Mid-City Magic on Murat

Mid-City Magic on Murat

Mid-City Magic – The Centanni Home.

Mid City Magic

The Centanni home, located on Canal and S. Murat Streets, was a magical place for kids growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Sam Centanni, owner of Gold Seal Creamery, decorated the house annually. The lights and figures drew New Orleanians from across the metro area. Centanni turned off the lights when his wife passed in 1966. Now, a Centanni descendant owns the house. They’ve renewed the Christmas tradition.

Gold Seal Creamery

mid city magic

Antonino Centanni founded Gold Seal Creamery in the 1920s. Mid-City was very Sicilian at that time. Immigrants from Sicily arrived in numbers, starting in the 1880s. They quickly took over most of the Vieux Carre’s business locations. Pasta factories, bakeries, shoemakers, eventually even hotels came under Sicilian ownership. By 1915, the community asked the Archdiocese for permission to move St. Anthony of Padua Church from N. Rampart Street to Canal and S. St. Patrick Streets in Mid-City. Sicilians moved into the neighborhood bounded on one side by the New Canal and the Southern Railway’s Bernadotte Yard on the other.

mid city magic

Centanni opened his dairy at S. Alexander and D’Hemecourt Streets. This was close enough to the New Canal and Banks Street to easily take in raw milk in from farms via boat and truck. The dairy serviced the Mid-City neighborhood. The Centannis were the first local dairy to bring in homogenizing equipment. They homogenized milk for other dairies as well, increasing the profit of their business. Gold Seal branched out, selling “Creole Cream Cheese” to families and bakeries. Gold Seal’s cream cheese became the primary ingredient in cannolis, the Sicilian pastry, at many bakeries.

The Centanni Home

The success of Gold Seal meant the Centanni’s acquired some wealth. Antonino’s son, Sam, worked with his father in the business, and eventually took it over. He built the house at Canal and S. Murat Street, where he lived with his wife, Myra and their children. Mrs. Centanni went all-out in decorating the house for the season. In 1946, with wartime restrictions on lights and electricity consumption lifted, the Centannis went all-out in decorating the house. Myra added to their collection of wooden figures, adding plastic ones by the 1960s.

As the display grew, so did its reputation. Folks would add the Centanni home as one of their stops to go see Christmas lights in other neighborhoods. The display awed and inspired children throughout the 1950s, including a young man from the Ninth Ward named Al Copeland. Al would credit the Centannis as the inspiration for the huge light display at his Metairie home.

Myra Centanni passed on New Year’s Eve, 1966. Sam turned the lights off. In later years, the family allowed the display to live on. They donated many of the pieces to City Park. The park incorporated them into the annual “Celebration in the Oaks” presentation. While much of the Centanni pieces were older and “outdated,” City Park required so many things to fill out Storyland and the Botanical Gardens, the decorations were welcome.

Gold Seal Lofts

Mr. Sam sold Gold Seal Creamery in 1986. He was 88, and ready to hang it up. The building is now the “Gold Seal Lofts,” a condo conversion. The condos use a modified version of the Gold Seal logo.

The Modern House

mid city magic

Over fifty years after Myra passed, the Centanni home lights up Mid-City. With so many things “ain’t there no more,” it’s nice to see Mr. Bingle looking down from the porch.

Stein’s Canal Street

Stein’s Canal Street

Stein’s Canal Street occupied three different locations over the years.

stein's canal street

Stein’s Canal Street

Ad for Stein’s Clothing in the Times-Picayune, September 21, 1972. Stein’s was originally located at 800 Canal Street, corner Carondelet Street, but moved up in the 800 block in 1948. By the 1960s, the store returned to the corner, but on the 700 block side of Carondelet. The store, part of a national chain, featured men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing. Stein’s first came to New Orleans when Feibelman’s Department Store moved from 800 Canal to the corner of Baronne and Common Streets, in 1931.

Fellman’s to Feibelman’s to Stein’s

stein's canal street

The old Pickwick Hotel building, now Stein’s Clothing, 1940

When retailer Leon Fellman split with his brother Bernard in 1886, he opened his own store at 901 Canal. This was the old Mercier Building, which replaced Christ Episcopal Church, at the corner of Canal and Dauphine. By 1897, S. J. Shwartz acquired the entire Mercier Building for his new department store, Maison Blanche. Shwartz evicted Fellman. Leon went across the street. He convinced the owners of the Pickwick Hotel at 800 Canal to let him convert their building into a department store. They agreed, and he opened Leon Fellman’s.

Name change

Leon passed away in 1920. His family dropped the Fellman surname, returning to the German version of their name, Feibelman. The family changed the name of the store from Leon Fellman’s to Feibelman’s. In 1931, the family acquired the old NOPSI building at Baronne and Common. They demolished the building (it had been severely damaged by fire) and constructed a new store there. That left 800 Canal available. Stein’s leased the building, bringing the chain to New Orleans.

Gus Mayer takes over

Stein's Canal Street

Stein’s, 810 Canal Street, 1948

In 1948, another out-of-town chain, Gus Mayer, bought the old Pickwick Hotel. Their New Orleans store was in a small building on the French Quarter side of the 800 block of Canal. Gus Mayer demolished the old building, constructing their flagship store in the city. That building remains at 800 Canal, occupied by a CVS Drugstore.

Moving out

Gus Mayer’s purchase of the Pickwick building meant Stein’s had to find a new location. They moved next door, to 810 Canal Street. The store re-located a second time, to 738 Canal. So, by the 1950s, Stein’s stood on the river side of Carondelet and Canal, and Gus Mayer on the lake side of the corner.

stein's canal street

Stein’s Gentilly Woods, 1960

In the late 1950s, Stein’s opened a second location, in Gentilly Woods. That explains the “Downtown Store Only” reference in this 1972 ad. The chain folded in the 1980s. Kid’s Footlocker currently occupies 738 Canal Street.

Southern Railway Park in Faubourg Treme

Southern Railway Park in Faubourg Treme

Southern Railway Park stood just off from the tracks leading to Terminal Station.

southern railway park

Southern Railway Park

Franck Studios photos of Basin Street turning towards the lake in the late 1950s. The two parking tracks inside Southern Railway Park are visible on the left. Prior to 1954, railroad tracks leading out of Terminal Station at Canal and Basin Streets followed Basin, down to just before St. Louis Street. They turned lakebound at that point, heading into Mid-City. They connected with the “Back Belt” tracks, where trains turned east to cross the Industrial Canal and Lake Pontchartrain.

Terminal Station

The New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) built a railroad passenger station on Canal Street in 1908. Southern Railway assumed control of the station when it acquired NOTC in 1916. Southern shifted their operations from Press Street Station in the Bywater to Faubourg Treme. Tracks ran along Basin from Canal Street to St. Louis. Additionally, Southern built a freight station, just before the tracks curved north. That station stood at 501 Basin, just out of the frame of these photos, on the left. A private concern purchased the freight building in the early 2000s, converting it into Basin Street Station, a visitors center and event venue.

Business Cars

southern railway park

After trains for Southern Railway (or Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio, the other railroad using Terminal Station) unloaded their passengers, they pulled off to a service yard. Engines pulled the train up past the Municipal Auditorium, then backed the cars into a side yard. Additionally, Southern trains carried “business cars” throughout the system. These cars looked like open-ended observation cars. They contained offices, bedrooms, and a kitchen. Railroad executives used these cars to travel the system.

When business cars came to New Orleans, the railroad parked them next to the passenger car service yard. Those tracks terminated in Southern Railway Park. The executives got a landscaped area  where they could stretch their legs, or take a car to other parts of the city.

In 1954, the city consolidated passenger rail operations at Union Passenger Terminal, on Loyola Avenue. The city ordered the demolition of the five existing passenger stations. Southern Railway relocated the business car parking tracks to the location in this photo. They also moved several of the light fixtures like the one in this James H. Selzer photo from 1975.

Thanks to Mr. Maunsel White for sharing these photos on Facebook.

 

Southern Railway Terminal

Southern Railway Terminal

The Southern Railway Terminal on Basin Street serviced New Orleans for forty-six years.

southern railway terminal

Southern Railway Terminal

Franck Studios photo (via HNOC) of the Southern Railway Terminal, Canal and Basin Streets, downtown. This particular photo caught my eye because it’s a straight-on shot, rather than from an angle. The photographer stands in the Canal Street neutral ground. They shot the photo in-between streetcars. Krauss Department Store stands to the left. The Saenger Theater is visible to the right. Architect Daniel N. Burnham of Chicago, designer of the Flatiron building in New York, created this station. The New Orleans Terminal Company built it in 1908.

Not just Southern

While the electric sign at the top of the station’s arch proclaims Southern Railway, the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern (later Gulf, Mobile and Ohio) also operated here. The trains ran down Basin Street to St. Louis Street, where the tracks turned lakebound to head out of town. The Lafitte Corridor greenway runs the path of the old railroad tracks. The area remained abandoned for decades after passenger trains all moved over to Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola.

Other Features

This Southern Rialway terminal photo contains interesting details to unpack. Two of the fleur-de-lis light poles that light up Canal Street to this day flank the station. Union Sheet Metal Company fabricated those poles for the city in 1930. The pole on the right has a sign promoting the Community Chest charity. Since Mayor Chep Morrison extensively used the light posts to promote seasonal causes and celebrations, this narrows the date down. While HNOC does not date the photo, it’s likely between 1950 and 1954.

Newsies

southern railway terminal

Two men sit at small stands outside the Southern Railway terminal. One sits under an umbrella. I couldn’t read the words painted on either stand, so I put the question to the folks in Facebook’s “Ain’t There No More” group.. My original guess was the guy under the umbrella operated a food stand, and the other sold newspapers. Folks made out “ITEM” on the right-hand stand. That fits with the New Orleans Item newspaper. Longtime Times-Picayune photographer (and current director of the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House in Laplace) John McCusker says they’re both newsstands. Works for me!

JAX Truck, 1959

JAX Truck, 1959

A JAX truck at a body shop in 1959.

jax truck

JAX truck

A truck owned by the Jackson Brewing Company, parked by an auto body shop in Algiers, Louisiana, 21-May-1959. Photo is from Franck Studios, via HNOC. Several law firms hired Franck Studios for legal photography. So, it’s likely that a commercial truck parked at a body shop was involved in a collision. The HNOC caption says the truck is parked at City Auto and Body Company. The JAX truck is a Dodge, but I don’t know the model. If you’re a car/truck person, feel free to chime in.

The Jackson Brewing Company operated on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. The Fabacher family named their company for Jackson Square, right across the street. The Fabachers brewed beer in the Quarter from 1890 to 1974.

Two JAXes

While there was a vibrant German community in New Orleans, the Fabachers chose to name their beer after a New Orleans icon, Jackson Square. They shortened the brand name to JAX. The beer grew in popularity. This is significant, because New Orleans sported numerous local breweries at the beginning of the 20th Century. To expand the beer’s reach, the Fabachers opened s couple of restaurants. They served JAX in their establishments. PepsiCo used this business model, buying fast food chains like Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. They replaced Coca-Cola products in those stores with Pepsi. As Jax Brewery grew, the company ran afoul of the “other JAX beer.”

The Jacksonville Brewing Company of Jacksonville, Florida, also branded their beer, JAX. By 1935, the two brands collided. The companies established regional sales boundaries to settle the dispute. The Jacksonville Brewing Company closed shop in 1954. The New Orleans brewery acquired exclusive rights to JAX. So, the JAX Truck traveling through NOLA neighborhoods was always the local JAX.

Advertising truck

This JAX truck bears the words “Advertising Car” on the side. This told the town it carried no beer. The driver was likely a route salesman. This salesman drove from one bar to another, promoting his product. The advertising rep left printed material, such as posters, etc. The breweries either owned their own print shops or contracted with local shops. They made custom posters for just about anything. So long as the top of the printed material featured the beer’s logo, they’d print signs. The ad rep also carried branded glassware. He would gladly leave a case or two of glasses as he took that next order for keg delivery.

Barataria Shrimp Trawler

Barataria Shrimp Trawler

Barataria shrimp trawler heading to the Gulf of Mexico.

barataria shrimp trawler

Barataria shrimp trawler

The “Karaset C,” a trawler, heading out Bayou Barataria to the white shrimp fishing zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Howard “Cole” Coleman, undated, likely in the late 1950s. There are five or six people on the boat. Photo is part of the Thelma Hecht Coleman Memorial Collection at the Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University. I am not familiar with shrimp boats, so I don’t know much about the details of this craft. If you do, feel free to discuss in comments.

White shrimp season

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries monitors quantities of shrimp in the inshore/Louisiana parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They set the dates for fishing white shrimp. The season runs from mid-August to December.Some shrimping areas remain open, even into the summer. The idea is to allow shrimpers to go out and make a living while allowing time for the shrimp to hatch and grow to a size that makes harvesting economical.  So, every village down the bayous held a “Blessing of the Fleet,” and off the boats went.

So, this is the time of year where the boats head out to the Gulf. A classic joke in South Louisiana is that everyone’s a shrimper during hard economic times. While this was true at the time of this photo, climate change, tropical weather, and oil/gas mishaps present challenges to shrimpers.

Processing shrimp

When a trawler like Karaset C pull in their daily limit, they head back to port. Part of the daily routine for these boats and their crews is to load up with ice, early in the morning. They drop the nets, pull in shrimp, then head back to the dock. Brokers and processors bought the catches from the boats. Keeping their catch fresh in the August heat meant the shrimpers worked the inshore areas as long as they could. Boats that went further out into the Gulf risked the shrimp spoiling.

Once at the dock the boats sold the catch. In the case of docks like the one at the old Violet packing plant, boats could sell direct to the plant. Brokers and buyers from other plants would go to public docks, buy shrimp, then process them. The Violet plant created three end products. They broke off the heads of large-count shrimp and flash-froze them. The rest of the catch would be steamed, then machine-peeled. They used a conveyor-belt style peeler. The plastic on the belt expanded and contracted. This cracked the shells, which fell through to the floor. The shrimp went down the conveyor, where they were either canned or frozen. When I did computer support for that plant, I would love making excuses to go down to the plant, rather than the office in Elmwood. Pick up a loaf of french bread on the way down, and…shrimp po-boys!