New Orleans Centre – Shopping Downtown in the 1990s #Superdome

New Orleans Centre – Shopping Downtown in the 1990s #Superdome

New Orleans Centre – downtown shopping

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New Orleans Centre

A shopping mall in the CBD? Why not? In 1988, developers opened a mall right next to the (then) Louisiana Superdome. Several new office buildings popped up on the section of Poydras Street between Loyola and S. Claiborne Avenues. Those buildings enticed many companies to leave the “old CBD” buildings with lower rent and easy parking.

There’s always a catch. In this case, it was not enough lunch places. The po-boy places were back in the “old CBD”. The Krauss Luncheonette was a schlep down Loyola. Mother’s was (and still is) all the way down on Tchoupitoulas and Poydras. The neighborhood needed a bunch of food places in a small footprint. The solution? A food court.

The Mall in 1988

New Orleans Centre opened in 1988. The development included not only three floors of shopping, but a fourteen-story office tower. The mall featured two national department stores, Lord and Taylor and Macy’s. New Orleanians knew the stores as New York icons. So, the novelty of New York coming to New Orleans drew suburban shoppers back downtown. That was something Holmes and Maison Blanche never could accomplish!

New Orleans Centre started with approximately fifty stores. There was room for 150. The mall expanded to over 100 stores at its peak.

The Mall and Da Dome

New Orleans Centre offered an interesting opportunity for the Superdome. By 1988, the National Football League understood that Da Dome was the best place for the league’s championship game. While internal politics made designating the stadium the permanent home of the Super Bowl. Many league staffers argued for just that, anyway.

The Superdome presented the NFL with a tempting feature: a hotel, right next door. So, the Hyatt Regency Hotel enabled the league personnel to literally walk to work. They used the bridge connecting New Orleans Center and the stadium. No taxis to the suburbs. No public transit. Just get up, go downstairs, and walk into the Superdome.

ESPN

The sports network set up shop in New Orleans Centre for the 1990, 1997, and 2002 Super Bowls. Setting up in the mall gave ESPN the Superdome as a backdrop behind the anchor desk. Other cities just couldn’t match the visuals. So, the mall gave ESPN the win, no matter which network actually broadcast the game.

CNG/Dominion/Benson Tower

The primary tenant of the accompanying office building was Consolidated Natural Gas (CNG) Producing Company. The company moved from One Canal Place in 1989. The company, now known as Dominion Oil, occupied the seventh through fourteenth floors of the tower.

Hurricane Katrina

The mall declined in the early 2000s. Lord and Taylor closed at that time. The management company leased the nearly-empty third floor to WGNO-TV. Katrina was the final nail in its coffin. The Superdome was a mess, the Hyatt suffered terribly, and the mall flooded. A medical clinic, operated from the Lord and Taylor space, until University Hospital resumed service.

Champions Square

new orleans centre

Champions Square

The late Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, bought New Orleans Centre and the office tower in 2009. After the Saints won the NFL Championship in the 2009-2010 season, they planned major changes for the mall. They demolished all of the mall with the exception of the Macy’s footprint. They converted the space into an open-air venue. Champions Square hosts pregame activities for Saints home games, as well as concerts and other events.

NOPSI Buses and the 900s on Canal Street #StreetcarMonday

NOPSI Buses and the 900s on Canal Street #StreetcarMonday

NOPSI Buses

NOPSI buses

Canal Street, late 1960s (Aaron Handy III photo)

NOPSI Buses on Canal Street

NOPSI buses and not much streetcar action in this #StreetcarMonday photo. That’s because it’s from the 1970s. The St. Charles Line operated solo from 1964 to 1988. Buses ran on all the other lines.

The appeal of buses

New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated the New Orleans public transit system from 1923 until 1984. NOPSI was a private corporation. Middle South Utilities owned NOPSI. A holding company owned by General Electric, Electric Bond and Share Company (EBASCO) owned MSU. So, essentially, NOPSI belonged to General Electric. The power company owning the transit system made sense when streetcars dominated. They needed electricity, after all.

There are a number of reasons transit companies adopted buses over streetcars. NOPSI switched over a number of lines before World War II. The government forbade further conversion during the war. The War Department wanted the rubber used for bus tires for the war effort. After WWII, conversion to buses resumed. Most of the remaining streetcar lines converted to buses between 1948 and 1952. That left only Canal Street and St. Charles. In the early 1960s, Air-conditioned NOPSI buses tempted riders from Lakeview with a cool ride downtown. When buses took over Canal Street in 1964, that left only streetcars on St. Charles.

Buses on Canal

From the river to Claiborne Avenue, Canal Street buses ran in the street’s neutral ground. Three lines named “Canal” and two Express lines serviced Canal Street:

  • Cemeteries
  • Lake Vista via Canal Blvd.
  • Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Blvd.
  • Express 80 (Lake Vista)
  • Express 81 (Lakeshore)

So, all three Canal lines stopped at every stop from the river to City Park Avenue. NOPSI buses on Express lines picked up passengers until Claiborne Avenue. So, from Claiborne to City Park Avenue, they did not stop. Riders paid an extra nickel (in addition to the quarter base fare) for Express service.

When Canal-Lake Vista and Express 80 reached City Park Avenue, both lines turned onto Canal Blvd. From there the route was:

  • Canal Blvd (all stops)
  • Right turn on to Robert E. Lee Blvd. to Marconi Drive
  • Left turn onto Marconi to Lakeshore Drive
  • Lakeshore Drive to Beauregard Avenue
  • Right turn onto Beauregard to Robert E. Lee

Therefore, the inbound run began at Robert E. Lee and Beauregard

The Canal-Lakeshore and Express 81 route, from City Park Avenue:

  • Left turn onto City Park
  • Right turn onto Pontchartrain Blvd.
  • Curve along Pontchartrain Blvd, continuing on Academy Drive
  • Continue under I-10 at the 17th Street Canal, where street becomes Frontage Road
  • Left turn from Frontage Road onto Fleur de Lis Avenue
  • Fleur-de-Lis to Veterans Blvd.
  • Right on Veterans to West End Blvd.
  • Left on West End to Robert E. Lee Blvd.
  • Right on Robert E. Lee to Canal Blvd.
  • Left on Canal Blvd. to the end of the line at Lakeshore Drive.

Inbound run started at Lakeshore Drive.

One block of streetcar track

NOPSI 972, at the left of the photo, runs outbound on the single block of streetcar track remaining on Canal Street. The streetcars turned right onto St. Charles from Canal, for their outbound run to S. Claiborne.

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture

canal street architecture

S. H. Kress Building, 921 Canal Street, 1959. (Franck Studios photo)

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress

The S. H. Kress store on Canal Street opened in 1913. It filled the niche between the Maison Blanche building, built in 1908, and the Audubon Building, built in 1910. The store operated from 1913 until 1981. It is now, along with the Maison Blanche building, part of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Canal Street architecture passed through several phases, but the hotels return to the classic looks.

Kress – “five and dime” stores

Samuel Henry Kress opened his first store, selling “stationary and notations” in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, in 1887. The store was a success, enabling Kress to expand. He took the concept of “5-10-25 cent” stores to the Main Streets of America, such as Fifth Avenue in New York City, Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, and Canal Street, in New Orleans. While the upfront investment was considerable, the stores were successful. Kress made a good bit of money. He established a family foundation to give some of it back.

The 900 Block of Canal Street

new orleans architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1883. Robinson Atlas Plate 6 (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)

In the 1880s, the 900 block of Canal Street consisted of the Christ Episcopal Church on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. Next was the Grand Opera House. Then several smaller buildings, leading up to the corner of Canal and Burgundy. In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal auctioned their church to the highest bidder. The Mercier family bought the property. The church moved up to St. Charles Avenue and Six Street. This shift brought major changes to Canal Street architecture.

canal street architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1910. The Audubon Building is on the left, then the gap that used to be the Grand Opera House, then the MB Building. (courtesy LOC)

The Merciers demolished the church and built a five-story retail building. Simon J. Shwartz acquired the building in 1897. The Grand Opera House was demolished around 1900. In 1908, Shwartz demolished the Mercier Building. His “new” Maison Blanche opened in stages. Construction finished on it in 1909. A year later, investors acquired the buildings between the Grand Opera House and Burgundy Street in the 900 block.  They built the Audubon Building.  The Grand Opera House was demolished. A gap existed between the Audubon Building and MB for a couple of years. S. H. Kress bought the site of the Grand Opera House, 921 Canal Street. They filled in the gap with one of their five-and-dime stores.

Civil Rights and Kress

S. H. Kress segregated its lunch counters in Jim Crow states. Protesters in Greensboro, NC, targeted Kress as part of their first sit-ins. Protests and boycotts followed in other Southern cities, including Nashville Jackson, MS. Protesters in Baton Rouge targeted Kress for their initial protests.

The Kress store at 921 Canal avoided the protests of other cities. Civil Rights activists focused on the F. W. Woolworth store down the street. While I have no documentation here, I suspect Kress wasn’t targeted because it was next to Maison Blanche. The entrance to the Maison Blanche Office Building was right next to the Kress entrance. Blocking the MB entrance meant blocking access to the offices of a number of doctors and dentists, along with other professional offices. Perhaps activists considered this when choosing to picket Woolworth.

The front facade

Canal street architecture

The 900 block of Canal Street in 1976. The white porcelain covering on the Kress building is visible on the right.

Kress remodeled the Canal Street store in 1960. They covered the original building’s facade with a white, porcelain overlay. The original facade remained underneath. New owners removed the porcelain overlay in 1983. The building returned to its 1913 look.

Sale to Genesco

In 1964, the Kress family sold out to Genesco, Inc. The new owners dropped the Kress business model. So, they expanded the chain, moving into suburban shopping malls. Genesco closed Kress stores, starting in 1980. The Canal Street store closed as part of that first wave. The building passed through several owners. In 2000, the building became part of the footprint of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. While the front facade remains, the interior is now the parking garage for the hotel.

 

 

Streetcar Monday: the St. Charles Hotel and “bobtails”

Streetcar Monday: the St. Charles Hotel and “bobtails”

St. Charles Hotel

st. charles hotel

St. Charles Avenue, ca 1870. S. T. Blessing photo, in the public domain.

St. Charles Hotel

Two “bobtail” streetcars, manufactured by the Johnson Car Company, approaches the St. Charles Hotel in the 1870s. The St. Charles Hotel opened in 1837. The original building was destroyed by fire on January 18, 1851. Therefore, this is the “second” St. Charles Hotel. This building also burned down, on April 1, 1894. The owners rebuilt, and that building remained until its demolition in 1974. An office tower, Place St. Charles, replaced the hotel.

The Streetcars

Service began on the St. Charles line in 1834. The operator was the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company (NO&CRR). Initial service was steam-powered, but the noise and smoke forced the company to switch. They chose mule-power. Horses cannot tolerate the New Orleans heat and humidity like mules. The “bobtail” car from Johnson operated on St. Charles. It was well-accepted by riders. The NO&CRR maintained a car facility at the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues. It included a barn for the mules.

The New Orleans City Railroad (NOCRR) began service on Canal Street in 1861. They also used bobtails. So, by the 1870s, these streetcars ran all over the city.

Civil War HQ

The St. Charles Hotel was the initial headquarters for Louisiana troops in the Southern rebellion. Major General David Twiggs set up shop at the St. Charles in May, 1861. Twiggs resigned his commission in October, 1861, citing poor health. Major General Mansfield Lovell replaced him. So, Lovell kept the headquarters at the hotel.

Blessing Stereos

St. Charles Hotel

Full stereo card of the St. Charles Hotel, by S. T. Blessing, ca 1870. Public domain image.

This image is part of a collection of stereo photographs taken by New Orleans photographer, S. T. Blessing. The Blessing collection ranges from 1865 to 1892, with most of the photos taken in the 1870s. The early 1870s fits for this photo. The bobtails operated on St. Charles until 1893. That was when the NO&CRR electrified the line.

My interest in this particular photo, other than it’s a great shot of the 200 block of St. Charles, is for a fiction project. My story begins in 1861. So, the St. Charles Hotel was ten years old then. It was a focal point for social and business gatherings in the “American Sector” of the city.

 

Maison Blanche Bicentennial – Canal Street Shopping – 1976

Maison Blanche Bicentennial – Canal Street Shopping – 1976

Maison Blanche Bicentennial

Maison Blanche Bicentennial

Maison Blanche Canal, 1976. Leon Winer photo, courtesy Dave Winer.

Maison Blanche Bicentennial

So much 200 in 1976! Like just about every business in New Orleans, Maison Blanche went all-out in 1976 for the country’s 200th birthday. While MB decorated the front of the chain’s flagship store on Canal Street, they also promoted the celebration with sales.

Maison Blanche Bicentennial was a big deal. Advertising and Marketing departments don’t turn down an opportunity to turn a milestone into a sale. They’re in business to get customers in the door.

1776-1976

The Bicentennial was a hot mess of overkill to seventeen-year old me. I graduated from Brother Martin High School in May of 1976. I started the University of New Orleans in June. My senior prom favor has a tag line, “Bicentennial Class”, and the red-and-gold tassel on my mortarboard has a Liberty Bell dangling from it. To say we’d grown weary of All Things Bicentennial would be an understatement.

Take when Professor Ambrose wanted to change the name of the Education Building, on the west side of the UNO campus, for example. Even though the History Department is part of the College of Liberal Arts, the school placed them in the Education Building. Ambrose was the kind of man who took things like the Bicentennial seriously. He led a campaign in the University Sen Save & Exit ate to rename the building. The university listened, renaming it the Bicentennial Education Center.

We shook our heads. Looking back, forty-two years later, it’s not so bad.

Canal Street, 1976

Maison Blanche Bicentennial, part of a bigger red, white, and blue picture. Holmes, Godchaux’s, and Krauss also decorated for the celebration that summer. Some of the smaller stores also added flags and bunting to their facades. The contrast between the purple, green and gold of Carnival, turning into the patriotic displays made for odd combinations.

Transit in 1976

The streetcars departed from Canal Street in 1964. They wouldn’t return until 2004. Maison Blanche Bicentennial meant buses in the “Canal Street Zone”. Most of the time their air conditioning worked. The bus experience at that time was OK. Even though NOPSI operated the system, things ran fairly smoothly. Many people depended on the buses to get to and from the CBD for work.

Working at MB

I missed Maison Blanche Bicentennial as an employee. I started at the Clearview Mall store in 1977. Things were less red, white, and blue by then.

Abraham Shwartz, Canal Street

Abraham Shwartz, Canal Street

Abraham Shwartz, Canal Street

a. shwartz and son

The Touro Buildings, ca. 1860

Abraham Shwartz, Canal Street

I didn’t research Abraham Shwartz too deeply when I wrote the Maison Blanche book. His son, Simon, was the main character there, being the founder of the department store chain. So, I made a few notes, wrote out the family tree, and got on with telling the story of MB.

A few years after the MB book, which came out in 2012, I developed an idea for a fiction project. It’s set in the 1860s in New Orleans. That idea came from an illustration I came across while researching the BOSH book. My fictional main character has encounters with fictional versions of real-life folks, and he told me that Abraham Shwartz was one of them.

Researching the shopkeeper

A. Shwartz and Son

Child’s coat, sold by A. Shwartz and Son, 1858. (Courtesy Civil War Talk user “RobertP”)

So, I needed to learn more about Abraham. I knew he was proprietor of the store that bore his name, in the 700 block of Canal Street. I knew he passed away in 1892, after that store burned in a massive fire that took out many of the shops in the Touro buildings. I needed to learn more about Abraham in 1860.

Off to the Internet I went! I still haven’t found a decent photo or portrait of Abraham. I found interesting things about the store, though. This girl’s coat was one of them. I found it on the site, Civil War Talk. Here’s the original post:

18thVa., several posts back I posted a picture of a g-g grandmother taken about 1868. Her daughter was my g-grandmother and I have a coat she wore as a child before the CW. The tie to this thread is that is was purchased by her father on a trip to New Orleans (their place was in N. La.) according to the label from A. Shwartz and Son, 161 Canal Street, NOLA, and a card pinned inside reads that she wore it in 1858 when she would have been 7 years old. The only reference to Abraham Schwartz Dry goods was after the war when he was located in the 700 block of Canal, and that it burned, he died, and his son reopened the mercantile business across the street that became Maison Blanche.

700 Block – Touro Buildings

The original poster has the addresses confused, which is not uncommon. Until 1900, Canal Street addresses started with “1” and went by building. After 1900, the addressed followed traditional block numbers. Therefore, 161 Canal Street became part of the 700 block.

Back to the coat! While this isn’t an image of Mr. Abraham, it’s still something from the time frame of the fiction project. You just know it’ll end up in the writing.

 

Maison Blanche Department Stores

by Edward J. Branley

mb book

Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley

On October 30, 1897, S.J. Shwartz, Gus Schullhoefer, and Hartwig D. Newman with financial backing from banker Isidore Newman opened the Maison Blanche at the corner of Canal Street and Rue Dauphine in New Orleans. Converting Shwartz’s dry goods store into the city’s first department store, the trio created a retail brand whose name lasted over a century. In 1908, Shwartz tore his store down and built what was the city’s largest building 13 stories, with his Maison Blanche occupying the first five floors. The MB Building became, and still is, a New Orleans icon, and Maison Blanche was a retail leader in the city, attracting some of the best and brightest people in the business. One of those employees, display manager Emile Alline, created the store’s second icon, the Christmas character Mr. Bingle, in 1947. Mr. Bingle continues to spark the imagination of New Orleans children of all ages. Even though Maison Blanche has become part of New Orleans’s past, the landmark Canal Street store lives on as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.