Maison Blanche Gentilly was the second store off of Canal Street.
MB Gentilly, 1948. Franck Studios via THNOC
Maison Blanche Gentilly
Franck Studios photo of Maison Blanche Gentilly in 1948. The department store opened its third store just off Gentilly Boulevard, at Frenchmen Street. This strip mall anchored a large commercial development near the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard. Other stores in the strip at this time include Walgreens, Morgan and Lindsey (a five-and-dime store) and Capital Stores Supermarket. A huge billboard for JAX Beer stands above the Walgreens. The MB is the only two-story store.
The intersection of Elysian Fields and Gentilly Blvd grew into an important commercial area towards the end of the 19th century. The Pontchartrain Railroad operated along the length of Elysian Fields, from Chartres Street to Milneburg at the lake. The railroad marked the road along the Gentilly Ridge, Gentilly Road, the half-way point of the route. The train stopped there if a passenger notified the conductor. The train also stopped for pick-up if it was flagged down. The rail stop evolved into a local hub. The Zuppardo’s parked their produce truck there. That evolved into a brick-and-mortar store. Several Jewish congregations purchased the high ground on the ridge. They built cemeteries there, so they could bury their loved ones in-ground.
World War II
After the war, men and women came home, ready to start families of their own. Developers created subdivisions around the commercial hub. While housing remained segregated, Pontchartrain Park opened as a subdivision for Black families. So, more businesses opened. The Frenchmen strip mall reflected that demand. Residents of Gentilly appreciated the convenience. Instead of taking the Gentilly streetcar (on Franklin) or the Elysian Fields bus into the CBD, they shopped at Maison Blanche Gentilly.
T-P ad, 24-October-1953
“The Woman who works shops at MB for smart, thrift-wise wearables” in this ad in the Times-Picayune, 24-October-1953. MB enticed the working woman with nylon blousettes, wool suits and dresses, and butter calf handbags. With the Gentilly Store, woman shopped without having to schlep back downtown!
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.
Dan’s Pier 600 often featured Al Hirt
Pier 600 on Bourbon Street
Photo of Dan’s Pier 600 club, ca. 1955. Dan Levy, Sr., opened Pier 600 in the early 1950s. While the club stood at 501 Bourbon, corner St. Louis, it gets its name from Dan Levy’s restaurant at 600 Bourbon. Levy enjoyed success with Dan’s International Settlement, at 600 Bourbon, corner Toulouse.
Al Hirt (right), with guests, at Dan’s Pier 600 Jazz Club, 1950s.
Dan’s Pier 600 hosted a number of jazz musicians over the years. Before opening his own club, Al Hirt played Pier 600 regularly. He recorded Volume 3 of his “Swingin’ Dixie” series at the club. You can see Jumbo’s photo on the St. Louis Street side of the club. He’s wearing a crown, and the caption says, “Al Hirt – He’s the King.” Pete Fountain also played at Pier 600 in the early days of his career, both with Hirt and also on his own.
Levy’s son, Dan Jr., joined his father in the business upon his return to the city from college in 1956. Dan Jr. In addition to managing Pier 600, he managed The Al Hirt Club, The Old Absinthe Bar and Nobody Likes a Smart Ass comedy club.
Dan’s International Settlement served Chinese food at 600 Bourbon. While there was a robust Chinese community in New Orleans dating back to the 19th Century, Dan’s is regarded as the first commercial Chinese restaurant in town. Levy opened the restaurant in 1946, partnering with Frank Gee. The location is now Tropical Isle.
A number of articles over the years The street lamp in this photo of Pier 600 clearly says it’s at the corner of St. Louis and Bourbon Streets. That’s 501 Bourbon. 600 Bourbon is at the corner of Toulouse and Bourbon. So, the two establishments are not just one building, re-branded over the years. Pier 600 was a shout-out to the existing restaurant. While the restaurant’s building looks much like it did in the 1950s, the Pier 600 building underwent significant renovations.
Photo is courtesy the New Orleans Jazz Museum collection. Thanks also to Dominic Massa, for his 2014 obit of Dan Jr., when he was at WWL-TV.
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.
The Louisville and Nashville operated the Humming Bird train.
The Humming Bird
“The Humming Bird crossing Biloxi Bay – Louisville and Nashville R. R.” – Linen postcard printed in the late 1940s. L&N operated the Humming Bird (the two-word name is correct) between Cincinnati and New Orleans, from 1947 to 1969. While the route originally ran as a no-frills train, L&N added Pullman sleepers by 1953.
Like the other L&N passenger trains, the train operated out of the railroad’s terminal at the end of Canal Street (where the Aquarium of the Americas stands now). They moved to Union Passenger Terminal in 1954, along with all the other railroads.
Blue Humming Bird
The train’s cars originally had a stainless-steel sheathing. After a few years, the railroad removed the stainless because of corrosion issues underneath it. They then painted the cars blue. L&N re-shot the stainless-steel version of the postcard, updating it for the blue cars. These postcards were available on the train for passengers.
When it first rolled in 1947, the train consisted of 7 cars: five coaches, a tavern-lounge car, and a diner. American Car Foundry delivered 48 cars to L&N. The ran two sets of seven on the Humming Bird. Additionally, cars from that ACF order ran on the Georgian.
While the route’s popularity was in its speed and simplicity, L&N expanded the consist in 1953. They added sleepers, “6-6-4” cars from Pullman. The cars contained six open births (“sections”), six “roomettes,” and four double bedrooms. The sections were open areas. You had your bed and that was that. The roomettes were walled rooms containing one bed. Section and roomette passengers used communal toilets and sinks. Bedrooms included en suite toilet and sink.
New Orleans Stations
Humming Bird departing the L&N terminal on Canal Street, 1947
Humming Bird operated in and out of the L&N terminal from 1947 to 1954. Operations moved to Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. The city demolished the Canal Street terminal after UPT opened. This photo shows the Humming Bird departing the Canal Street terminal.
End of an era
L&N discontinued the train in 1969, saying it was no longer profitable. This was two years before the creation of the national passenger rail corporation, AMTRAK.
Unpacking Homer E. Turner’s Canal Street at Night painting offers interesting details.
Turner’s Canal Street at Night
Painting, “Canal Street at Night” by Homer E. Turner, 1950. The artists stands in the neutral ground of Canal Street at N. Rampart. Turner looks up Canal, towards the lake. Released from the restrictions of the war, neon signs dominate the street. While there are numerous color photos from the period, this painting is so detailed, it’s not surprising that casual viewers take it for a photograph, maybe on a rainy evening where the camera lens was a bit misty.
Homer E. Turner
Born in 1898, Turner painted New Orleans scenes from 1938 to 1950. The landmarks captured in this painting place it at the end of that period. He died in 1981. The New Orleans Art League, an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans. took notice of Turner’s work and exhibited his paintings. The League featured visiting artists in shows at their gallery 630 Toulouse Street. They also held annual exhibitions at the Delgado Museum of Art (now the New Orleans Museum of Art).
Canal Street, 1950
Turner captures Canal Street, above Rampart. The established retail stores in the city stood in blocks closer to the river. Starting with Godchaux’s in the 501 block, shopping came to an end in with Maison Blanche in the 901. j
That changed in the first half of the 20th Century. Leon Fellman, bought the houses in the 1201 block of Canal in the late 1890s. He built a new store building there and leased it to the Krauss Brothers. By 1908, Southern Railway moved their passenger terminal to Canal and Basin Streets, next to Krauss. Move theaters, such as the Saenger, Loews, and Joy, popped up. While not physically on Canal Street, the Roosevelt Hotel, (originally the Grunewald) towered over Canal.
Turn on the lights
Nighttime changed the vibe of Canal Street. The stores closed around 6pm daily. So, nobody ran downtown to pick up something in the evening. Streetcars carried workers and shoppers alike to the residential sections of the city. By dusk, signs on Canal Street enticed riders and drivers with things other than shopping. Some signs were practical in nature, such as The Roosevelt’s, directing drivers to turn onto Baronne Street and the hotel’s entrance.Other hotels, such as the Hotel New Orleans (now the Vinache) and the Jung, made sure visitors and taxi drivers knew where they were going. So, advertisers presented large neon clocks to those on the street. They kept people looking up. Additionally, the marquees of the theaters proclaimed what was playing that evening, and you didn’t want to be late.
Food and beverage products used neon, enticing passersby to eat Blue Plate products, such as mayonnaise and coffee. Then there was Three Feathers, a popular blended American whiskey. You might
It was not uncommon for stores to light up the night in front of their main entrances. The one prominent exception to this on Canal Street was Maison Blanche. So, its thirteen-story building (behind the artist in this painting) stood large without illumination.
After the rain
Turner shows the streetcar tracks in the center of Canal Street as if it’s just rained. The neon reflects on the concrete. the rows of fleur-de-lis lamposts reflect as well. That rain was likely welcomed by diners and moviegoers waling the street in its aftermath.