Maison Blanche Gentilly was the second store off of Canal Street.
MB Gentilly, 1948. Franck Studios via THNOC
Maison Blanche Gentilly
Franck Studios photo of Maison Blanche Gentilly in 1948. The department store opened its third store just off Gentilly Boulevard, at Frenchmen Street. This strip mall anchored a large commercial development near the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard. Other stores in the strip at this time include Walgreens, Morgan and Lindsey (a five-and-dime store) and Capital Stores Supermarket. A huge billboard for JAX Beer stands above the Walgreens. The MB is the only two-story store.
The intersection of Elysian Fields and Gentilly Blvd grew into an important commercial area towards the end of the 19th century. The Pontchartrain Railroad operated along the length of Elysian Fields, from Chartres Street to Milneburg at the lake. The railroad marked the road along the Gentilly Ridge, Gentilly Road, the half-way point of the route. The train stopped there if a passenger notified the conductor. The train also stopped for pick-up if it was flagged down. The rail stop evolved into a local hub. The Zuppardo’s parked their produce truck there. That evolved into a brick-and-mortar store. Several Jewish congregations purchased the high ground on the ridge. They built cemeteries there, so they could bury their loved ones in-ground.
World War II
After the war, men and women came home, ready to start families of their own. Developers created subdivisions around the commercial hub. While housing remained segregated, Pontchartrain Park opened as a subdivision for Black families. So, more businesses opened. The Frenchmen strip mall reflected that demand. Residents of Gentilly appreciated the convenience. Instead of taking the Gentilly streetcar (on Franklin) or the Elysian Fields bus into the CBD, they shopped at Maison Blanche Gentilly.
T-P ad, 24-October-1953
“The Woman who works shops at MB for smart, thrift-wise wearables” in this ad in the Times-Picayune, 24-October-1953. MB enticed the working woman with nylon blousettes, wool suits and dresses, and butter calf handbags. With the Gentilly Store, woman shopped without having to schlep back downtown!
New Orleans Lakefront Airport (NEW) was the city’s go-to airfield during WWII.
Postcard of New Orleans Airport (NEW) from the 1930s. The image shows a commercial aircraft parked behind the main terminal building, boarding passengers. Image source unknown–if anyone’s done a deep dive on this one, please let me know. The aircraft appears to be a Douglas DC-3.
Delta Airlines 1945
Fast forward to 1945. One of the ads I found in the Times-Picayune for 26-December-1945 was for Delta Airlines. The ad caught my eye for two reasons. First, it was Delta to Dallas. Delta ceased nonstops from New Orleans to Dallas in 2003. The airline filed for bankruptcy then and gave up hub operations at DFW. Delta’s headquarters stands off the runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Delta to Dallas? Thing of the past.
The second thing–the flight time! Modern flights to Dallas, say MSY to Love Field (DAL), maybe an hour and ten minutes. Three hours? Well, yeah, it’s not a jet. But still!
The image in this ad looks like a DC-3 as well. The Douglas DC-4 had four engines, and the illustration looks like a two-engine aircraft. The military used the DC-3 as a sleeper aircraft, with 14 bunks. The Army Air Corps version of the plane, the C-47 transported paratroopers and glider troops to Normandy on D-Day.
Moisant or Lakefront?
A commenter to the ad post on Instagram asked, which airport? Another commenter replied this had to be Lakefront Airport, because MSY didn’t open to commercial aviation until May, 1946. So, New Orleanians hopping a plane to Dallas in 1945 drove out to the lakefront. NEW opened (as Shushan Airport) in 1934. A year later, airlines shifted to Kenner. Lakefront Airport morphed into a general aviation site, with Air National Guard units as well as private aircraft.
Lakefront Airport Today
The gorgeous Art Deco terminal underwent a major renovation in 2012-2013. It’s gorgeous, and merits an article of its own, which we’ll get to at some point.
The Bridgedale branch of the Jefferson Parish Library system.
Photo of the interior of the Bridgedale branch in the Jefferson Parish Library system, 1940s. The photographer is not credited. The State Library of Louisiana dates the photo only to 1940-1949. Their caption says, “B&W photo, Circa 1940s. Jefferson Parish library. Bridgedale Library. Metairie, La. Standing Mrs. Mary Lindsey, seated unknown.” While the caption refers to “Bridgedale,” this is the “Old Metairie” library branch, on Metairie Road. The parish library system expanded in 1949. So, that narrows the date of the photo. It’s possible this photo dates to 1950-1951.
In her book, Legendary Locals of Metairie, Catherine Campanella explains that “Bridgedale” refers to the 1920s neighborhood leading up to the not-yet-built Huey P. Long Bridge. The first library branch in Metairie opened on Metairie Road and Atherton Street. While this location stands outside of the area recognized as “Bridgedale,” the branch picked up the name. After the state completed the actual bridge in the 1930s, the section of the parish from Central Avenue to Transcontinental Drive developed. In 1952, the parish opened Bridgedale Elementary, on Zinnia Street and West Metairie Avenue. Therefore, the nebulous neighborhood designation focused to the area flowing out from the bridge. Additionally, JPL opened the Wagner branch, on Kawanee Street, north of Veterans Blvd.
So, this photo is from Metairie Road. This was the first public library I used as a kid. We lived on Dream Court, just off Bonnabel Blvd. Like the other original library branches, the parish owned the building. They transferred it to the library system. My time as a Metairie branch patron was in the mid-1960s. So, when we moved closer to the 17th Street Canal, this branch was still the closest. We relied on bookmobile service. The parish system appreciated the distance factor. They brought the library to us. Eventually, JPL constructed the Lakeshore Branch. It stands at the corner of Oaklawn and W. Esplanade.
A real Bridgedale branch
In 1997, JPL opened the East Bank Regional Library, at 4747 W. Napoleon Avenue. This 100,000 sq ft facility stands between Clearview and Transcontinental. So, Bridgedale didn’t just get a branch. They got the main library!
Maison Blanche Department Stores sponsored a NORD baseball team in 1956.
Photo of a New Orleans Recreational Department (NORD) baseball team from the summer of 1956. Maison Blanche Department Stores sponsored this particular team. The manager and members of the team are unidentified, so if you know any of these guys, please let us know. Also unidentified is the ballpark. NORD operated many playgrounds featuring full-sized ballparks across the city. While many of them closed or were sold, some still offer places for the city’s youth to play. Commercial sponsorships also continue, in many sports.
This photo is part of the Hayne S. Ragas collection at the New Orleans Public Library. Ragas worked for NORD, and shot many photos of playground action in the 1950s. Maison Blanche sponsored several playground teams. When NORD embraced the growing Babe Ruth Baseball program in the 1960s, the store continued its support. This 1956 team would not yet have been part of Babe Ruth. So, it’s possible the team is from a single playground.
The team photo set shows the coach and players close-in. So, they lack details of the ballpark. The current New Orleans Recreation Department Commission maintains nine stadiums, including Kirsch-Rooney in Mid-City (near Delgado), and Perry Roehm, off of Elysian Fields in Gentilly.
NORD founded its playground leagues in 1947. So, the city segregated playgrounds and teams.
Other Maison Blanche baseball
Additionally, the store fielded an adult team. Employees played in the Commercial League, going back to the 1930s. While World War II temporarily suspended the competition, the Commercial League resumed at the end of the war. Many local businesses, including the department stores played in this league. The Commercial League also offered softball for women, and bowling for both men and women. Maison Blanche won their share of titles in many of these competitions.
The Kenner library branch in 1949 was on Airline Highway.
Kenner Library Branch
Photo of the interior of the Kenner Branch of the Jefferson Parish Library in 1949. The caption from the State Library of Louisiana reads: “B&W photo, Circa 1940s. Jefferson Parish library. Kenner, Louisiana. Airline Hwy. Left to right: Mrs. Beatrice Hidalgo and Mrs. Dixie Stephens.” If anyone knew these ladies, let us know in comments! The Kenner Branch at this time was on Airline Highway, near Williams Blvd. The branch later moved to Williams Blvd, near Kenner City Hall, in the 1960s.
Jefferson Parish Library System
The Jefferson Parish Police Jury authorized a public library for the parish in 1946. In 1949, the first public library opened at Huey P. Long Avenue and Fourth Street, By December of 1949, branches opened in Gretna. Metairie, Jefferson, Kenner, Harahan, Marrero, Gretna, and Westwego. The parish converted existing buildings to libraries. This enabled the quick expansion. Growth of the library system continued into the 1950s and 1960s. In Kenner, the original branch re-located, and a North Kenner branch opened. This fit the growth pattern of Kenner, as folks moved above Veterans Blvd.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita inflicted serious damage to a number of parish library branches. For example, Hurricane Rita damaged 33% of the North Kenner branch. While libraries play important roles in building communities, repairing such damage was a challenge. It’s not something that happens overnight. Fortunately, the system continues to recover and grow.
Growing up in Old Metairie, we used the branch at Metairie Road and Atherton St. So, that branch later moved further up Metairie Road to its current location. While it received damage from Katrina, the branch now thrives. When we bought our house, the Wagner Library, by Bissonet Plaza Elementary was our branch. Now, the East Bank Regional Library is home, to family, and to our small writers’ group.
NOPSI 888, a wrecked streetcar, outside Carrollton Station.
The running joke is, when there’s a streetcar-versus-automobile confrontation, the streetcar wins. While this is true, it doesn’t mean the streetcar comes out unscathed. Such was the case on 13-May-1947. NOPSI 888 became a wrecked streetcar, after striking a vehicle while operating on the Desire line. NOPSI 888 received a lot more damage than those involved in wrecks with automobiles because it hit a truck. The streetcar left the scene with heavy damage on the opposite end. We documented the wreck some time ago. Franck Studios photographed 888 from all sides. From this angle, the streetcar appears fine, unless you look through the window! While the Desire line operated out of Canal Station, the Rail Department brought 888 back to Carrollton Station. NOPSI 888 stands here on Jeanette Street. Once the photographer finished, they rolled the streetcar into the barn.
The “Streetcar Named Desire” operated until May 30, 1948. NOPSI replaced the 800- and 900-series arch roof streetcars with White Company buses. These buses bore the classic maroon-and-cream livery of the “old style” buses. The streetcars operating on Desire shifted to the two remaining lines, St. Charles. NOPSI chose not to repair 888. So, it was the first 800-series car scrapped. The remaining 800s, with only a couple of exceptions, joined 888 on the junk pile in the summer of 1964.
While the Desire line gained immortality thanks to Tennessee Williams, it didn’t happen because of traveling on Desire Street. The Desire line rolled inbound on Royal Street, and outbound on Bourbon Street, for the length of the French Quarter. Since Williams lived in a third-story walk-up on Royal Street, he heard those streetcars running past, night and day. Even had Williams not gotten around town much, those streetcars would still stick out in his memory.
On this day, NOPSI 888 sported ad signs on the ends for Regal Beer. The American Brewing Company owned the Regal (“lager” spelled backwards) brand. They brewed and bottled Regal from their plant on Bourbon Street, from 1890 to 1960.