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.
Private varnish Berlin Sleeping Car rides to New York via the Amtrak Crescent.
Berlin Sleeping Car
The Amtrak Crescent 🌙 #20 pulled three private railcars to New York’s Penn Station (NYP on 25-February-2022. We talked about the two Patrick Henry railcars in a previous post. So, the private car, “Berlin” was the third car. This photo shows Berlin coupled to AMTK 69001, a “Bag-Dorm” car. Those cars provide baggage storage for passengers. Additionally, they contain roomettes for crew.
Berlin bears the paint scheme and livery of the American Orient Express, a private railcar charter, and previous owner of the car. While the livery is similar to the Patrick Henry cars, there are two operators.
Union Pacific Sleepers
Pullman-Standard built ten “Placid” series sleeper cars for Union Pacific in 1956. The cars contained 11 double-bed compartments. UP operated the Placids until 1971. The railroad turned them over to Amtrak at that time. Amtrak operated the sleepers throughout the 1970s. American Orient Express acquired three of the Placids. They renamed Placid Lake, “Berlin,” and Placid Waters, “Vienna.” Those names tied into the AOE theme.
The Placid series Pullmans were streamliners. While other railroads chose the corrugated style for their new cars, UP operated smooth-siders. The City of Portland and City of Los Angeles, two of UP’s “name trains,” operated the Placids. Amtrak took these cars into service as part of their “heritage” fleet. As the national passenger railroad acquired its own equipment, Viewliner and Superliner sleepers, they phased out the Placids. Private charter companies refurbished the older cars. They offered charter service, re-creating the “golden” age of streamliners.
The Berlin Sleeping Car’s website presents a detailed history of Placid Lake/Berlin. They include photos of the UP and Amtrak incarnations of Placid Lake. The site includes a floor plan of the car’s current interior. Berlin now contains six bedrooms and an kitchenette. This offers passengers a great more space than the eleven double-occupancy rooms of the UP design.
While private railcar adventures aren’t cheap, the charters usually are priced per trip. So, if you put together a group of twelve, it’s something to think about!
Amtrak #20 in New Orleans
The Amtrak Crescent operates daily service from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOL) to New York Penn Station (NYP), via Atlanta, Richmond, and DC. In this photo the Crescent pulls Berlin over the underpass at Canal Boulevard in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood.
We’re unpacking Loews Theater from 1957.
Unpacking Loew’s State Theater
Photo of the Loew’s State Theater, May, 1957. The theater stands on the corner of Canal and S. Rampart Streets. A WDSU radio remote unit sits outside on Canal Street. Barry’s Shoe Store and an A&G Restaurant to the right. The Loew’s wraps up the run of “Designing Women” with Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall. The next film, “The Bachelor Party,” appears on the main marquee.
State/Loew’s State/State Palace
The Loew’s Cineplex Entertainment theater chain constructed a theater in New Orleans in 1926. They located it at Canal and S. Rampart. Additionally, Loew’s, named for founder Marcus Loew, owned Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios. On April 3, 1926, a cavalcade of silent movie stars joined Loew to open the State Theater. Later, the chain re-branded it as “Loew’s State Theater.”
By the 1950s, Loew’s State, standing across Canal Street from the Saenger Theater, regularly offered MGM movies to New Orleans.
ad for the film “The Bachelor Party” in the Times-Picayune, 15-April-1957
Hecht, Hill and Lancaster opened their film, “Bachelor Party” in New Orleans on 19-April-1957. The film starred Don Murray, E.G. Marshall, Patricia Smith, and Carolyn Jones. While this photo isn’t dated, the scene is consistent with the week before the film’s opening. So, WDSU Radio, AM 1280, rolled out their remote studio. They parked the trailer in front of Loew’s State. The signs on top of the remote studio display,
WDSU – LOEW’S STATE
The rear of the trailer displays the current on-air host, Wally King. There are a few signs in the glass front of the studio that are unreadable (at least by me). If you can “clean it up,” as the nonsense teevee shows say, please let me know.
Patricia Smith on tour
Interview with Patricia Smith, star of “Bachelor Party” in the Times-Picayune, 15-April-1957.
The Times-Picayune ran an interview with “Pat” Smith on Wednesday, April 17th, from the day before. It was typical for the studios to send the stars of a film out to various cities. Smith received an itinerary that included New Orleans. Paddy Chayefsky wrote “Bachelor Party.” Delbert Mann directed the film. Smith expressed excitement that she may get to go to the Cannes Film Festival, should the film be shown there.
So, my guess is that Da Paper interviewed Smith at The Roosevelt, which was just down the street from the theater. WDSU required their equipment for a proper radio interview. They brought the studio to Canal and S. Rampart. Since the theater’s name appears on the rooftop sign on the trailer that evening, Loew’s likely sponsored the interview.
Unpacking Loew’s State Theater includes the retail storefronts in the building. From right to left:
A&G Restaurant – A&G opened their first “restaurant” on Canal and N. Broad in the 1940s. We know the chain as “cafeterias,” but the branding in the 40s and 50s was as restaurants. I’m not sure if that’s just how they chose to name the places, or if they were actual restaurants at the time. I need to look into this further. While they were all cafeteria service when I remember going to the ones on Broad and in Metairie in the 1960s, they all had “waiters” who would bring your tray to the table for you. It’s almost as if they were holdovers from restaurant-style service. This is on my to-do list now. Typical of these “unpacks,” I’m left with more questions than answers.
Barry’s Shoe Store – Most of the larger neon sign next to the marquee is cut off at this angle, but the sign over the store’s door shows the full name. The big sign tips off what kind of shoe store Barry’s was. That’s the signature symbol of “Red Goose Shoes” on the right. So, Barry’s specialized in kids shoes. I found a couple of memories in books of New Orleanians being taken to Barry’s for shoes by their moms. Again, more to come on that.
Polly’s and Cotton’s – Out of frame on the right stood Polly’s Lingerie, next to the main theater entrance. Cotton’s Jewelers stood next to Polly’s, at the corner.
The Woman He Loved joined the Duke of Windsor for Carnival in 1950.
Mardi Gras History: Rex, the Duke, and The Woman He Loved
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor bow to Rex, at the Rex ball, 21-February-1950. The ducal couple viewed the Rex parade from the stands at the Boston Club on Canal Street, then attended the ball at the Municipal Auditorium that evening. The Duke of Windsor was the former King of the UK, Edward VIII.
The Grand Duke Alexi Romanov was not the only “real” royal who attended Rex. Almost eighty years after Rex hosted the Grand Duke, they greeted another King. Well, a former King of England, that is. In 1950, His Royal Highness, Edward, Duke of Windsor, and his wife, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, attended Carnival in New Orleans. Their visit culminated with the bal masque of Rex on Mardi Gras night.
The Duke and Duchess arrive at City Hall (now Gallier Hall) to meet with Mayor Morrison, February 20, 1950. Cole Coleman photo via the Howard-Tilton Library at Tulane
The story of how the man who was once Edward VIII came to bow to the King of Carnival, begins in 1934. Known as “David” to his family, the oldest son of King George V was quite the womanizer. He took up with a number of married women at his home near Windsor Castle. One of those women introduced David to a friend, Wallis Warfield Simpson. Wallis was in the process of divorcing her second husband at the time. So, her relationship with the then Prince of Wales was considered to be quite scandalous. His parents refused to receive his new mistress, seriously straining their relationship with the next king. George V died on January 20, 1936. David acceded to the throne as Edward VIII, and declared his intention to marry Wallis upon the finalization of her divorce.
Neither the government nor the Church of England wanted a woman who was twice-divorced and whose ex-husbands were still alive to become Queen Consort. David insisted he would marry Wallis, even if it meant giving up the throne. Give it up he did, on December 10, 1936. His brother, Albert, Duke of York (“Bertie” to the family), became George VI, and his daughter, now HM Queen Elizabeth II, became heiress presumptive.
Life after abdication
King George conferred the title of Duke of Windsor on his older brother. Wallis and David were married in 1937, and lived in France for a time. With the outbreak of World War II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor moved to the Bahamas, settling in Paris after the war. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the couple were regularly traveled between Paris and New York, heading down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 1950.
Like many dignitaries visiting the city for Carnival, the Duke and Duchess were treated as VIPs, welcomed by the mayor and city government, and feted by New Orleans society. They attended parades at Gallier Hall (which was still City Hall then), and viewed Rex at the Boston Club on Canal Street.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor view the Rex Parade at the Boston Club, 21-February-1950
The bal masque of the Rex Organization is a very formal and traditional affair. The guests, in formal attire (evening gowns for the ladies, white tie and tails for the gentlemen) arrive in advance of the royal party. Promptly at 9 p.m., Rex and his queen enter the ballroom. David and The Woman He Loved, along with the dukes and maids, form up for a Grand March around the room. Rex and his queen are then seated on elaborate thrones, where they receive their guests. The maids (who are some of the season’s top debutantes) are presented, escorted by the krewe’s dukes. Unlike most Carnival organizations, the dukes of Rex wear white tie and tails rather than masking; the captain and three lieutenants are the only officers who mask for the ball.
With the court now formally presented to Rex, they take their places to either side of the royal couple, and their majesties’ distinguished guests are then presented. Naturally, the Duke and Duchess led those presentations in 1950. HRH and Wallis played their parts with grace and ease, bowing to the mock-royalty of Carnival as if they were at Buckingham Palace.
No doubt the Duke and the Woman He Loved accompanied Rex and his consort when they left ball at the invitation of Comus. The captain of the Mystic Krewe of Comus arrives at the Rex ball at 11:15 p.m. At the Comus, Rex and his queen, along with Comus and his queen, perform a Grand March around the Comus ballroom floor. The Captain of Comus presented the dignitaries all four of Carnival’s top royalty. This tradition of the “meeting of the courts” continues to this day. Comus (Carnival’s oldest organization) no longer parades on the streets of New Orleans.
Just before the bell tolls midnight, Rex, Comus, and their consorts bow to those in attendance at the Comus ball and take their leave. The captain of Comus bows. The stage hands draw the curtains. Mardi Gras is officially over. The celebrations continue into the wee hours. Private parties continue in various locations across the city.
HRH the Duke of Windsor lived a complicated and controversial life. His respect for the Carnival traditions of New Orleans earned him a permanent place in the collective heart of the city.
Happy Mardi Gras!
NOTE: I wrote this article in 2012 for GoNOLA.com. They lost the photos, so I’m re-posting it here.
The King Fish Beer Parlor anchored the 1100 block of Decatur Street
King Fish Beer Parlor
William Russell photo of the King Fish Beer Parlor, 1101 Decatur Street. The photo, courtesy the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, is undated. Most of Russell’s photos date to the 1950s. The building stands at the corner of Ursuline and Decatur Streets. So, the corner housed a number of businesses over the years. From the 1900s to the 1950s, the owners leased 1101 Decatur as dance clubs, night clubs, and jazz clubs. These clubs created an expansion into the Ursuline Row Houses that continue down the 1100 block. It’s currently mixed-use residential/commercial.
1101 Decatur Street is described by the Historic New Orleans Collection as:
This address consists of three, nice late Victorian Eclectic style brick commercial buildings designed by Thomas Sully for the Ursulines Nuns. The building at the corner has three stories and the other two buildings facing Ursulines each have two stories. These structures replaced the original Ursulines Row Houses that were destroyed by fire.
So, the 1884 building operated as a manufacturing/warehouse facility. The owners leased the ground floor as retail space. Cigar maker Jules Sarrazin moved his business there. By 1900, the ground floor became a night club, the Pig Pen. That club later moved to Bourbon Street. The King Fish Beer Parlor took its place at 1101 Decatur.
The New Orleans Jazz Commission created a walking tour that includes the King Fish. The tour (PDF here) starts at the New Orleans Jazz Museum at 400 Esplanade. The museum occupies the Old US Mint. Additionally, there are still numismatic exhibits. Here’s the tour’s description for stop #6, 1101 Decatur:
This Italianate style building by architect Thomas Sully was built in 1884. The King Fish, probably known briefly as the Pig Pen, was another of the more longlived clubs. Operated by Vincent Serio, Jr. and Arthur Schott, aka the King Fish, the musicians featured included George Lewis, Billie Pierce, Dee Dee Pierce, Burke Stevenson, and Smilin’ Joe (Pleasant Joseph).
So, 1101 Decatur pushed me down rabbit hole! While its history as a jazz club attracted me, the full story requires attention. More to come on this fascinating corner.
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
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.
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
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.