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NOLA History Guy Podcast 13-April-2019
Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial stands by a M.A.R.T. “gondola,” 11-April-1985 (Morial papers, New Orleans Public Library)
NOLA History Guy Podcast 13-April-2019
Another short-form pod this week! Two items, “New Orleans Past” and unpacking a photo from 1951
Our “New Orleans Past” item, from Catherine Campanella’s website, is her 11-April entry, which goes back to 11-April-1985. The Mississippi Aerial Rapid Transport, M.A.R.T. attraction at the 1984 New Orleans World Exposition attracted visitors and locals alike. Alas, it didn’t attract them in the numbers expected. But then, neither did the fair overall. As a rule, locals didn’t refer to the attraction as “MART”, but rather as “The Gondola”. The east bank station for MART was at Julia Street and the River, just to the east side of the main pavilion building. That building became the Morial Convention Center after Da Fair. The small cars ran across the river, landing next to Mardi Gras World. The theory (hope) of the Kerns was that folks would visit their year-round Mardi Gras attraction in Algiers before returning to the fair site.
This didn’t quite work out as planned. Folks rode MART like an amusement park ride rather than as transportation. Mardi Gras World figured out that the west bank location wasn’t good for attracting tourists, so they moved to the western side of the Convention Center. This was after the fiasco of riverboat casinos in that location.
The operators of MART hoped to continue the attraction as a transportation service, after the fair. While the concept was good, the gondolas weren’t in a good position for the nascent Warehouse District. MART was demolished in 1994. Some of the cars live on at various places around town, such as Poeyfarre Market.
City Park Avenue, 1951
City Park Avenue near the PontchartrainExpresway, 1951 (NOLA.com photo)
Unpacking an old photo. This is City Park Avenue in 1951. I found it on a Tumblr, attributed to NOLA.com. Not sure if it’s originally from the Times-Picayune or the State-Item. Also not sure who shot the photo. The streetcars made a left-turn onto City Park Avenue from Canal Street. The West End line continued from there out to the lake, on the eastern side of the New Basin Canal. The Canal line cars stopped on City Park Avenue. They changed for the inbound run there. The end terminal changed to Canal Street only in 1958.
Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche Canal
Santa and Mr. Bingle on the front of MB Canal, 1952 (Franck Studios photo courtesy HNOC)
Maison Blanche regularly put up big displays on the front of the store. The second floor was mostly stockrooms and warehouse space. The view in windows on that floor left much to be desired. So, the store closed in the front of that floor. The display department placed large displays in that front space.
The first Mr. Bingle on the second floor appeared in the 1940s. By the 1950s, Santa joined the snow elf.
Second floor displays
Maison Blanche Canal second floor display, late 1960s (Tess Conrad photo)
The store set up other displays in the second floor space. Mr. Bingle stepped aside for different Christmas decorations. The store saluted teams playing in the Sugar Bowl. In 1976, Maison Blanche promoted Bicentennial celebrations (and sales) with red-white-and-blue on the second floor front. Mr. Bingle took a back seat to these varied displays in the 1960s through the 1980s.
Return of Mr. Bingle
Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche Canal, 1985. (Edward Branley photo)
While large Bingle displays vanished, he never really left Canal Street. He appeared in the front windows of the store. He was the main attraction of the store’s third floor Christmas section. Kids posed for pictures with Santa, but Mr. Bingle calmed them down.
The little guy re-appeared on the front of the store in a big way in the 1980s. So, the store commissioned a huge fiberglass Bingle. They put it out on the front of the store, along with a storyboard. The sign told the story of how Mr. Bingle came to be. Well, not how Emile Alline got the idea to hire Oscar Isentrout from a Bourbon Street strip club to work the Bingle puppet. This was the proper kids’ story!
Christmas Eve at MB
I worked at Maison Blanche at Clearview Mall when I was an undergrad at UNO. The Men’s Department assigned me to sportswear. Eventually, I moved to suits. I enjoyed working at MB, particularly since we were on commission! Christmas Eve was always a crazy day. So, there wasn’t much selling happening. We parked in front of the cash registers and rang stuff up. It made all the slow, boring nights in January welcome!
Happy Holidays, everyone!