Lake Vista subdivision opened in 1938.
The Lake Vista subdivision on the Lakefront
Photo of a relief map of the proposed Lake Vista Subdivision on the New Orleans Lakefront. Caption from the WPA record:
New Orleans, 1936: “The Lakefront Development, carried on by the WPA under Levee Board sponsorship, will look like this map-relief model when completed.” Shows man looking over a diorama of the Lake Vista neighborhood.
Lake Vista was the first residential development opened on land reclaimed from Lake Pontchartrain. The subdivision encompasses the area from Marconi Drive (west), Lakeshore Drive (north), Beauregard Avenue/Bayou St. John (east), and Allen Toussaint Boulevard (south). The US Coast Guard station stood at the bayou and the lake.
Eventually, land reclamation on the Lakefront spawned five subdivisions:
- West Lakeshore
- East Lakeshore
- Lake Vista
- Lake Terrace
- Lake Oaks
Lake Vista is sort-of towards the middle of this group, with its border along the bayou. The Orleans Levee Board developed Lake Vista first, mainly because the other sections were already in use. West Lakeshore became Lagarde Army Hospital. The US Navy built Naval Hospital New Orleans in East Lakeshore. Pontchartrain Beach occupied a significant portion of Lake Terrace at this time (the Milneburg location didn’t open until 1940).
Lake Terrace extended to the London Avenue Canal. The other side of the canal to Elysian Fields Avenue became Naval Air Station New Orleans. What would become Lake Oaks was home to Army barracks and other facilities. So, that left Lake Vista uncommitted.
The basic design of the neighborhood was spoke-and-hub.. The residential streets each started on one of the edges. They moved toward the parcel’s center. That center became the hub. One Street, Spanish Fort Boulevard, was planned as a two-lane street separated by a neutral ground. All the spoke streets converged on a circular road. Inside the circle was reserved for churches, schools, and a retail development. The main tenant of that middle section became St. Pius X Church and School (Catholic).
Times-Picayune, September 17, 1938
The Levee District invited New Orleans to inspect Lake Vista on its opening weekend, 17-18 September, 1938. They published a full-page ad with lots of information on the neighborhood. “15 minutes from the heart of the city. Come!” The ad touts the perks of buying in a brand new development: no survey fees, etc., since twenty years before opening, it was part of the lake.
Still there more
While Lake Vista has evolved over its 85-year lifetime, a number of homes built in the 1940s remain.
A 1943 Willys MB jeep at the National World War II Museum has a 75mm recoilless rifle.
1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle. Edward Branley photo.
The Freedom Pavillion
On our recent trip to the National World War II Museum, we walked through The United States Freedom Pavillion. My firstborn, LT Branley, USN (Ret), wanted to see the various airplanes hanging above us. As we walked in, something else caught my eye, a jeep. Jeeps are pretty common, but this particular one caught my eye. It has a rocket launcher mounted in the back seat. The configuration reminded me of the old television show, “The Rat Patrol.” In the show, set during the North Africa campaign, the jeeps the “patrol” used had machine guns mounted in the back seats. I always thought this was a Hollywood thing. That’s why my eyes turned when I saw this rocket mounted on a jeep.
1943 Willys MB Jeep
1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle. Edward Branley photo.
While “The Rat Patrol” was fiction (it was based on a British SAS unit in North Africa), the Willys MB is authentic. Here’s the Museum’s description of the jeep:
Finally, a 1943 Willys MB is on exhibit in The United States Freedom Pavilion, The Boeing Center. This jeep, like other vehicles in the pavilion, runs; and it is moved on a regular basis to accommodate Museum events. This jeep is marked to represent the 155th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion with the 17th Airborne Division during Operation Varsity. This unit received two 75mm recoilless rifles for use in that operation. This type of weapon was just being deployed at the end of the war and proved very useful in anti-tank operations. In addition to the recoilless rifle, the jeep features a wire cutter commonly found in the European theater and a limited collection of other accessories. The jeep has appropriate unit markings. The W number is painted in white, as is typically observed after a vehicle has spent time with a unit.
(from the article, “Shop Talk: Three Jeeps” on the museum’s website)
So, the MB jeep sports a 75mm recoilless rifle. In addition to the memories of the television show, the tube-like gun on the back reminded me of the Cold War board wargames we played in the 1980s. A common weapons system of that time was the BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile. It was interesting to see the evolution of vehicular weapons systems.
1942 Ford GPW in the North Africa Exhibit. Thomas Czekanski photo, Courtesy of The National WWII Museum.
In the North Africa exhibit of the Road to Berlin Gallery, another jeep caught my eye. The display contains a 1942 Ford GPW painted and weathered to look like it had been at Kasserine Pass. Back when I taught American History at Redeemer High School in Gentilly, I used to show the movie, “The Big Red One.” That movie features the battle at the pass. What impressed me about this jeep was the weathering. This jeep’s weathering includes mud spatters as if it traveled a lot of desert miles. No machine gun mounted in the back, just a hard-working vehicle. The National WWII Museum are masters in creating the “immersive experience.”
A National WWII Museum visit is a NOLA must!
Diorama featuring a C-4 Waco glider at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Edward Branley photo.
National WWII Museum Visit
My Firstborn, who spent ten years as a submariner, always wants to go to make a National WWII Museum visit when he comes home (he lives in the DMV, working for the Strategic Capabilities Office these days). We gladly oblige him, as the museum is a fun way to spend the day. He walks like he’s still on a boat and needs coffee badly, so we let him go ahead. When it’s three or four of us, it’s everyone for themselves, and we text to get back together. Being a naval officer, he usually spends most of his time in the Road To Tokyo exhibit. Being an NJROTC cadet who was often chewed out by Master Chief Brennan at Brother Martin High School, I share his interest in the Navy exhibits.
So, this trip, I was surprised when my O-3 said, let’s start with the original D-Day exhibits in the Louisiana Pavillion. The museum evolved from Ambrose’s original D-Day focus to all of the war. In that first summer of 2000, though, Overlord dominated. There’s one diorama in particular that I like to stop at for a while. The scene features a CG-4 Waco glider. The glider crashed into a stone wall in the woods behind and to the west of the Normandy beaches. The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions dropped into that area. They advanced, securing bridges and causeways connecting the beaches to the hedgerow country. While this particular Waco endured a hard landing (one wing is shown broken off), the jeep inside remains intact. Glider Infantry pushed the vehicle out, then drove off to connect with the rest of their unit.
It’s the stillness of the scene that gets me every time. It’s quiet, maybe this was one of the first gliders to land. The drops were a mess in those early hours of 6-June-1944. Someone’s managed to open the cargo hold. Hopefully the pilots survived. Crickets remind you that this is forest country. The display features no strong special effects, just the night sounds. The All-American and Screaming Eagles started their European campaign there.
Stuffed Bingle hit his stride in the early 1950s.
Santa and Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche, 901 Canal Street, in 1952. Stuffed Bingles were sold on the Third Floor. (Franck Studios photo courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection)
Jingle Jangle Jingle!
The story of Mr. Bingle is Chapter 3 of my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, from Emile Alline’s preliminary doodles to the puppets, to the Big Bingle that rules Celebration in the Oaks at City Park. That story is now seventy-five years old and going strong.
Mr. Bingle was one of those marketing ideas that was a winner from the beginning. It did take some time to make that happen, though. Alline’s imagination became doodles, then sketches to pitch management. Then the ad department took over, and the little snow elf was in the corners of ads every December.
Stuffed Bingle Prototype
After Mr. Bingle took over the full-page ads, The little guy needed a three-dimensional presence. Alline ordered a fifteen-inch Bingle doll.The doll helped ad development, since he could be posed and photographed with merchandise from the store.
That prototype evolved into the puppets. Oscar Isentrout connected Alline with a German puppet-maker. They copied the prototype doll, creating two Bingle puppets. One puppet stayed at the store. Oscar went around town with the other puppet, doing shows at the branch stores. Oscar performed the voice of the Bingle puppet for those shows, along with the wonderful WDSU-TV commercials.
Bingles for Everyone
Stuffed Bingle in an ad for Maison Blanche in the Times-Picayune, 19-December-1949.
By 1949, the success of print advertising and Oscar’s puppet shows created a demand for Bingles for the kids. The prototype inspired a lasting product:
in big 16″ size
He’s in softest rayon Plush and an exact reproduction of the jolly Mir. Bingle seen in MB’s famous Puppet Show. tots adore him.
In addition to the 16″ Bingle, MB offered him in 11″ for 1.98 and 20″ for 4.98.
To encourage continued sales, MB began branding the Bingles with the year on his foot. Now, families bought Bingles for newborns, etc. As Stuffed Bingles grew in popularity, the dolls spread out to other chains owned by Mercantile Stores. That holding company owned Maison Blanche, along with a dozen other stores. I was totally mind-blown in 1996, when on a business trip to Fargo, ND. As I walked through West Acres Mall (home of the Roger Maris Museum), I stepped into DeLendrecie’s Department Store. There was Mr. Bingle! But of course, a snow elf in snowy North Dakota!
City Park’s Miniature Railroad dates to the 1890
The Miniature Railroad at City Park
This is a 2010 photo of the current incarnation of the City Park railroad, courtesy Mid-City Messenger. A miniature railroad first operated in New Orleans City Park in the 1890s. After a couple of false starts, the park’s railroad has run since 1905, pausing only for war (fuel rationing). Trains circle the lower section of the park, starting and ending at the back of Storyland/Carousel Gardens. The train goes east, towards Marconi Drive, then follows Marconi south, to City Park Avenue, it turns west, following the lower edge of the park, turning just before the Wisner/City Park Avenue/N. Carrollton intersection. It curves north, passing the New Orleans Museum of Art, then the Sculpture Garden and Casino, returning to its station by the rides.
The first miniature railroad in the park opened in 1895. The park chose not to renew the contract for the train, saying maintenance of the track cost more than fares brought in. A second attempt, a couple of years later, yielded similar results. A contractor proposed resuming the ride in 1905. The park board of commissioners approved the plan. The railroad became a success. The railroad’s route initially consisted of about 1500 feet of track, which later expanded to 2000 feet.
The train took a temporary hiatus for a year in World War I, and closed completely during the Second World War. While the fuel rationing restrictions ended after the war, the route fell into disrepair. The park re-vamped the railroad in 1949. They laid new rail for the 2000-foot route, using crossties provided by American Creosote Works company, on Dublin Street, Uptown. All was done according to prototype railroad specifications.
The park ordered a train from the Miniature Train and Railway Company of Elmhurst, Illinois. They delivered a faithful replica of a General Motors F3 diesel locomotive and six passenger cars. That train ran on the miniature railroad into the 1970s. The current train is less to prototype, and built for a bit more comfort.
Union Passenger Terminal
When Mayor Chep Morrison completed his plans to operate all passenger trains in and out of New Orleans from a single terminal, then-President of the City Park Railroad, Harry J. Batt, Jr., took out an ad in the Times-Picayune on May 1, 1954. Batt sent Mr. William G. Zetzmann, the Chairman of the New Orleans Terminal Board (the body that built Union Passenger Terminal) his regrets that his mainiature ailroad would not be consolidating operations at UPT. Batt’s note was good-natured:
Dear Mr. Zetzmann,
It is with sincere regret that we must have the unique distinction of being the only 48-passenger train that will not enter and leave your wonderful new station. I contratulate you on this new building, but it is of of necessity that we maintain our present station.
Narrow gauge rail equipment and other factors over which we have no control bring about this condition.
I believe, too, that the kiddies would much prefer the present surroundings with the giant oaks overhead, the blooming flowers, and the other environments of nature that give childhood its greatest urge for happiness.
Harry J. Batt, Jr.
Presiednt, City Park Railroad
While this is a cute and up-beat note, it also served as a poke at Mayor Morrison, who played hardball with the railroads for ten years to get UPT.
The Maison Blanche Snack Shop was a wonderful bakery.
Maison Blanche Snack Store on Iberville
Franck Studios photo of the corner of Dauphine and Iberville Streets in the French Quarter in 1951. Maison Blanche opened a Bakery department in 1934. That concept extended into the “Snack Store” in 1945. The original snack store opened in the rear of the ground floor of 901 Canal Street. The company acquired the building at the corner in the mid-1940s. They renovated the interior and moved the Snack Store into it in 1946. The Snack Store closed in 1957 and the building was demolished.
Times-Picayune ad for the 2nd anniversery of the MB Bakery, 7-August-1936
MB entered the bakery business on August 7, 1934. In two years, as this ad shows, the bakery offered “Strawberry preserve silver layer cakes” and Lady Baltimore cakes as anniversery specials.
Times Picayune ad for the MB Bakery, 8-May-1935
The Angel Food Cake was so memorable, Judy Walker, the Times-Picayune’s food editor/columnist, got requests for its recipe as recently as 2007.
The Bakery stood on the ground floor of the store, in the section that joined the two MB office towers. It had a separate entrance at 135 Dauphine Street.
Bakery to Snack Store
Ad in the Times-Picayune, 28-January-1949, featuring imported soups, frozen strawberries, and Danish cherry wine
MB expanded the square feet of the Bakery Department in March of 1945. They added liquor, wine and liqueurs, along with a selection of “gourmet” canned foods, such as whole ducks, chickens, and guinea fowl. After the war, as rationing policies lifted, the Snack Store offered more fresh-cooked food, such as holiday turkeys. By 1949, they even sold live lobster, acting as a retail outlet for Seafood Delivery Services.
Expanding the building
Google Maps photo of the present-day Courtyard by Marriott, Iberville and Dauphine.
The two photos of the corner of Dauphine and Iberville show how the store did not extend all the way back into the block from Canal Street. When the Merciers acquired Christ Episcopal in 1884, the property extended about two-thirds of the way back to Customhouse Street (Iberville’s name at the time). They demolished the church (which re-located to St. Charles Avenue), building the Mercier Building. Shwartz converted that building into Maison Blanche in 1897. He demolished it in 1908, building out the retail and office space that stands at 901 Canal now.
So, that left the other third of the block, with its three-story building. Like several of the other big Canal Street stores, it took MB some time to acquire all of the space. They accomplished this by the 1940s. The Snack Store (along with the Bakery) was a good candidate to outright move into the new space. The corner building offered a separate entrance. Additionally, the move freed up retail space in the main store.
The company’s ultimate goal, however, was to expand the main store. They did so by demolishing the Snack Store building in 1957. MB extended the five-story retail space all the way to the corner. So, the store finally ran the length of the block. (By comparison, it took Krauss until 1952 to grow their store all the way to Iberville in the 1201 block.)
When new ownership converted the store into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, they planned to open the section facing Iberville as a separate concept. They planned to make the 1950s back section into luxury condos/short-term rentals. The market rejected that concept. The owners re-modeled those units into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
If you like the story of Maison Blanche, you’ll want to get my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, available at all the usual suspects.