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NOLA History Guy Podcast 05-April-2020 presents the first of a four-part series on the Riverfront Streetcar line.
Rollboard sign on NORwy&Lt 208, showing it running on the Tchoupitoulas line, 1925
NOLA History Guy Podcast 05-April-2020
Two segments on NOLA History Guy Podcast 05-April-2020, our pick of the week from NewOrleansPast.com, and the start of a series on the Riverfront Streetcar line.
Today in New Orleans History
Ad in the Times Picayune, 28-March-1924
Our Pick of the week from the Facebook group, Today in New Orleans History, is Campanella’s entry for April 2nd. Daniel Henry Holmes opened his store on 2-April-1842. The first store was not the Canal Street location. He opened up at 22 Chartres, in the French Quarter. The store did well, and Holmes moved to the 800 block of Canal Street in 1849. D. H. Holmes is an icon, from “meet me under the clock” to the selection of merchandise, to the suburban stores.
There’s nothing more New Orleans than a discussion on social media about which store your momma liked better, Holmeses or Maison Blanche! We thought about adding a discussion or quote section in NOLA History Guy Podcast 05-April-2020, but it can get ugly.
The 2-April entry at New Orleans Past shows two ads from the Times-Picayune. The first is from 28-March-1924. It includes a pictorial history of D. H. Holmes around the border. Very nice!
Da Clock! Ad in the Times-Picayune, 2-April-1938
The second ad is from 2-April-1938. To celebrate the store’s birthday, D. H. Holmes ordered a 400-pound birthday cake, featuring, naturally, the clock!
Riverfront Streetcar History
NORwy&Lt 208, Ford, Bacon & Davis car, on the Tchoupitoulas line in 1925 (Franck Studios/HNOC)
We present a four-part series on the Riverfront Streetcar Line. The line rolled for the first time in 1899. The series:
I. Background – streetcars running along the New Orleans Riverfront
II. The Riverfront line, 1988-1997
III. The updated line, 1997-present
IV. NORTA 461 – History of a Riverfront streetcar
Today: Part I – background leading up to 1988
Johnson Bobtail streetcar passing the French Market, ca 1880
Prior to the Riverfront line, streetcars didn’t operate close to the riverfront. That’s because the wharves and railroad tracks occupied the space. The closest streetcars were on the streets servicing the Riverfront, like Tchoupitoulas, Laurel, and Annunciation Streets uptown, and N. Front and Decatur Streets to the French Market on the downtown side.
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Royal Street Photo Breakdown on this week’s podcast!
100-200 Blocks of Royal Street, 1916.
Royal Street Photo Breakdown
Derby Gisclair shared a neat photo from 1916 earlier this week on social media. The photographer stands in the middle of the 100 block of Royal Street, looking down into the 200 block. As I was looking through some other photos, I came across a 1956 photo of Royal, where that photographer stood almost in the same place. Time for a Royal Street Photo Breakdown!
At the top of the page is the 1916 photo, with Solari’s on the left, an electric sign for Fabacher’s Restaurant hanging over the street, then the Commercial Hotel and Union Bank on the right.
Franck-Bertacci Studios photo of the 100-200 blocks of Royal Street, 1956.
Fast forward to 1956. Solari’s is still on the left. The Commercial Hotel is now the Monteleone Hotel. Fabacher’s Restaurant, which was the hotel restaurant for the Commercial, is long closed. Walgreen’s drug store replaced the bank building in the late 1940s. That drug store remains today.
In the 1916 photo, streetcar tracks and the overhead wiring are visible. The Desire streetcar line ran inbound on Royal Street. The streetcars turned right onto Canal Street. They ran up one block, then turned right again. They ran down Bourbon Street for the French Quarter portion of the outbound run. We’ve talked about the Desire line before, and how it was the main connector for the Quarter.
Buses replaced streetcars on Desire in 1948. So, by the 1956 photo, the tracks and wires are long gone. The maroon-and-cream NOPSI buses serviced Desire.
NewOrleansPast.com – January 15th
NOPSI 817, operating in Belt Service in the 1940s.
Our pick of the week from NewOrleansPast.com (Facebook page, Today in New Orleans History) is Ms. Campanella’s entry for January 15th. The Tulane streetcar line rolled for the first time on 15-January-1871. Mules pulled the streetcars then. The line switched to electric streetcars in the 1890s. Tulane operated in “belt service” with the St. Charles line from 1900 to 1951. Listen to our podcast episode on “Riding the Belt” for more details on that.
NOPSI converted the West End streetcar line to diesel buses on 15-January, 1950, as part of the trend away from electric street rail operations. West End operated as steam train service until the 1890s. After that, electric streetcars ran out to the lakefront, along the east bank of the New Basin Canal. NOPSI retired streetcars on West End in 1950. The line ran until the 1960s, when it became the Canal-Lakeshore line.
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Krauss Department Store 1910 – the first expansion of the 1903 building.
Rendering of the first expansion to Krauss Department Store.
Krauss Department Store 1910
Leon Fellman built the two-story building at Canal and Basin Streets in 1902. He leased it to the Krauss brothers. They opened “a veritable trade palace” that operated until 1997.
The first expansion
Krauss outgrew the original, two-story building quickly. By 1910, the brothers looked to expand. They acquired the property behind the original store and planned a five-story expansion. The New Orleans Times-Democrat reported on 20-March-1910 that:
Piledriving has begun for the handsome annex to the department store of the Krauss Company, Ltd., Canal and Basin Streets, and the work here is being pushed rapidly forward. The five-story annex to the existing building will afford the department store additional room for its rapidly growing business. It has been found absolutely necessary and will be occupied as soon as the contractor can turn it over to the company.
The Krauss brothers were savvy merchants. Their connections to the garment and retail industries in New York afforded them many opportunities to buy lots of merchandise at low costs. For example, Krauss would get word of a fire in a garment factory. Maybe five to ten percent of the merchandise received smoke damage. The factory dumped the entire lot at a cheap price. Krauss picked up those lots. The New Orleans shoppers were not aware of these New York fires!
As the store’s popularity grew, opportunities increased. Growing the floor space of Krauss Department Store 1910 meant hiring more staff. Clerks and buyers from other stores jumped to Krauss. They worked hard for the family-owned business, many remaining with the company for decades.
This expansion of the store opened in 1911, three years after the Southern Railway passenger terminal opened. Two more additions followed. The store grew all the way to Iberville Street, filling the block. In 1952, Krauss built a second building in the block behind the main store. They moved stockrooms and physical plant facilities to that building. This created more retail floor space for customers.
Buy the book!
Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store, by Edward J. Branley.
Basin Street 1900 – Before Terminal Station on Canal Street
View of the Storyville District, ca 1900.
Basin Street 1900
This postcard, published by C.B. Mason, shows the Storyville District, three to five years after it’s creation (legally). Here’s the note on the postcard:
“Bird’s-Eye View Of New Orleans LA. ”
View from high building on Canal Street looking towards “Storyville” district. Of particular interest is the row of buildings seen fronting Basin Street, including Tom Anderson’s Josie Arlington’s and Lulu White’s, and “the District” behind it. This is one of the few published cards showing what history recalls as “Storyville”.
There are a lot of shots of Storyville, the section of Faubourg Treme from Canal Street to the Carondelet Canal, but this one of Basin Street 1900 caught my eye for several reasons. The photographer stands on a building on Canal Street. It looks like he’s on the old Mercier Building, at 901 Canal. This was Maison Blanche, before S.J. Shwartz demolished it and built his larger store and office building. This photo shows the neighborhood just before Leon Fellman builds the 2-story retail building at 1201 Canal Street. That building becomes Krauss Department Store.
Trains before 1908
1896 Sanborn Map, Canal and Basin Streets
Trains didn’t travel much on Basin Street 1900. The big passenger terminal opens in 1908. The first two blocks off Canal, Basin to Customhouse (now Iberville), then to Bienville, supported the excursion train to Spanish Fort. So, this 1896 Sanborn map shows the tracks and small station for that Spanish Fort train. Passengers boarded at Canal, then the tracks turned lakebound on Bienville. Note the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal. The Krauss building isn’t there yet. Furthermore, it was a lot quieter at this time, without the trains.
“Down the Line”
Zoom of the CB Mason Postcard of Storyville, 1900ish
This zoom of the postcard shows the same area of the well-known, “Basin Street Down the Line” photo. Two horse-drawn carriages or wagons head riverbound on Custom House. First of all, that’s Tom Anderson’s Saloon behind them, on the corner. Then, in the middle of the street, there’s a passenger stand and shed, for the railroad. So, the tracks are visible.
A few doors down from Tom Anderson’s, Josie Arlington’s “sporting palace” with its distinctive cupola welcomes customers.
1911 view of Canal and Basin Streets
This 1911 postcard shows the changes within a decade. Krauss Department Store stands at 1201. So, Terminal Station swallows up Basin street for blocks. The New Orleans and North Eastern (NO&NE) Railroad moved over from Press Street in the Bywater to Canal Street. NO&NE became part of the Southern Railway system in 1916. As a result of the merger, the station’s main sign changed to reflect the merger.
Cash Boys moved the money before cash registers
D.H. Holmes used Cash Boys up to the 1920s. Here’s a group of them in 1910.
Cash Boys were employees of large dry goods and department stores. Before cash registers, these stores puzzled over how to control money on the sales floor. Cash drawers meant money spread out everywhere. Managers trusted their employees, but they didn’t trust customers. Shoplifting required security. Cash required even more security.
Stores centralized cash, usually at a “cashier” station. In some stores, a clerk sat in a booth like that of a bank teller. Sales people worked hard to please customers. Sending the shopper to a cash cage cut into customer satisfaction.
Enter the Cash Boy. The sales clerk wrote up the transaction. The customer paid. The Cash Boy ran the money from the sales counter to the cash desk. The cash clerk made change, stamped the receipt as paid. The Cash Boy ran those back to the customer.
Stores, from Fellman’s to MB, to Holmes, trusted Cash Boys. They were usually children of store employees. They knew that stealing would cost the parent their job. Besides, being a Cash Boy had interesting perks. At Krauss, a couple of cash boys grabbed a quick nap. They slept longer than planned, though. When they woke up, the store closed for the evening. To survive the night, they made their way to the candy counter and sugared up! They didn’t suffer dire consequences, though, since everyone was glad they were all right.
Mechanization of the transaction
Multiple cash drawers required multiple locks and keys. It’s easy to pop open a simple cash drawer. As recently as the 1980s, Radio Shack stores used simple cash drawers. The drawers unlocked by pulling two or three levers under the drawer with your fingers. Simple enough, but a strong pull on the drawer forced it open. When the chain added computers to the sales counter (ironic, given they sold computers for years), a more-secure drawer became part of the system.
Canal Street stores stuck with Cash Boys until well into the 20th Century. Concerns over child labor motivated changes. Some stores converted to cash registers. Krauss Department Store favored a centralized system. They installed a pneumatic tube system in the store at 1201 Canal. They ran tubes from sales counters throughout the store to the office. A five-foot-by-five-foot box fan provided the airflow in the tubes. When a clerk sold something, they wrote up the transaction and put the cash and sales slip into a pod. That pod went in the tube and flew up to the office. The cash clerk processed the sale and returned the slip and change via the tube. Cash boys went back to school.
Spanish Fort Streetcar
Tracks running out on the Spanish Fort fishing pier, 1911. (Franck Studios)
Spanish Fort Streetcar
The amusements at Spanish Fort entertained New Orleanians, from the 1880s, up to the first incarnation of Pontchartrain Beach, in 1929. Going to the fort was a day trip, and a train service brought folks out to the lake. The train service ended in the late 1890s. Streetcar service began in 1911 and ran until the 1930s.
Heading out to Spanish Fort, 1912.
Fort Saint John, known to New Orleanians as the Spanish Fort, guarded the mouth of Bayou St. John at Lake Pontchartrain during the Spanish Colonial Period. While it never saw action, the fort played an important role in the War of 1812. Because Jackson assigned Lafitte’s gunners to the fort, the British chose to come at the city from Lake Borgne and St. Bernard Parish. They made no attempt to come down the bayou and Carondelet Canal. The US Army pushed the city’s defenses further out, building forts at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass. By the time of the Southern Rebellion, Spanish Fort was a tourist attraction.
Spanish Fort in New Orleans, “The Coney Island of the South”
After the end of Southern Rebellion, civilian government returned to New Orleans. Streetcar lines expanded across the city. Mules pulled these streetcars. The streetcar companies experimented with steam locomotives, but residents along the lines complained of the noise and smoke. Electric streetcars came to New Orleans in the mid 1890s.
Mules weren’t practical for getting out to the lakefront. To make the trip to West End or Spanish Fort in the 1870s-1880s, folks took steam trains. The railroad companies made the locomotives look like streetcars.
The Spanish Fort amusement area was popular. The location offered cool evening breezes. In general, temperatures were lower near the water. The combination attracted folks to come out for a swim, and to hear jazz, opera, and other music in the evenings.
The train service meant a trip to Spanish Fort was a long day trip, or, if you were out for the evening, an overnight excursion.
“Plan Book” for the sale of Spanish Fort, 1911 (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)
Spanish Fort declined in popularity in the 1900s. West End dominated as the lakefront destination of choice. The Spanish Fort area was sold in 1911, and the new owners convinced the New Orleans Railway and Light Company to offer electric streetcar service.
The Streetcar Line
Streetcars at the old Spanish Fort railroad station, ca 1911.
NO Rwy & Lt company originated the Spanish Fort line. The route:
- Start – S. Rampart, between Tulane and Canal
- Left turn onto Canal Street, outbound to City Park Avenue
- Left turn onto City Park Avenue to the Halfway House
- Right turn at the New Basin Canal, heading outbound next to the railroad right of way
- Right turn at Adams Avenue (now Robert E. Lee Blvd.)
- East on Adams to Spanish Fort.
- Left turn into the Spanish Fort Station (still there from railroad service)
The inbound/return route was a reversal of the outbound run.
The line operated seasonal service. More streetcars ran in the Spring through the Summer. In the Fall and Winter, Spanish Fort operated as “shuttle” service. Riders took West End to Adams Avenue and transferred to the shuttle cart that went to the fort. This shuttle service operated when the line started in March, 1911. The full service began in June, 1911.
When the new owners took over in 1911, they extended the streetcar tracks from the railroad station out along the fishing pier. A streetcar ran from the station stop that was usually the end of the line to the end of the pier.
Barney and Smith streetcar, ca 1905 (NOPSI drawing)
NORwy&Lt operated double-truck streetcars on the Spanish Fort line. The Barney and Smith cars ran regularly, with some American Car Company cars also used. During the busy summer season, the powered streetcars pulled unpowered “trailer” cars.
End of Spanish Fort service
Main Gate of the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, 1929
The Spanish Fort line terminated in 1932. By the 1920s, the fort’s popularity as an amusement destination declined. When the Batt family opened their Pontchartrain Beach amusement park on the eastern side of Bayou St. John, in 1929, ridership on the Spanish Fort line spiked up again. Pontchartrain Beach heavily advertised the Spanish Fort line as a way to get to the amusement park. “Right Next to Krauss!” The park moved to Milneburg in the 1930s, though. Without either the fort or Pontchartrain Beach, there was no reason to keep the line in operation.