The Southern Railway Terminal on Basin Street serviced New Orleans for forty-six years.
Southern Railway Terminal
Franck Studios photo (via HNOC) of the Southern Railway Terminal, Canal and Basin Streets, downtown. This particular photo caught my eye because it’s a straight-on shot, rather than from an angle. The photographer stands in the Canal Street neutral ground. They shot the photo in-between streetcars. Krauss Department Store stands to the left. The Saenger Theater is visible to the right. Architect Daniel N. Burnham of Chicago, designer of the Flatiron building in New York, created this station. The New Orleans Terminal Company built it in 1908.
Not just Southern
While the electric sign at the top of the station’s arch proclaims Southern Railway, the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern (later Gulf, Mobile and Ohio) also operated here. The trains ran down Basin Street to St. Louis Street, where the tracks turned lakebound to head out of town. The Lafitte Corridor greenway runs the path of the old railroad tracks. The area remained abandoned for decades after passenger trains all moved over to Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola.
This Southern Rialway terminal photo contains interesting details to unpack. Two of the fleur-de-lis light poles that light up Canal Street to this day flank the station. Union Sheet Metal Company fabricated those poles for the city in 1930. The pole on the right has a sign promoting the Community Chest charity. Since Mayor Chep Morrison extensively used the light posts to promote seasonal causes and celebrations, this narrows the date down. While HNOC does not date the photo, it’s likely between 1950 and 1954.
Two men sit at small stands outside the Southern Railway terminal. One sits under an umbrella. I couldn’t read the words painted on either stand, so I put the question to the folks in Facebook’s “Ain’t There No More” group.. My original guess was the guy under the umbrella operated a food stand, and the other sold newspapers. Folks made out “ITEM” on the right-hand stand. That fits with the New Orleans Item newspaper. Longtime Times-Picayune photographer (and current director of the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House in Laplace) John McCusker says they’re both newsstands. Works for me!
The Mercier Building at Canal and Dauphine Streets was the first Maison Blanche.
Mercier Building 1885
Photo of the construction of the Mercier Building in 1884. Photographer is unidentified. Source is the Louisiana Photographs Collection, Earl K. Long Library, UNO. The third incarnation of Christ Episcopal Church stood at the corner of Canal and Dauphine until the 1880s. The chapter put the property up at auction in 1884. The Mercier family demolished the church. They built this commercial structure. Christ Episcopal moved uptown. They built a new church, uptown at St. Charles Avenue and Sixth Street. In 1897, Simon J. Shwartz acquired the Mercier Building, opening the Maison Blanche Department Store there.
Church to Store
Episcopalians in New Orleans founded Christ Church in 1803. The chapter held services in various locations at the start. In 1816, they built a church on the corner of Bourbon and Canal (river side). The congregation outgrew that building by the 1830s. In 1837, Christ Church dedicated a new church on the corner. This second church was in the style of a Greek temple. Businessman Judah Touro made the chapter an offer they couldn’t refuse for the building, in 1845. He loaned the church to a Jewish congregation, but then demolished the block, to build the “Touro Buildings.” Christ Episcopal moved from Canal and Bourbon to Canal and Dauphine Streets. Rather than accept a private offer for the now-valuable property, the chapter sold it at auction.
The Merciers built their building as separate locations with shared walls. Multiple retailers leased the space. Leon Fellman split from his brother, Bernard. Leon opened a store in the Mercier Buildings, while his brother continued the original store in the Touro Buildings. When the Touro Buildings caught fire in 1892, S. J. Shwartz moved his family’s store, A. Schwartz and Son, to the Mercier Buildings. Shwartz bought the building in 1897. He terminated the leases of Fellman and other tenants. Shwartz then re-modeled the interior of the building, turning it into a single store, Maison Blanche.
Construction, not demolition
UNO captioned this as “Mercier Building being dismantled, Canal Street, New Orleans,” but the photo actually documents the construction. This photo was taken in 1885, not 1906.
NOPSI 913 on the Canal line in its waning days of operation.
New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) streetcar 913, starting an outbound run on the Canal Street line. Photographer uncredited–if you know who shot this, please drop me a line. NOPSI 940 approaches 913, pulling up to end its inbound run. Both streetcars are 1923-vintage arch roof cars. Here’s Aaron’s caption from Facebook:
NOPSI Canal car 913 and another car rest the Liberty Circle terminus at the Riverfront, while 940 finishes the turn. April 21, 1964 (about a month or so before The Canal Line’s Big Switch to buses; notice the hobbyhorses over smudgepots on the right).
NOPSI 913 survived the conversion of the Canal line to buses. Market Street Railway in San Francisco now owns the streetcar.
This photo presents the perspective so many people saw, as they hopped off inbound streetcars to catch the ferry to the West Bank. Or, workers in the various buildings around the two-track terminus just after the loop around the Liberty Monument. The Louisville and Nashville train station vanished ten years earlier. When it stood behind the ferry bridge, these streetcars also brought rail travelers up Canal Street, to their hotels.
The loop track around Liberty Place ended the Canal line’s inbound runs since 1900. Ford, Bacon and Davis designed the original terminal. The city built out six tracks in this space. By the time of the 1957 “beautification” project on Canal Street, only the Canal and St. Charles lines remained. The city cut back tracks on Canal Street to two that year. The loop remained, with just two of the terminal tracks. Outbound streetcars merged into the single track on the French Quarter side.
Five weeks after this photo, NOPSI converted the Canal line to bus service. The city ripped up all these tracks. They paved over the neutral ground. This created a bus zone that ran from here at the river to Claiborne Avenue. After Claiborne, the neutral ground switched to green space. Buses merged into the auto lanes.
The city also removed the Liberty Monument, to make way for construction of the International Trade Mart and the Rivergate Convention Center. They put the monument into storage and demolished Liberty Place. While this move escaped public scrutiny at the time, the monument became a symbol for “heritage” in later years.
The original Cotton Exchange Building was the setting for an Edgar Degas painting.
Cotton Exchange Building
Photo postcard of the Cotton Exchange Building, on the uptown/lake side of the corner of Carondelet and Gravier Streets, in the CBD. A group of cotton factors founded the New Orleans Cotton Exchange in 1871. They built this building in 1881. Structural deficiencies appeared in this Second Empire structure in the 1910s, and by 1916, the city deemed it unsafe. Therefore, the Exchange demolished the building. They built the structure that stands on the corner today. The original building featured lavish interiors and offices for the factors. Edgar Degas painted a scene set in a cotton factor’s office in the Exchange building in 1873. Postcard by the V.O. Hammon Publishing Company.
The Cotton Exchange entered the scene after the Southern Rebellion and the abolition of enslavement. So, cotton factors recognized the changes coming to the industry during Reconstruction and beyond. They leveraged technology such as the telegraph to gather data important to cotton growing. The Exchange also implemented futures trading. Col. Henry G. Hester, the Exchange’s Secretary, brought practices from the Chicago Board of Trade to New Orleans. These modernization techniques enabled factors to stabilize prices as growers addressed the challenges of employing workers rather than enslaving them.
Loss of the building
The Cotton Exchange transitioned the industry into the 20th Century. While the building was an attractive landmark, the building presented problems. The building’s structure weakened. The city forced the closure of the building in 1916. World War I and other factors enabled the Exchange to delay action. In 1920, they built a new building on the corner. Unlike the elaborate design of the original, architects Favrot and Livaudais built a much more modest replacement.
The Cotton Exchange sold the second building in 1962. The entity closed in 1964. The building became downtown office space, and is now a hotel.
In Anne Rice’s novel, The Witching Hour, the Mayfair family are the primary characters. This fictional wealthy family had numerous business interests and holdings in New Orleans. So, Rice installed the Mayfair businesses in the building at Carondelet and Gravier in her stories.
The Illinois Central Railroad operated the Panama Limited from Chicago to New Orleans.
Travel poster advertising the Panama Limited railroad route, 1929. The Illinois Central Railroad (IC) operated the route. The train ran from Chicago to New Orleans and return. The trip ran overnight, departing Chicago in the afternoon, arriving in New Orleans the next morning.
Illinois Central featured the Panama Limited as its flagship route. The train operated in “limited” service, running a consist of sleeper, diner, lounge, and observation cars. Since it was a luxury train, its advertising appealed to passengers with means. Travel to New Orleans, they suggested. Escape the stifling Summer heat of the big city with activities along the Gulf Coast! Come golf, swim, sail, fish, even play polo!
The IC operated their Chicago-New Orleans service as the Chicago and New Orleans Limited. On February 4, 1911, the railroad changed the route’s name in honor of the Panama Canal. Even though the canal did not open for another three years, the IC made a big deal of the achievement. A year later, in 1912, IC rolled out new equipment for the route. They solidified the route as an exclusive, first-class train. It made the trip in twenty-five hours.
The train transitioned to diesel and streamlined equipment in 1942. The 1944 timetable shows the train departed at 3:15pm, arriving in New Orleans at 9:15am the next morning.
When Amtrak took over passenger rail service in 1971, they dropped the route. The new entity retained the day train, the City of New Orleans. Later that year, Amtrak revived the Panama Limited, returning the schedule to an overnight run. In 1972, they once again dropped the Panama Limited name. Amtrak returned to the name, City of New Orleans, in the hopes they could leverage the popularity of Arlo Guthrie’s song of the same name.
The current Chicago to New Orleans trip on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans departs Chicago at 8:05pm, arriving in Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans at 3:47pm the following day, for a total trip of 19 hours and 42 minutes.
Canal Street 1958 is a view from the roof of the Jung Hotel.
Canal Street 1958
Franck Studios photo of Canal Street, looking inbound towards the river. The Franck Studios photographer stands on the rooftop of the Jung Hotel, at 1500 Canal. Krauss Department Store stands in the 1201 block to the left, with the Hotel New Orleans in the 1300 block on the right. The Saenger Theater is across Basin Street from Krauss, with the iconic buildings of the 901 block (Audubon Building, Kress, and Maison Blanche) in the background, left. The studio shot this photo in 1958 or 1959.
Krauss in the 1950s
This photo offers a great view of the expansion progress of Krauss. The original store, built by Leon Fellman in 1903, consists of the two-story section fronting Canal Street. Fellman acquired the property in 1899. He built that first 2-story section and leased it to the Krauss Brothers. The brothers acquired the property behind the building, along Basin Street. In 1911, they built a five-story expansion. You can see the line/seam after four windows on each floor. Leon Heymann (the “Krauss Brother-in-Law”) built the third portion of the store in 1921. Heymann continued expanding the store until it filled the block between Canal and Iberville Streets.
While HNOC dates this picture at “approximately 1955,” the streetcar tracks narrow it down for us. Note the two-track configuration in the Canal Street neutral ground. With streetcar operation limited to Canal and St. Charles, the city ripped up the two outside tracks on Canal. The lines using those tracks had been converted to buses by 1948. So, Canal operated on the two tracks running from Liberty Place to City Park Avenue. One block of the inbound outside track remained, between Carondelet Street and St. Charles Avenue. St. Charles streetcars turned for their outbound run on that track.
The city planted the palm trees in this photo as part of the 1957 “beautification project.” They also built planter boxes along the neutral ground. Unfortunately, those palm trees only lasted about three years, because of a couple of cold winters.