Hurricane Betsy demonstrated the resilience of New Orleans and MS Gulf Coast

Hurricane Betsy demonstrated the resilience of New Orleans and MS Gulf Coast

Hurricane Betsy showed how resilient and strong the Third Coast is.

hurricane betsy

Damage to the old NAS New Orleans buildings at then-LSUNO, 1965 (Courtesy Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans)

Hurricane Betsy

On 10-September-1965, Hurricane Betsy hit Grand Isle, Louisiana. The storm formed as a tropical depression on 27-August-1965, in the Caribbean, near French Guinea. After Grand Isle, Betsy crawled up the Mississippi River. The wind pushed “storm surge” water from Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. The monetary damage from Betsy surpassed $1B. Betsy was the first storm hitting that mark.

Damage to New Orleans

hurricane betsy

Classroom damage at then-LSUNO, 1965 (Courtesy Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans)

Betsy damaged New Orleans on three fronts. Water pushed by the storm’s winds topped the levees along the lakefront. That flooded the “levee board neighborhoods”, subdivisions between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and the lake. Surge in New Orleans East pushed into the Lower Ninth Ward. That surge, as well as flood walls from the south slammed St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes hard. Second, wind blew down trees, utility poles, large signs, etc. Those falling objects damaged houses and businesses. Roofs fell victim to wind as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Hurricane Betsy spawned tornadoes in Metairie and Jefferson. While tornadoes are more localized, they still inflicted tremendous damage in small areas.

Aftermath

Hurricane Betsy ran up a big tab. New Orleanians paid the bills. They city was wet but not defeated. The people were windblown, but fully intended to stay.

The US Army Corp of Engineers, along with the city, learned much from Betsy. They learned the levees along the lake needed to be much higher. The Corps raised the levees. We built new floodwalls. City Hall developed new evacuation strategies. All that work protected the city for almost forty years.

Katrina

Hurricane Betsy

Flood waters from Katrina swallow the Lakeview branch of NOPL, 2005 (courtesy Loyola University New Orleans)

Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans on 29-August-2005. The preparations of the late 1960s and 1970s, for the most part, held. Some failed, most notably the levees and floodwalls on the city’s outfall canals. Evacuation strategies worked, particularly the “contraflow” lane configurations on interstate highways around the metro area.

The city got wet. The people got windblown. New Orleans and the federal government paid the bill. The people recovered from the damage. Others moved here, strengthening the city. Even the Superdome area came back strong, after serving as the “shelter of last resort”. The Katrina Diaspora continues to affect the city’s culture. While city wrestles with gentrification and “new” influences, groups and neighborhoods preserve what was here before Katrina.

Florida

Folks on the Florida Gulf Coast tell similar stories of wind and rain. National writers would be best advised to take a deep breath and consult history before writing off any town on the Third Coast as “gone”.

Support NOLA History Guy

We’ll never stop posting and telling stories, but we’re adding value for folks who can commit to a dollar a month in support. Check it out.

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey – Library of Congress

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey – Library of Congress

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey documents the old bridge.

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey

Huey P. Long Bridge, 1968 (Library of Congress)

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey

The first bridge to cross the Mississippi River in Louisiana, the Huey P. Long Bridge links the east and west banks of Jefferson Parish. The bridge opened in December, 1935. US Senator (and former Governor) Huey Pierce Long died on September 8, 1935. Therefore, the state named the bridge after him. So, the railroads switched from ferrying trains across the river to taking the bridge.

HAER

The National Park Service completed a HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) survey of the bridge in 1968. The Library of Congress houses HAER surveys.

There are 213 photos of the bridge in the HAER collection. The Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey is HAER LA-17. Here are the notes attached to the link:

– Significance: The Huey P. Long Bridge, the first bridge to cross the Mississippi River in Louisiana, was named for governor during whose administration it was built. is still considered a major engineering accomplishment and was recognized as the world’s longest steel trestle railroad bridge at 22,996′ (4.36 miles of structure) in length. It has two railroad tracks between two trusses and two, two-lane highways bracketed to the outside. It was built during the depression of the 1930s at a cost of $12.8 million. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
– Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1071
– Survey number: HAER LA-17
– Building/structure dates: 1935 Initial Construction

LOC archives a number of surveys for Louisiana locations. The government also does Historic American Building Surveys (HABS). Many exist for New Orleans buildings, like the old Canal Station streetcar barn.

The Old Huey

HABS/HAER documentation is valuable. Researchers step back in time. In the case of the Huey, the bridge underwent a major expansion. The state started that expansion in 2008. They completed the work in 2012.

The expansion removed the narrow auto lanes. So, no more tales of trying to pass an 18-wheeler as they head across the river! The HAER survey preserves the old bridge and the memories.

Cor Jesu Football, 1968 – Friday Night Lights in New Orleans

Cor Jesu Football, 1968 – Friday Night Lights in New Orleans

Cor Jesu Football – fall of 1968

cor jesu football

The Cor Jesu Marching Band, Tad Gormley Stadium, 1968.

Cor Jesu Football

The “Friday Night Lights” traditions of Brother Martin High School go back a long way. The two schools merged together to form BrM, St. Aloysius and Cor Jesu, participated in prep football. St. Aloysius High had a solid and competitive athletics department.

While St. Aloysius played strong, Cor Jesu came to prep sports late. The BOSH planned Cor Jesu to be an “academic” school. So, St. Aloysius was their “holistic” school. Cor Jesu opened in 1954, without athletics. By the fall of 1964, Brother Roland, SC, then the principal, announced the formation of an athletics department. Cor Jesu fielded football, basketball, baseball, track and golf teams. The school also formed a drill team as part of the band program.

The brothers hired a St. Aloysius/LSU grad, Andy Bourgeois, as the school’s first AD and football coach. Bourgeois was a member of LSU’s “Chinese Bandits” defense in 1958. Coach hired Bob Conlin as head basketball and assistant football coach.

Bourgeois and Conlin started from scratch on Elysian Fields. Cor Jesu posted a winless record in 1965. The team came along naturally. Gentilly was a baby-boomer neighborhood in the 1960s. So, more of the first wave of boomers chose Cor Jesu. It wasn’t hard to get to St. Aloysius via NOPSI. For Gentilly families, Cor Jesu was even easier. Therefore, the athletics teams improved.

Cor Jesu and St. Aloysius – the legacy

Cor Jesu came a long way from their rocky football start in 1965. So, the team that merged with St. Aloysius to play as Brother Martin in 1969 was solid. Two seasons later, those “men who never say die” won the LHSAA 4-A state championship.

Football Halftime

Cor Jesu’s music program lacked only one thing in 1964–a marching band. That changed as football debuted. Brother Virgil Harris, SC, put his band on the field with for halftime shows in that first season.

This photo shows the Cor Jesu marching band performing at a football game in 1968. The band forms a “CJ” on the field of Tad Gormley Stadium.

Thanks to Brother Neal Golden, SC (CJ ’57) for all his research documenting BOSH athletics.

 

 

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture

canal street architecture

S. H. Kress Building, 921 Canal Street, 1959. (Franck Studios photo)

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress

The S. H. Kress store on Canal Street opened in 1913. It filled the niche between the Maison Blanche building, built in 1908, and the Audubon Building, built in 1910. The store operated from 1913 until 1981. It is now, along with the Maison Blanche building, part of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Canal Street architecture passed through several phases, but the hotels return to the classic looks.

Kress – “five and dime” stores

Samuel Henry Kress opened his first store, selling “stationary and notations” in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, in 1887. The store was a success, enabling Kress to expand. He took the concept of “5-10-25 cent” stores to the Main Streets of America, such as Fifth Avenue in New York City, Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, and Canal Street, in New Orleans. While the upfront investment was considerable, the stores were successful. Kress made a good bit of money. He established a family foundation to give some of it back.

The 900 Block of Canal Street

new orleans architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1883. Robinson Atlas Plate 6 (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)

In the 1880s, the 900 block of Canal Street consisted of the Christ Episcopal Church on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. Next was the Grand Opera House. Then several smaller buildings, leading up to the corner of Canal and Burgundy. In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal auctioned their church to the highest bidder. The Mercier family bought the property. The church moved up to St. Charles Avenue and Six Street. This shift brought major changes to Canal Street architecture.

canal street architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1910. The Audubon Building is on the left, then the gap that used to be the Grand Opera House, then the MB Building. (courtesy LOC)

The Merciers demolished the church and built a five-story retail building. Simon J. Shwartz acquired the building in 1897. The Grand Opera House was demolished around 1900. In 1908, Shwartz demolished the Mercier Building. His “new” Maison Blanche opened in stages. Construction finished on it in 1909. A year later, investors acquired the buildings between the Grand Opera House and Burgundy Street in the 900 block.  They built the Audubon Building.  The Grand Opera House was demolished. A gap existed between the Audubon Building and MB for a couple of years. S. H. Kress bought the site of the Grand Opera House, 921 Canal Street. They filled in the gap with one of their five-and-dime stores.

Civil Rights and Kress

S. H. Kress segregated its lunch counters in Jim Crow states. Protesters in Greensboro, NC, targeted Kress as part of their first sit-ins. Protests and boycotts followed in other Southern cities, including Nashville Jackson, MS. Protesters in Baton Rouge targeted Kress for their initial protests.

The Kress store at 921 Canal avoided the protests of other cities. Civil Rights activists focused on the F. W. Woolworth store down the street. While I have no documentation here, I suspect Kress wasn’t targeted because it was next to Maison Blanche. The entrance to the Maison Blanche Office Building was right next to the Kress entrance. Blocking the MB entrance meant blocking access to the offices of a number of doctors and dentists, along with other professional offices. Perhaps activists considered this when choosing to picket Woolworth.

The front facade

Canal street architecture

The 900 block of Canal Street in 1976. The white porcelain covering on the Kress building is visible on the right.

Kress remodeled the Canal Street store in 1960. They covered the original building’s facade with a white, porcelain overlay. The original facade remained underneath. New owners removed the porcelain overlay in 1983. The building returned to its 1913 look.

Sale to Genesco

In 1964, the Kress family sold out to Genesco, Inc. The new owners dropped the Kress business model. So, they expanded the chain, moving into suburban shopping malls. Genesco closed Kress stores, starting in 1980. The Canal Street store closed as part of that first wave. The building passed through several owners. In 2000, the building became part of the footprint of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. While the front facade remains, the interior is now the parking garage for the hotel.

 

 

Ring Mass, Cor Jesu High School Class of 1969

Ring Mass, Cor Jesu High School Class of 1969

Ring Mass

ring mass

Cor Jesu Class of 1969 Ring Mass, August, 1968 (Brother Martin High School photo)

Ring Mass and Ring Dance are still a big deal.

The BMHS Facebook page did a “look back” on senior rings today, since the Brother Martin High Class of 2019 receive their rings at a Mass this evening. That ring is a Big Deal in a town where “Where did you go to high school?” is a regularly-asked question. This shouldn’t be all that surprising for folks, when you remember, a lot of men didn’t go to college before WWII. Many St. Aloysius men wrapped up their formal education when they received their diplomas. That senior ring was a public proclamation that the wearer made it. Whether that was Aloysius, Easton, Jesuits, Nicholls, etc, you made it. You finished high school and were ready for what the world had to offer.

After World War II, the G.I. Bill gave so many white men the opportunity to go college and get on with their lives. Many went to school full-time. Others went to work, taking advantage of their veterans’ benefits a bit later in life. The State of Louisiana identified a need for a “commuter” college in New Orleans in the 1950s, and Louisiana State University at New Orleans (LSUNO), now the University of New Orleans (UNO) was born. Generations of men and women got senior rings from their universities and colleges, and wear them proudly.

Pride

Collection of St. Aloysius, Cor Jesu, and Brother Martin rings from over the years. (Brother Martin High School photo)

The Cor Jesu High School class of 1969 was particularly proud of their rings. They were the last CJ class ever. When they graduated, the school closed. the doors re-opened in August of 1969 as Brother Martin High School. I can only imagine the emotions that swirled around St. Frances Cabrini Church on that evening in 1968 when the Class of ’69 received their senior rings. I never went to Cor Jesu, either as a prospective student or student. I toured Brother Martin as a seventh grader in the fall of 1970, and began my eighth grade year in the fall of 1971. From those first renovations to convert Cor Jesu to Brother Martin, to the recent renovations to the library and the Mall, the school keeps current.

Cor Jesu was gone, but much of its heritage remained. The crimson and gold of the Kingsmen became the colors of the Crusaders of Brother Martin. The “old building” was a daily reminder of the original school. The neighborhood didn’t change when the school did.

Cabrini Church

St. Frances Cabrini Church holds a lot of memories for me. I got my senior ring there, in the fall of 1975, and our graduation mass was there the following spring. When I taught at Redeemer High School (which was located next to Cabrini), we regularly used the church for school masses. I got married there in 1982. I always found it to be a welcoming church. The Risen Christ in the sanctuary was inviting, particularly to kids and teens. It broke my heart when the church was demolished in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Facebook!

Cover image for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans Facebook page.

I nicked one of the photos (above) from the school’s website, to change up the cover page for the BOSH book’s Facebook presence. Thanks, folks!

So, here’s to the the Men Who Never Say Die, class of 2019! Well done on your rings, gentlemen!

Maison Blanche Airline

Maison Blanche Airline

Maison Blanche Airline

maison blanche airline

Maison Blanche Airline, 1956 (Franck Studios photo)

The first suburban MB – Maison Blanche Airline

When S. J. Shwartz founded Maison Blanche in 1897, MB was a single store on Canal Street. It remained that way until 1947, when the company opened its second location, at Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues. A year later, the company went out to Gentilly, opening a store at Frenchmen Street and Gentilly Boulevard. In the late 1940s, post WWII, Gentilly was considered a “suburb” with respect to the rest of the city.

The “real” suburbs of New Orleans at that time were around, but did not have the economic significance they would have later. Jefferson Parish had three distinct neighborhoods close to the city: Jefferson, Metairie, and Bucktown. Going downriver from the city, St. Bernard Parish had Arabi, Chalmette, and Meraux. While both parishes had towns further out, these were the ‘burbs.

Getting to Jefferson Parish

maison blanche airline

Tulane Avenue in the 1950s (Morrison Collection, NOPL)

The main conduit connecting modern East Jefferson to New Orleans is I-10, but the interstate highway system was just in the planning stages in the 1950s. President Eisenhower saw the value of the autobahn system in Germany, and wanted that for the US. In the meantime, folks living outside the city proper needed routes to get back into the stores, shops, and other establishments.

mid-city new orleans maison blanche airline

Shopping center at S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues, 1952

Rather than expand out into Jefferson Parish immediately, MB opened their first store in Mid-City. The Tulane and Carrollton location appealed to the the growning Mid-City and Lakeview neighborhoods, because folks didn’t have to go all the way to the CBD. S. Carrollton Avenue was where Tulane Avenue became Airline Highway. Airline was US Hwy 61, which led out of town and northwest to Baton Rouge. As Metairie began to expand, those folks came to the edge of town to shop at MB.

Opening in the suburbs

Crescent Drive-in on Airline Highway in Metairie, 1950 (Franck Studios Photo)

The property along Airline Highway in the late 1940s was largely undeveloped and inexpensive. In 1950, the Crescent Drive-In opened, along with the Crescent Shopping Center next door. The main reason drive-ins across the country closed was rising property values. The owners would sell to developers, and they’d move the drive-in further out into the burbs. By 1955, this happened to the Crescent. Developers built the Airline Village Shopping Center on the property. The main anchor of Airline Village was Maison Blanche Airline.

MB Airline attracted shoppers from the growing subdivisions along Metairie Road. Folks who lived near St. Martin’s Episcopal and St. Catherine of Sienna churches took Metairie Road to Atherton Drive, and turned towards Airline. They’d cross the railroad tracks (the “back belt”), and ended up right in the back parking lot of Maison Blanche Airline.

Shopping at MB Airline

Maison Blanche Airline

Like the stores on Carrollton and in Gentilly, MB Airline carried the same product lines the main store on Canal Street did. If there was something advertised in the paper that wasn’t available on the sales floor at Airline Village, the store gladly transferred it from downtown, or the customer could arrange for free home delivery.

My personal memories of MB Airline were when we lived in Old Metairie. I was a Cub Scout in the pack that was sponsored by Mullholland Memorial Methodist Church on Metairie Road. My parents would bring me from our house on Dream Court, up Metairie Road and that back route into Airline Village. MB was one of the “official” Scouting stores back then. So, that’s where we bought my uniforms, t-shirts, pocket knives, etc.

Clearview and decline

maison blanche airline

Architectural rendering, Airline Village Shopping Center

MB Airline was a resounding success for the chain well into the 1970s. When Interstate 10 opened and dominated the traffic patterns, Maison Blanche recognized the shift. They opened a new store in the Clearview Shopping Center. That mall is between I-10 and Veterans Boulevard, at the Clearview Parkway exit.

MB Airline declined rapidly after the Clearview store opened. New subdivisions developed between Veterans and the lake. Lakeside Mall and Clearview Mall became the focal points of retail shopping in Metairie. While MB Airline was convenient for residents of “Old Metairie”, everyone else favored the malls. Maison Blanche recognized this, and closed the Airline Village location.

Airline Village Today

maison blanche airline

Celebration Church (Darrell Harden photo)

The main anchor of Airline Village is now Celebration Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation.

Be sure to check out my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores by “liking” our page on Facebook.

Become a Patron

Support NOLA History Guy’s writing by becoming a Patron. Our goals are 100 patrons supporting us at $1 per month. When we reach this goal, we’ll be able to move forward with anthology production and publication.

Become a Patron!


Shop Edward’s bookstore

Edward’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, as well as Amazon, Kobo, B&N, and other online booksellers.

For signed copies of Edward’s books, visit his online bookshop:


Hidden Talents


Dragon’s Danger


Maison Blanche Department Stores


Legendary Locals of New Orleans


Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans


New Orleans Jazz


New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line