The Sheraton Charles Hotel was the last incarnation of the venerable hotel.
Sheraton Charles Hotel
Ad for the Sheraton Charles Hotel, May 7, 1973. The Sheraton chain bought the hotel in 1965. They re-branded the property, “Sheraton-Charles,” enticing tourists with its proximity to the French Quarter:
Sheraton Gives you modern comfort in an Old World atmosphere, one block from the famous French Quarter
And check those prices! Single rooms $18-$22.
The ad shows an illustration of the third incarnation of the hotel. The summer of 1973 was its last tourist season. The owner, Louis J. Roussel, Jr., demolished the building in 1974. the location became the Place St. Charles office building in 1984.
St. Charles the third
The St. Charles Hotel’s third incarnation, 1940s
Over the decades, the ground-floor storefront shops of the St. Charles Hotel housed ticket offices for railroad and steamboat companies. While some companies operated their own services. others engaged ticket agents. These were the predecessors of travel agencies. All a traveler staying at the St. Charles had to do was go downstairs to the street, find the, say, L&N or Southern Pacific office, and make any changes necessary to their itinerary. Over time, the airlines opened ticket offices, as the railroads migrated over to Union Passenger Terminal, when it opened in 1954. The offices morphed into pick-up points over time. Travelers used the telephone to call, then come get the physical tickets when they were ready. By the time of this 1973 ad, a concierge in the hotel lobby booked travel for guests. Travel agents acquired access to airline and railroad computer systems. They booked and printed out documents for almost all carriers.
The first incarnation of the St. Charles Hotel opened in the 200 block of St. Charles Street in 1837. That building burned in 1851. The second incarnation opened in 1853. It too burned, in 1894. This building dates from 1896. So, while many New Orleanians mourned the loss of the St. Charles/Sheraton-Charles, Sheraton moved to Canal Street. Their 49-story hotel at 500 Canal Street opened in 1982.
Sheraton, as part of the Starwood Group, later merged with Mariott Hotels. So, the ownership of the two towering hotels on either side of Canal Street are essentially the same.
A buggy ride is still a fun part of a visit to New Orleans.
“Carriage driver. Mardi Gras, New Orleans. February 1976” by Elisa Leonelli, via Claremont College’s Special Collections. A dapper buggy driver for Gay 90s Carriages sits at Jackson Square, waiting for the next customer(s). Cafe du Monde is visible top left background. This driver is a bit far back in the line. Hopefully it was a busy day, and he moved up to the front of the line, (at Decatur and St. Peter).
Buggy Ride evolution
The business of offering buggy rides to Vieux Carre visitors began before WWII. Clem and Violet Lauga founded Gay 90s in the early 1940s. They retired, turning the business over to their son, James Lauga, Sr., in 1971.
Carriage tours were regulated by the city as a conveyance. They fell under the purview of the city’s Taxicab Bureau. So, what mattered to the regulators was the safety of the carriages and how they were operated. Nobody took an interest in the stories the buggy drivers actually told their customers. As a result, a lot of fanciful and inaccurate stories about New Orleans went home with visitors. Licensed tour guides dismissed those stories as “buggy ride history.” The tour guides enticed tourists seeking facts and accuracy. Riding a carriage through the Quarter was fun, but come to us for the stories.
In the 1990s, the city put its foot down on “buggy ride history.” Carriage drivers are now required to be licensed tour guides.
Horses versus Mules
Until the 1970s, carriage ride operators used retired race horses to pull tourists. They purchased horses from owners who ran them at the Fair Grounds. When he took over management of the company, James Lauga, Sr., investigated the use of mules. He learned that draft mules were superior to horses for pulling wagons and carriages. Jim Sr. purchased six mules in 1972. The company has operated with mules ever since. Mules have played an important role in the New Orleans economy for centuries, from riverfront wagons to streetcars.
In the mid-1970s, around the time of this photo, hot summers took a toll on the horses pulling carriages. Horses dropped dead of heat exhaustion in the Quarter. The city council then required all buggy-ride companies use mules.
Royal Carriages today
As mentioned above, Gay 90s Carriages is now Royal Carriages, where scholar, museum operator and buggy-ride tour guide Charlotte Jones roamed the streets with Chica.
Department Store Artwork served as the foundation of newspaper retail advertising for over a century.
Department store artwork vs. photography
Ads from D. H. Holmes and Maison Blanche Department Stores in the Times-Picayune, 4-March-1976. The Holmes ad presents ladies sportswear illustrations. The Maison Blanche ad features photographs of models wearing London Fog coats.
Department Store art departments
The artists that worked for Holmes, MB, Godchaux’s, and Krauss provided the ad copy to the newspapers. While some manufacturers offered “camera ready” artwork of their products, the store artists usually fashioned their own interpretations. They transformed illustrations and photos of anything from clothing to washing machines into ads. Even when provided with artwork, the ad creators still had to size and shape it into the newspaper-ready form.
D. H. Holmes
“Summer Separates by Koret of California” – this ad (top) entices ladies to the “Pontchartrain Sportswear” section of the chain’s stores. Additionally, note the mail order form in the bottom left. Holmes regularly presented ads in one section of Da Paper, with MB doing the same in another.
D. H. Holmes operated their iconic 819 Canal Street store, as well as locations at Lake Forest, Lakeside, Oakwood, and Southland Mall in Houma. Notice the ad, in the New Orleans newspaper, doesn’t list the mall’s name in Houma. Most folks in the metro area wouldn’t make the connection. The Lakeside and Houma locations listed here continue as Dillard’s stores.
MB departs from the regular format on this day. While the ad features quality ladies fashion items, there’s a lot of text here. Three models present London Fog coats for women. The chain invited shoppers to meet Lou Ferrari, a representative of London Fog.
Additionally, Maison Blanche announced several events in this ad. In partnership with the Humanities Committee of Greater New Orleans, they presented a forum in the Canal Street store’s auditorium. Models made informal presentations at lunchtime at the Caribbean Room of the Pontchartrain Hotel, and the store sought instructors and staff for a new in-house program. MB operated their store at 901 Canal Street, as well as at Airline Village, Clearview, Lake Forest, and Westside.
Buy the book!
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
Want more photos and stories about New Orleans retail? Get my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores.
The Napoleon Avenue Tunnel proposal would connect Uptown to a new bridge.
Napoleon Avenue Tunnel
Diagram of proposed approaches to a second bridge across the Mississippi River at New Orleans. The concept was to use Napoleon Avenue as a major traffic approach to the bridge. Instead of wiping out the neighborhood, cars would come to the bridge via a tunnel.
This diagram was published in the Times-Picayune on 17-January-1970. The traffic congestion on the original bridge grew to the point where it was clear a second bridge was necessary.
The first bridge
The Greater New Orleans Mississippi River Bridge opened to traffic in April, 1958. New Orleanians relied on ferries for the 250 years prior to its opening. As the Interstate Highway System grew in the 1950s, a bridge across the river at New Orleans made sense. (Ironically, the Interstate system uses the bridge at Baton Rouge). While the metro area had a bridge in Jefferson Parish (the Huey P. Long Bridge), that structure was designed for railroad use, with automobile lanes tacked on.
So, with states and the federal government throwing money into highway expansion and improvements after WWII, New Orleans got a bridge. It was five lanes, two in each direction with an emergency lane in the center.
By the late 1960s, the West Bank of the NOLA metro area grew dramatically. Algiers and Gretna appealed to younger residents looking to get out of their parents’ houses in town. Housing on the West Bank was affordable. You just had to cross the bridge.
Building a new bridge
Lots of proposals came forward for a second bridge. Locations ranged from Uptown by the parish line to down in Chalmette. From an access and traffic perspective, putting a bridge at Napoleon Avenue made some sense. The Jackson Avenue ferry put people out in downtown Gretna. Put a bridge just upriver, and you split the difference between Gretna and Harvey. Folks going to Algiers would continue to use the existing bridge.
While the concept looked interesting, it never got past this diagram. A tunnel? In New Orleans? Good luck with that. And the construction! Those who argued against tearing up Napoleon Avenue for a tunnel and bridge approach were vindicated in recent years with the nightmare that was drainage upgrades on that street. Combine that with the general NIMBY factor from every neighborhood, and we ended up with a second bridge next to the first one.
Still, ideas spark discussion, and a bit of amusement after fifty years.
The Southern Crescent, heading to New York City, 3-June-1977
Mike Palmieri photo
Southern Crescent train to New York
The Southern Crescent train, crossing over the Canal Boulevard underpass on the “Back Belt,” 3-June-1977. Photo by Mike Palmieri. Here’s Mike’s description of the train:
Southern Railway Train No. 2 – the northbound SOUTHERN CRESCENT – was heading into the morning sun as it made its way out of New Orleans at the Canal Boulevard Underpass. The 12-car train consisted of E8A units 6905, 6902 and 6914, baggage-dormitory car 711, coaches 840, 844, 835, 834 and 3789, 10-roomette/6-double-bedroom sleeping cars 2016 ST. JOHNS RIVER and 2006 OCMULGEE RIVER, diner 3311, dome coach 1613, coach 837 and 11-bedroom sleeper 2301 ROYAL COURT.
Mike’s standing in the parking lot of Plantation Coffee House, a popular coffee shop in Lakeview.I write this from inside the successor to that coffee shop, PJ’s Coffee at 5555 Canal Blvd. The western side of the shop is all windows, making this a wonderful trainspotting location.
Crescent to Southern Crescent
Southern Railway operated Crescent (also known as the “Crescent Limited” in the 1920s and 1930s) from 1925 to 1970. The railroad also operated a second “name train” between New Orleans and New York City, the Southerner, from 1941 to 1970. The Crescent’s route ran from Atlanta to Montgomery, Mobile, then along the Gulf Coast to New Orleans. While the train ran on Southern Railway trackage from NYC to Atlanta, it continued to New Orleans on Louisville and Nashville tracks. So, because the train traveled on L&N, it arrived in New Orleans at that railroad’s terminal, on Canal Street at the river.
Southern Railway lost its mail contracts with the US Postal Service in 1970. As a result the company discontinued the Crescent. Southern merged the Crescent with the Southerner, branding the train the Southern Crescent. The merged train operated exclusively on Southern trackage. After Atlanta, the train traveled to Birmingham, then inland across Alabama and Mississippi, crossing Lake Pontchartrain on the “Five-Mile Bridge,” then into Union Passenger Terminal in downtown New Orleans.
Southern Crescent to Amtrak Crescent
Amtrak took over almost all passenger rail operations in the United States in 1971. Southern Railway chose not to opt-in to Amtrak in 1971. The railroad continued to operate the Southern Crescent until 1978. So, this train is indeed a Southern Railway consist.
The Southern Crescent became the Amtrak Crescent on 1-February-1979.
There’s a New Orleans Public Service (NOPSI) bus passing under the train! That’s a GM “New Look” bus running on either the Canal – Lake Vista via Canal Blvd line or the Express 80 line. I can’t tell if the amber lights on either side of the rollboard are flashing, indicating Express service. This line started at the 100 block of Canal (where One Canal Place is now). It traveled the length of Canal, then turned right for a block on City Park Avenue. From there, it turned left, continuing up Canal Blvd to Robert E. Lee Blvd. From there, it took a right turn on RE Lee, then a left on Marconi Drive, heading up to Lakeshore Drive. The bus rolled along the Lakefront to Bayou St. John, then left on Beauregard Dr., terminating at Beauregard and RE Lee (Spanish Fort). The inbound run went RE Lee to Canal Blvd to Canal Street. That inbound route was part of my Cartier-Lake Vista-Lakeshore trip home from Brother Martin High School in Gentilly to Metairie.
Maison Blanche Thanksgiving weekend was always hectic.
Maison Blanche Thanksgiving
Ad from Thanksgiving Weekend, 1978. MB ran this ad on Sunday, 26-November-1978, after the madness of Friday and Saturday were over. Holiday season 1978 was my first at MB Clearview. I spent that weekend glued to one of those old electro-mechanical cash registers the store used at the time.
The Post-Thanksgiving sales in the Maison Blanche Men’s Department included mostly grab-and-go items. Casual shirts, slacks, some jackets and coats. Mom would hit the stores while dad slept in or went fishing. So, Mom picked up stuff for dad that didn’t require his presence. That gave her time to explore the various ladies departments. From the employee perspective, it was easy. The lines stached up a bit, so shoppers didn’t come up for conversation.
Selling in 1978
While individual/personal calculators grew in popularity, retail transactions in 1978 had not changed for forty years. Stores shifted from mechanical to electro-mechanical cash register. Credit card transactions remained the same. At MB, store charges (using one’s New Orleans Shoppers’ credit card) rung up on the regular sales ticket. Slide the ticket under the printer in the register. Push the old-style keys for department and item number. Cash, credit, or bank card. The sale rung up, then you’d make an imprint of the card, in the body of the sales ticket. Both store and bank cards required a phone call to verify the credit line, if the purchase was over a set amount. The approval process hadn’t changed much since the 1950s. Credit staff at the Canal Street store answered phones from downstairs and the suburban stores. Those phones had super-long cords (yes, folks, we’re talking about phones with cords). The salesperson at the register gave the card information. The credit staffers looked up the account numbers, calculated the customer’s limit, then approved or declined the purchase.
Suit separates for men
The big ad for Sunday, 26-Nov-1978 for MB presented men’s suit separates from Haggar. “Choose them by the piece: a sport coat, a vest, the slack,, or choose them all for a 3 piece vested look for under 100.00.” These pieces sold well with men whose measurements crossed over suit sizes. The price was right for younger men, as well. These items appear in the Sunday paper. While most people bought the Haggar stuff and brought it home to dad, some folks came in for alterations. We didn’t do alterations over the weekend, but Monday evening after was just fine.