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.
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.
City Park Line connected Mid-City and the French Quarter
Trackless Trolley on the City Park Line, 1964s (courtesy NOPL)
City Park Line
The Orleans Railroad Company opened the City Park line on July 1, 1898. It connected the French Quarter with Mid-City, mostly via Dumaine Street. Orleans RR merged into New Orleans Railway and Light in 1910, along with the other streetcar companies. NORwy&Lt combined the French Market line with City Park (both ex-Orleans RR). The rollboards said “French Market-City Park” in 1921. While the route didn’t change, the line’s name returned to just City Park at that time.
The original route, 1898:
- Start at Canal Street and Exchange Place
- Up Canal to Dauphine Street
- Turn on Dauphine to Dumaine
- Left on Dumaine, then up Dumaine to City Park Avenue
- Down Dumaine to N. Rendon
- N. Rendon to Ursulines
- Ursulines to Burgundy
- Turn onto Canal at Burgundy
- Terminate at Canal and Exchange
In 1910, the route expanded. Instead of turning on Burgundy, City Park continued down Ursulines to Decatur. So, it then continued to Canal, via Decatur and N. Peters. In 1932, NOPSI re-routed City Park, turning the line on Royal to terminate on Canal. This route remained until the line was discontinued in the 1970s.
Streetcars on City Park
Orleans Railroad ran Ford, Bacon, and Davis (FB&D) single-trucks on City Park. Their cars bore a red-and-cream livery. NORwy&Lt replaced the single-trucks with double-truck “Palace” cars in the mid-1910s. NOPSI later replaced the Palaces with 800/900s.
The red livery used by Orleans RR and New Orleans City Railroad are the heritage behind the “red ladies” of the modern Riverfront and Canal Street lines.
Buses and Trackless Trolleys
NOPSI discontinued streetcar operation on City Park in 1941. They switched to buses. City Park was one of the last lines switched before WWII. The War Department turned down other conversions. Buses required gasoline and rubber. Both of those were needed for the war effort.
In 1949, NOPSI replaced buses on City Park with trackless trolleys. They never removed the overhead wires on the route. Trackless Trolleys ran on City Park until 1964. So, buses returned to the line then. NOPSI discontinued the City Park line completely in the 1970s.
The City Park line serviced the “Downtown Backatown” neighborhoods. Like the Desire line, the name indicated the termination point. The streetcars ran on Dumaine Street, through Treme, into Mid-City. Since the line went to Canal Street, City Park carried commuters into work. The line serviced the Quarter as well, particularly Burgundy Street. Armstrong Park blocked the Dumaine portion of the route. I remember seeing the City Park buses at the route’s terminating point as I rode past Dumaine Street on the Esplanade line.
When Aaron Handy III shared this photo in a Facebook group, the City Park rollboard brought back memories of riding home from Brother Martin in the 1970s. While I never rode the line, I was fascinated that there were streetcars going all the way out to the park, in-between Canal Street and Esplanade. This photo looks to be part of the Dorothy Violet Gulledge collection at the New Orleans Public Libaray.
Mr. Bingle 1952 – Jingle, Jangle Jingle
Maison Blanche Canal Street, December, 1952
Mr. Bingle 1952
In 1947, Emile Alline was the display-window manager for Maison Blanche. He took his family up to Chicago that fall, for a family trip. While up there, he applied a professional eye to Christmas displays along the “Miracle Mile.” Alline decided his store needed a Christmas character. He sketched a short snowman. Snowman? Not quite right. How about holly wings, and an inverted ice cream cone for a hat? Now Alline had a snow elf!
Mr. Alline brought the concept to MB management. The little guy captivated everyone. The store featured Mr. Bingle all over its print advertising for Christmas, 1958.
Mr. Bingle hooked New Orleans. While the other Canal Street stores did Christmas displays, they didn’t have a character. So, Maison Blanche presented Mr. Bingle. Kids loved him. By 1952, the store displayed Mr. Bingle right up front!
Maison Blanche grew from the single store on Canal Street in the post-war 1940s. They opened stores on S. Carrollton Avenue in Mid City and Frenchmen Street in Gentilly. Mr. Bingle flew out to those locations! So, when Alline commissioned the Mr. Bingle puppets, they visited all the stores.
Canal Street in 1952
Maison Blanche anchored the 900 block of Canal Street for almost a century. S. J. Shwartz built the “MB Building” in 1908. So, by 1952, it stood for over forty years. Shoppers entered on the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The entrance on the left of the photo (behind the bus) led to the office building. The first five floors of the building were retail space. The next seven housed a number of businesses. Many doctors set up shop in the MB building.
Santa and Mr. Bingle look down here from the second floor. So, that area was stockrooms. Eventually, the store covered up the second floor windows with year-round displays.
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
Mr. Bingle tells his story in Chapter 3! Buy the book here!
Streetcar accidents happen when automobile drivers don’t look
NOPSI 888 at Carrollton Station, after a traffic accident.
Just this week, a garbage truck turned in front of NORTA 900, on Canal Street. Streetcar accidents happen once or twice a year.
Today’s photo shows NOPSI 888 with one end bashed in. The photo was shot on 13-May-1947. An automobile hit the streetcar earlier that day. Several lines still operated streetcars in 1947. The photographer notes the date, but not the circumstances of the accident.
Streetcar accidents began when automobiles took to the streets. In my book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, I’ve got a photo of a Ford Model T, right after it encountered a streetcar. The accident occurred in front of Warren Easton High School, in 1914. The automobile lost.
Streetcar-versus-automobile accidents present challenges for all concerned. Damage to the vehicles generates repair expenses. The transit operator (in this case, NOPSI) has to deal with claims from riders. Those claims often lead to lawsuits. While the transit operator is usually not at fault, the company has the deeper pockets. Drivers carry insurance, but often not enough to settle injuries for 10+ transit riders.
NOPSI’s lawyers retained a photographer. Charles Franck Studios had the job for years. They sent out a photographer to accident scenes. NOPSI towed the wrecked streetcars back to Carrollton Station. The photographer documented the damage. Those photos ended up as evidence in lawsuits.
This streetcar is part of the 800-series. They looked almost identical to the 900s currently running on the St. Charles Line. These streetcars used mechanical doors, not unlike a school bus door. The 900s have automatic doors.
NOPSI retained 35 of the 900-series when the Canal line ended streetcar service in 1964. With only a couple of exceptions, they destroyed the 800s.
Carrollton Station served as the main maintenance and repair facility for streetcars. NORTA’s Rail Department operates out of Carrollton Station today. While the Arabella and Canal Barns housed streetcars, they came to Carrollton for big repairs.
This Franck Studios photo is part of the HNOC collection. Since NOPSI received city subsidies for transit operations, the photo is in the public domain.