Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, maintains the #BackBelt railroad connection.
Plate girder bridges crossing the now-filled-in New Basin Canal, 1960.
The New Orleans and North Eastern (NONE) Railroad connected New Orleans with Meridian, Mississippi, in 1883. NONE operated from Terminal Station, located at Canal and Basin Streets, when that station opened in 1908. The Southern Railway system acquired NONE in 1916. Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern, expanded their holdings and operations in New Orleans over the past hundred years.
The Back Belt
Pontchartrain Expressway meets the Back Belt, 1960
Norfolk Southern enters the metro New Orleans area from the East, on the Lake Pontchartrain Railroad Bridge. From there, NS trains travel on tracks following Florida Avenue, through Gentilly and Mid-City. NS also spins off the Back Belt connecting to the company’s Oliver Yard, between Press/St. Ferdinand Streets and Montegut Street. The Back Belt connects with CN tracks in Metairie. That route leads out of the city to the West.
The most-visible part of the NS connection is at the boundary between Mid-City and Lakeview, in New Orleans. The train tracks cross I-10 at this point.
Boats meet Trains
The New Basin Canal ran from Lake Pontchartrain to S. Rampart Street. Irish immigrants made up the bulk of the labor force that built the canal in the 1830s. The Southern Railway system needed to cross the New Basin Canal to get across the city. The railroad built a bridge across the canal just north of Metairie Cemetery (on the canal’s west bank) and Greenwood Cemetry (on the east bank). That bridge served the railroads until the city’s decision to close the canal in 1937. The city filled in the canal’s turning basin some of the canal, up to the intersection of Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues. World War II delayed further work. After the war, the city filled in the rest of the waterway, from Tulane Avenue/Airline Highway, to the lake.
Waterway to Highway
Run-around track at the Pontchartrain Expressway, 1960
The city planned to build an expressway over what used to be the New Basin Canal. The idea was to provide commuters from Lakeview and Metairie with an easier route into downtown. That expressway would eventually link with a bridge over the Mississippi River.
Building an expressway required a re-design of the over-water bridge Southern Railway used over the New Basin Canal. In 1960, work began on demolishing the original bridge. They replaced that bridge with a wider underpass. The first step in constructing the underpass was to re-route the train tracks. They built a “run-around” track to bypass the bridge. Once the run-around became operational, they could demolish the bridge. The new underpass structure went up. The construction crews demolished the run-around, leaving what we see now, over I-10.
Lakeview in the 1950s
Metairie Road/City Park Avenue at the New Basin Canal, 1960
The construction photos show Lakeview before I-10 swallowed up the area. The filled-in canal area is empty. The Pontchartrain Expressway begins south of Metairie Road at this point. The entrance to the expressway stretched north after the completion of the railroad underpass.
All the while, Southern Railway ran across the city. After 1954, Southern passenger trains followed the Pontchartrain Expressway, turning north, then east, onto the Back Belt, to head out of town.
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.”
Pathways lead the way to fading signs.
Uneed a Biscuit wall sign on Dumaine, just off Bourbon. (Audrey Julienne photo)
We all follow paths and pathways in our lives. Some of us step off the well-trodden paths, forging ahead, making new ones. Most of us, however, follow regular paths. So, we leave home and go to work. At lunchtime, we duck out of work. After grabbing a bite to eat, we reverse directions and finish the work day. Our daily rituals follow regular paths.
Working on the book introduction
I’ve looked at a couple of books in The History Press “fading sign” series. While the introductions are well-written, they didn’t offer me a template. I don’t care for writing in the first person. The history isn’t about me. Because New Orleans isn’t like any other city in the nation, this book needs an introduction just as special. So, I considered some of the locations of fading signs. The signs on shops and other businesses mark their locations on our paths. The ads distract us while we travel on the path.
The “Uneed a Biscuit” ad on Dumaine Street, just off of Bourbon Street, puzzled. me. So, a friend (and denizen of Cafe Lafitte in Exile) pointed out that the ad hits home with patrons of that pub. When standing on the balcony, you look up and see it saying what Uneeda. Thing is, that didn’t start happening until almost seventy years after the ad appeared on the side of that house, half a block down on Dumaine.
So, who looked at the ad?
Streetcars rolled down Bourbon and down Dumaine. The Desire line (yes, of Tennessee Williams fame) traveled outbound on Bourbon. That means riders looked out at the Uneeda sign as they rode home from jobs in the Central Business District (CBD). Riders heading inbound (towards the river) on the City Park line looked up and saw the ad. They rode that streetcar, possibly from as far out as its terminus at City Park Avenue and Dumaine Street.
My friend Grey always uses #lookup to tag photos taken on her early-morning walks. Looking up challenges a walker. It’s easy for a rider, though. Paths into town. Paths back home. I’ve got my intro.
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!