colonial courtyard to retreat to on a hot day. Shotgun homes offer good airflow, but privacy concerns often outweigh the breeze running through the house. That leaves the backyard. Thing is, the backyard isolates the family from the neighborhood. Porch-sitting brings folks together.
Bus and streetcar routes in New Orleans were laid out in NOPSI Maps.
1928 NOPSI transit map
Maps of the local transit system are essential for riders. While those maps are most often found online these days, proper paper maps existed for generations before handheld devices with Everything.
Lots of interesting things here, on this 1928 map. This is a year before the 1929 Transit Strike (the origin of the po-boy, etc.). In terms of total miles of track, this is the zenith of streetcar operations. The 1929 strike changed how New Orleans commuted. NOPSI worked to get riders back, but it was not an overnight process.
Some things here that caught my eye:
- The Napoleon line went all the way out to Shrewsbury Road in Metairie. Streetcar service in Metairie ended in 1934.
- The Canal and Esplanade lines ran in “belt service” at this time. NOPSI provided “Cemeteries” service that ran to the end of Canal Street.
- The “Canal Bus” ran on Canal Blvd, out to Fillmore Ave.
- NOPSI offered no service on North Carrollton Avenue. Mid-City, between Canal Street and Bayou St. John contained the Bernadotte Street railroad yard and extensive industry. NOPSI services the neighborhood with the City Park line.
- West End ran out to the lake, along the New Canal. While the regular Spanish Fort line no longer operated, NOPSI maps indicate the seasonal shuttle line.
The Canal/Esplanade belts defined service in Mid-City at the time. While there were shorter, “support” lines, the neighborhood relied primarily on the Canal line.
NOPSI provided extensive streetcar and bus service Uptown. So, NOPSI maps show the St. Charles and Tulane lines running in “belt” service. While the original operators consolidated years before this map, the older lines continued on. Prytania, Laurel, and Tchoupitoulas operated at this time. So, Claiborne, Freret, St. Charles, and Magazine lines operated as the main cross-Uptown lines. Those lines operate today.
The Gentilly line ran from downtown out to Dreux Avenue on Franklin Avenue. Bus service on Elysian Fields only operated to Florida. The Pontchartrain Railroad still ran out to Milneburg at this time.
Vintage New Orleans Transit is a fun group on Facebook, if you’re active on that platform.
Finally, check out NOLA History Guy Podcast!
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives operated regularly in Gentilly
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
2-8-0 Steam Locomotives
We mentioned the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad (NO&NE) last week, in our discussion of Homer Plessy’s ticket to Covington. Plessy was arrested at Press Street Station. That station was the terminal for the NONE in the 1890s. Southern Railway acquired NO&NE in 1916. Southern Railway moved NO&NE’s passenger service to Terminal Station on Canal Street. Freight service operated from NO&NE’s Gentilly Yard. The way out of town for the Southern system was their five-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. So, passenger trains came out via the Lafitte Corridor, then merged onto the Back Belt. Freight trains came up Peoples Avenue from the yard, then to the back belt. The trains traveled north, alongside Peoples Avenue. The trains crossed the Industrial Canal at Seabrook. From there, they headed out of town.
Gentilly Blvd. and trains
The Back Belt more-or-less follows Gentilly Blvd. While train tracks run as much as possible in straight lines, streets tend to twist and turn. Because Gentilly Blvd intersects the train tracks several times, the railroad and the city built several underpasses. Trains stayed at the same level, going straight. Automobiles turned, curved, and dipped under the tracks.
Tony Howe, admin of the Louisiana Railroad History group on Faceback captioned this Frank C. Phillips photo:
Southern Ry (NO&NE) 2-8-0 near Gentilly Blvd (between NE Tower and Seabrook) New Orleans, Frank C. Phillips Photo
Others in the group (which is highly recommended for railfans and rail historians) added details. The houses to the left place the photo in Gentilly Terrace. The train heads south, towards either the Back Belt or the yard. The photographer stands just south of the underpass at Gentilly Blvd. The WPA/city/railroad built that underpass in 1940.
Baldwin Locomotive Works introduced the Consolidation 2-8-0 locos in 1883. So, this type of engine was a regular workhorse by the late 1940s. NO&NE owned a number of Consolidations. Unfortunately, the number on this engine isn’t visible.
Sears, Feibleman’s and Canal Street retail.
Feibleman’s Department Store, 201 Baronne in the CBD
Sears, Feibleman’s and Canal Street
With Sears, Roebuck all but closing down nationwide, let’s look back at how Sears came to New Orleans. The Chicago company acquired stores owned by the Feibleman family, most notably, their big department store at 201 Baronne Street. Sears bought Feibleman’s in 1936. The name recognition of the local store was strong. Advertisements for Sears still mentioned Feibleman’s, years after the purchase.
Fellman and Feibleman’s
Feibleman’s ad in the Loyola Maroon, 1926
When Lippman Feibelman came to New Orleans in 1870, he changed his name to Leon Fellman. Fellman became one of the major retailers in the city, along with his brother, Bernard. By the 1880s, the Fellmans were in the top-tier of dry goods merchants. When the Merciers demolished the Christ Episcopal Church building on Canal and Dauphine in 1884, Leon expressed his desire to move into the new five story building. His brother Bernard wanted to stay in the 700 block of Canal Street. The brothers split the partnership. L. Fellman and Company opened at what is now 901 Canal Street.
Leon Fellman operated from 901 Canal until 1897. He shared the location with Simon J. Shwartz, son of Abraham Shwartz. Abraham operated a dry goods business in the 700 block as well. When fire severely damaged the Touro Buildings, Simon Shwartz moved to the 900 block. He acquired the entire Mercier Building in early 1897. Shwartz served notice to Fellman that his lease was terminated in February of that year.
Move to 800 Canal
Leon Fellman’s, 800 Canal Street, 1910
Fellman moved his store to the former Pickwick Hotel, at800 Canal (corner Carondelet Street). He operated “Leon Fellman’s” there until his death in 1920.
Sears ad, 1939
That’s when things got interesting. With the passing of the patriarch, the family changed the store’s name to Feibleman’s. The store continued at 800 Canal for ten years. The family moved Feibleman’s to 201 Baronne Street in 1930. They sold to Sears six years later.
Sears takes over
Sears ad in the Loyola Maroon, 1940
Eventually, the Feibleman name faded, leaving the national store and its huge mail-order catalog. Other Sears stores opened in the New Orleans Area. Only one remains, in Clearview Mall. That store is scheduled to be closed this year.
Feibelman’s replaces Leon Fellman’s upon the passing of the patriarch
Feibleman’s Department Store, 1923 ad in the Loyola Maroon
The department store operated at 800 Canal Street, corner Carondelet, for eleven years. The store was Leon Fellman’s until 1920. The store’s name changed when Leon Fellman passed away in 1920. So, the family operated the store under the original German name after that.
The store occupied the old Pickwick Hotel building. In 1897, Leon Fellman lost his lease on his space across the street, in the Mercier building. Simon Shwartz acquired that building, at 901 Canal Street, for his new department store venture. So, Fellman convinced the owners of the hotel to lease the building to him for a store. Shwartz opened Maison Blanche at 901 Canal and Fellman moved to 800 Canal.
Lippman Feibelman left Germany to join his older brother in New Orleans in the 1860s. His brother already changed his name to Bernard Fellman. Lippman followed his brother’s lead, changing his name to Leon Fellman. The brothers established themselves in the local Jewish retail community. Eventually, they opened a store on Canal Street. The brothers split in 1884, when the Mercier Building opened at 901 Canal. Bernard stayed in the 700 block. Leon opened a new store at Canal and Dauphine.
In 1899, Fellman bought the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal Street. In 1902, he demolished those buildings. So, he built a store in their place. Fellman leased 1201 Canal Street to the Krauss Brothers. The four brothers opened Krauss Department Store there.
The name change
Leon Fellman’s became one of the big stores on Canal Street. When Leon’s health declined in 1918-1919, he worked with the Krauss brothers and their brother-in-law, Leon Heymann, to consolidate The Krauss Company. Fellman sold his interest in the store to Heymann. Krauss became totally family-owned.
Upon Fellman’s passing, his family made several legal moves. They re-organized the corporation what owned the store. The Fellmans changed the name of the store, but with a twist. The family used the spelling, “Feibleman”, rather than the brothers original name, Feibelman.
The family moved the store to the corner of Baronne and Common in 1931. They sold the store to Sears Roebuck in 1936.
I’ve yet to sort out why the family went to such lengths to distance themselves from Leon Fellman.
This ad is from 1923. Feibleman’s advertised regularly in Loyola University’s student newspaper, the maroon. College students often didn’t have “good clothes”. So, all of the downtown department stores advertised in the Maroon.
More about Leon Fellman
Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store by Edward J. Branley
Fellman was an important part of the Krauss story. You can learn about it in my book, Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store.
Canal Street 1918 – Armistice Day in New Orleans was a day of celebration.
Men and boys of New Orleans’ Italian community join soldiers in the 900 block of Canal Street on 11-Nov-1918 (Franck Studios photo via HNOC)
Canal Street 1918
The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month. The End of World War I was marked with celebration in New Orleans. There’s a seven hour difference between New Orleans and Paris. So, New Orleans woke up to the end of the war. One of the first gathering points was the 900 block of Canal Street, in front of the Audubon Building, S. H. Kress, and Maison Blanche.
New Orleans celebrates the end of WWI, 11-Nov-1918 (courtesy HNOC)
As the news spread, people gathered on Canal Street. The worst war the world had known was over.
Sailors and New Orleanians parade around, celebrating the Armistice, 11-Nov-1918 (HNOC photo)
By the afternoon, impromptu parades popped up around the city. Because New Orleans.
New Orleans – 1900-1915
New Orleans enjoyed an incredible growth spurt in the 1900s-1910s. The Sicilian community expanded out from the French Quarter and Treme, into Mid-City. By 1915, they established their own Catholic parish, St. Anthony of Padua, on Canal Street. The Irish and Germans continued growing in the Irish Channel. The city (well, with the exception of the African-American community) was on a roll. They city built new schools. Streetcar routes expanded. Canal Street evolved into a department store nexus.
World War One
Liberty Bond parade, 1917 (Franck Studios photo)
World War I in New Orleans was different from the Second World War. The war started in 1914. The United States didn’t enter the war until 1917. The commitment of the United States to the European war was quite different than twenty-five years later. The US sent an “Expeditionary Force” to Europe. While the battlefields were horrific places, the “total war” of the 1940s didn’t yet exist. So, the biggest issue for New Orleans was the closure of the Storyville District. The Southern Railway brought thousands of troops to New Orleans. They ended their journey at Canal and Basin Streets, right next to Storyville. The military commanders didn’t want their troops in brothels before boarding ships to Europe. Therefore, City Hall closed down the district, after twenty years. Canal Street 1918 was all about supporting the troops.
The Home Front
WWI tank rolls down Canal Street as part of a Liberty Bond parade in 1917. (HNOC photo)
Aside from sending the boys to the war, New Orleans didn’t play a large role in the war effort. The city’s German community fell victim to a great deal of xenophobia. Berlin Street changed to General Pershing Street, for example. New Orleans, for all of our French/Spanish/African roots, could not separate itself from its German connections, though. The Germans made it clear they were Americans first. The most important role in the war for New Orleans was buying Liberty Bonds. Financing the war effort required cash. Bonds paid the bills. Even though buying war bonds was a sacrifice, New Orleans, like the rest of the nation, stepped up.
WWI Monument on Canal Street, 1919 (courtesy Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans)
Canal Street displayed war memorials starting in 1919.
Victory Arch in the Bywater (HNOC photo)
The Ninth Ward’s Victory Arch was the first permanent WWI monument in the country. The arch is controversial, because the names of New Orleans’ WWI dead are segregated on the monument.