Just Hotels – Where once retail ruled.
This photo from the 1950s sums up the “before” of Canal Street beautifully. The corner of Canal and Camp Streets was one of the first to be demolished, to make way for a hotel. While the old Godchaux Building gave way to the Marriott New Orleans on the French Quarter side of Canal, the Sheraton New Orleans went up on the CBD side.
Waterbury’s Drug Store
Waterbury’s was a drug store chain that had two locations on Canal Street. One store anchored Canal and S. Rampart, the other Canal at Camp. The chain competed for business with K&B and Walgreens for prescription and retail business. Families chose drugstores for a number of reasons. Proximity to the home was often the main factor. Chains that also had downtown locations boosted their popularity. K&B opened their first location Uptown. The Canal Street location gave customers the option of picking up prescriptions on the way home from work. S. J. Shwartz opened the “Maison Blanche Office Building” in 1908. Many doctors rented space on the floors above the retail space. Shwartz opened a “Maison Blanche Pharmacy” in the building. The tenant docs brought their patients’ prescriptions straight to the pharmacy. K&B feared losing business. Their Canal Street store was two blocks down. They thought folks would go for the closer location. They opened a location on the corner of Canal and Dauphine, across from the MB building
Waterbury’s adopted a similar strategy. They placed multiple locations on Canal Street. This caught the folks on multiple bus and streetcar lines.
Older New Orleanians fondly remember Waterbury’s for its soda fountains. They made nectar-flavored sodas. Folks passionately debated who had the best nectar ice cream soda.
I’m too young to have memories of Waterbury’s, but my dad said we went there occasionally in the 1960s. We’d take the Franklin bus downtown, from my grandmother’s house in Gentilly. Most of my soda fountain memories are of the K&B in Clearview Mall. The chain closed that location last. Because I worked at MB Clearview, I ate there a lot. Chocolate shake (with K&B vanilla ice cream, of course), please.
Unpacking the photo
Waterbury’s Drug Store occupied a two-story building at Canal and Camp Streets. The store placed a billboard on the roof. They painted a wall sign on the building next door. Businesses regularly took advantage of height mismatches such as this. The photo shows the two-track main line in the Canal Street neutral ground. The city ripped those tracks up when the line converted to buses in 1964. “Just Hotels” as a trend came along with the return of the Canal streetcar in 2004.
The big hotels
The Sheraton New Orleans and Marriott New Orleans, as seen from the French Quarter (courtesy Flickr user Dieter Kramer)
The Marriott and Sheraton demolished the old buildings on their property. Later hotels converted existing buildings, because the city didn’t want to lose the Canal Street facades. The Waterbury’s wall sign contrasts well with the modern skyscraper hotel. It may make it into the book.
Algiers 1865, The railroads were a lifeline for the Union.
Trains at the Algiers Terminal of the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western Railroad, in 1865. The NOO&GW served the Union forces after the capture of New Orleans in 1862.
portion of J. H. Colton’s map of Louisiana, 1863.
The railroad was chartered in 1852. Track construction began in Algiers. Track reached Morgan City in 1857. Morgan City was the western terminus for the company. NOO&GW used “Texas gauge” of 5’6″ until 1872, when Morgan converted the tracks to standard gauge.
Because it originated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the railroad didn’t need ferries or bridges going west. Businesses using NOO&GW ferried their goods across the river to Algiers, then loaded them on trains. This made for an easy route west.
When Louisiana seceded from the Union, rebel leaders knew a blockade of the Gulf Coast was eminent. The state considered NOO&GW important as a land connection to Texas. The Union Navy captured New Orleans in late April, 1862. The Union Army moved immediately, taking control of NOO&GW in May, 1862. While rebel troops managed to re-capture some of the tracks near Morgan City in May, the Union troops regained complete control by November, 1862. From there to the end of the war, the railroad serviced the Union.
Benjamin Franklin Flanders founded NOO&GW. He sold the railroad to shipping magnate Charles Morgan in 1869. Morgan re-named the railroad, Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company. He later sold the company to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The NOO&GW merged into the SP system, becoming part of its main line.
Southern Pacific expanded the original NOO&GW terminal in the 1890s. SP operated a large yard in Algiers, until the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in the 1930s. The railroad moved their yard to Avondale then, taking advantage of the new bridge. Even now, many Algiers residents refer to the area between Atlantic and Thayer streets as the “SP Yard.”
Chartres Street was one block down from the Clay Monument
600 block of Canal at Chartres, 1890. (Mugnier photo)
From the book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, this is a Mugnier photo of Chartres Street at Canal. The Custom house is barely visible in the background. The trees in the neutral ground masked the streetcar tracks and activity. Because this is a winter photo, they’re barren.
The shoe store at the left of the photo anchors the Touro Buildings in the 700 block. The 600 block lacks the Godchaux Building. That dates the photo prior to 1892. The electric pole means the photo dates no earlier than 1890. The bare trees indicates this is likely the winter of 1890-91.
Leon Godchaux, the sugar magnate, demolished the buildings on 600 Canal in 1891. In their place, he erected a six-story retail/office building. That building survived until 1969. It was demolished to make way for what is now the Marriott Hotel Canal Street.
Mule-drawn streetcars on electrified streets
The streetcar in the background is a Johnson “Bobtail” car. These mule-drawn cars operated on the Canal line until 1895. Street electrification started in the late 1880s. Electric lighting replaced gas lamps. So, as the street lighting changed, commercial buildings desired lighted signs. Interior electrification allowed retail stores and shops extended business hours.
When I wrote the Canal streetcar book in 2004, I didn’t give much thought to “fading signs.” Even later on, when I wrote the Maison Blanche book, I looked past most of them. The new book changed the way I look at some of these photos. Because I’ve examined most of the walls of Canal Street buildings, this ad at Chartres and Canal caught my eye. I didn’t remember it. That’s because it vanished a year after this photo! Godchaux’s building contained too many windows to make a solid canvas for an ad.
So, what did this sign sell? I see:
World is the
I can’t make sense of that. Anybody have an idea?
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!
Downtown signs tell stories of families and their businesses
I’m still in the gathering phase for Fading Signs of New Orleans. Last week, I requested locations of electric signs from businesses gone by. They count as “faded” for the book. The response was incredible! Y’all gave me some great suggestions.
Ryan Bordenave of the Downtown Development District commented on the “Ain’t There No More” group on Facebook with a photo of downtown signs. The photo includes wall advertising and electric!
500 Block Baronne
Baronne Street attracted businesses in the CBD because of the streetcars. The St. Charles Avenue line originally used Baronne to access Canal. Both inbound and outbound streetcars on the line passed up and down Baronne.
The 500 block contained a movie theater and furniture store. The theater opened in 1906 as the Shubert The location declined in the 1940s and 1950s. The Shubert offered vaudeville and burlesque, rather than films. New owners renovated the Shubert in 1950. They renamed the theater. It operated until the late 1960s. The location re-opened as a disco in the 1970s . The theater changed ownership in 2012 and reopened as live entertainment venue.
Signs advertising “air conditioning” hearken back to times when the average house in New Orleans didn’t include that feature. Department stores and movie theaters enabled folks to escape the summer heat for a little while. Not every theater offered air conditioning.
Mintz Furniture, 501 Baronne, 1950 (Franck Studios photo)
The Mintz family has operated furniture stores in New Orleans for generations. Their stores included the Baronne Street location, as well as a store in the French Quarter. The current incarnation of the family business, Hurtwitz Mintz, operates on Airline Highway in Metairie.
The height difference between the Mintz building and its neighbor offered the opportunity to place a wall sign on the side. While the electric sign was removed, the painted sign remains. We’ll tie in both to tell the story in the book.
NOPSI 921 was one of 35 arch roofs that survived.
Arch roof streetcar NOPSI 921 on St. Charles Avenue. Roger Puta photo.
St. Charles Avenue at night. This photo, by Roger Puta, shows NOPSI 921 as it’s just made the turn from Canal Street, onto St. Charles, for its outbound run on that line. NOPSI 921 survived the massive cutback in streetcar service NOPSI implemented in 1964. They discontinued streetcar service at the end of May that year. All but thirty-five of the 900-series streetcars were either demolished or donated to museums.
The route of the St. Charles Line changed a number of times to get to the present configuration. In 1950, NOPSI discontinued “belt” service on St. Charles and Tulane. That change set the current route used by NORTA.
- Start at Carondelet and Canal Streets
- Right-turn onto Canal from Carondelet, on the “third” track
- Immediate right-turn onto St. Charles Avenue from Canal Street
- First stop: pick up riders at St. Charles Avenue and Common Street
- Head outbound on St. Charles to Tivoli (Formerly Lee) Circle
- Half-circle around, entering the neutral ground on St. Charles, just before Calliope.
- Outbound on the St. Charles neutral ground to Riverbend.
- Right-turn from St. Charles Avenue onto S. Carrollton Avenue
- Up S. Carrollton Avenue to S. Claiborne Avenue
- Terminate at Carrollton and Claiborne
- Depart S. Claiborne Terminal
- Down S. Carrollton Avenue to St. Charles Avenue
- Down St. Charles Avenue to Tivoli Circle.
- Three-quarters around the circle, to Howard Avenue
- Up Howard Avenue one block
- Right-turn onto Carondelet Street
- Down Carondelet Street to Canal, where the run terminates.
There are a number of signs in this photo, marking the locations of “ain’t there no more” businesses. The Holiday Inn is now a Wyndham, for example. The Musee’ Conti Wax Museum is closed. The sign on Canal and Royal Streets grabbed drivers’ attention, to entice them to turn into the Quarter and go to the museum.
What other ATNM things do you see?
I found this photo in the Commons while looking for images for my next book project. The History Press considers old electric signs for businesses that are no longer around to be “fading signs,” so Kolb’s Restaurant (the sign is visible on the left) counts.