Just Hotels – The Transition of Canal Street #FadingSigns

Just Hotels – Where once retail ruled.

Just Hotels

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.

Soda Fountains

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

just 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.

Chartres Street at Canal Street, 1890-91 – Bobtails and Wall Ads

Chartres Street at Canal Street, 1890-91 – Bobtails and Wall Ads

Chartres Street was one block down from the Clay Monument

Chartres Street

600 block of Canal at Chartres, 1890. (Mugnier photo)

Chartres Street

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.

Godchaux’s

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.

Fading signs

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:

The
Machine
World is the
<something> GER

I can’t make sense of that. Anybody have an idea?

Mr. Bingle on Canal Street dates back to the 1940s

Mr. Bingle on Canal Street dates back to the 1940s

Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche Canal

Mr. Bingle

Santa and Mr. Bingle on the front of MB Canal, 1952 (Franck Studios photo courtesy HNOC)

Mr. Bingle

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

Mr. Bingle

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

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!

NOPSI 921 Arch Roof – Nighttime on St. Charles Avenue, 1971 #NOLAstreetcars #StreetcarMonday

NOPSI 921 Arch Roof – Nighttime on St. Charles Avenue, 1971 #NOLAstreetcars #StreetcarMonday

NOPSI 921 was one of 35 arch roofs that survived.

NOPSI 921

Arch roof streetcar NOPSI 921 on St. Charles Avenue. Roger Puta photo.

NOPSI 921

St. Charles Avenue at night. This photo, by Roger Puta, shows NOPSI 921 as it’s just made the turn from Canal Street, onto St. Charles, for its outbound run on that line. NOPSI 921 survived the massive cutback in streetcar service NOPSI implemented in 1964. They discontinued streetcar service at the end of May that year. All but thirty-five of the 900-series streetcars were either demolished or donated to museums.

The Route

The route of the St. Charles Line changed a number of times to get to the present configuration. In 1950, NOPSI discontinued “belt” service on St. Charles and Tulane. That change set the current route used by NORTA.

Outbound

  • Start at Carondelet and Canal Streets
  • Right-turn onto Canal from Carondelet, on the “third” track
  • Immediate right-turn onto St. Charles Avenue from Canal Street
  • First stop: pick up riders at St. Charles Avenue and Common Street
  • Head outbound on St. Charles to Tivoli (Formerly Lee) Circle
  • Half-circle around, entering the neutral ground on St. Charles, just before Calliope.
  • Outbound on the St. Charles neutral ground to Riverbend.
  • Right-turn from St. Charles Avenue onto S. Carrollton Avenue
  • Up S. Carrollton Avenue to S. Claiborne Avenue
  • Terminate at Carrollton and Claiborne

Return

  • Depart S. Claiborne Terminal
  • Down S. Carrollton Avenue to St. Charles Avenue
  • Down St. Charles Avenue to Tivoli Circle.
  • Three-quarters around the circle, to Howard Avenue
  • Up Howard Avenue one block
  • Right-turn onto Carondelet Street
  • Down Carondelet Street to Canal, where the run terminates.

ATNM

There are a number of signs in this photo, marking the locations of “ain’t there no more” businesses. The Holiday Inn is now a Wyndham, for example. The Musee’ Conti Wax Museum is closed. The sign on Canal and Royal Streets grabbed drivers’ attention, to entice them to turn into the Quarter and go to the museum.

What other ATNM things do you see?

Fading Signs

I found this photo in the Commons while looking for images for my next book project. The History Press considers old electric signs for businesses that are no longer around to be “fading signs,” so Kolb’s Restaurant (the sign is visible on the left) counts.

 

Kolb’s Restaurant and the Fading Signs project

Kolb’s Restaurant and the Fading Signs project

Kolb’s Restaurant arguably has a “fading sign” right out front.

Sign at Kolb's on St. Charles Avenue

Kolb’s on St. Charles Avenue

Kolb’s Restaurant

I had three targets in mind in the 100 block of Canal Street for the Fading Signs book. One was the “Russell Stover” in the sidewalk tiles at the entrance of what used to be the candy store. The other two were restaurants, The Pearl, and Kolb’s.

The Fabacher family originally opened a restaurant in the 100 block of St. Charles. The Fabachers were beer brewers. They ran into difficulties placing their beer in restaurants and bars in the city. So, they opened up restaurants of their own. By 1899, they built up a solid clientele on St. Charles Avenue. The St. Charles Hotel was just in the next block. They sold the location to Conrad Kolb that year. Kolb ran with the Fabacher’s success.

Way too many folks forget the strong German roots of New Orleans. Sure, the city changed “Berlin Street” to “General Pershing Street,” but otherwise, Germans are an important part of the overall gumbo. German cuisine attracted visitors staying at the big hotel, as well as locals.

Kolb’s, faded

The restaurant closed in 1995, just short of a century of operation. The big electric sign out front remains, though. When THP approached me about doing this book, I worried about how many faded signs there were locally. After reading the books in the series on Detroit and Cincinnati, I used a much tighter standard for the Preservation in Print article on “ghost ads” than the publisher’s. In the Cincy book, the author presents the electric sign from the old baseball park, now that it’s been related to Great America Park, the current home of the Reds. I saw that and thought, well, that brings in Kolb’s!

Kolb’s and cooperation

Kolb's Restaurant

Looking at the 100 block of St. Charles Avenue, from the St. Charles Hotel. (courtesy Ryan Bordenave)

While walking around on Canal Street, I came across a fading sign on 622 Canal, the building that’s currently occupied by a PJ’s coffee. It’s really faded. So, I took a quick photo and shared it on the NOLA History Guy page on FB. Got some good input on what it was. That’ll be the subject of another article in this series. The Kolbs connection is the photo above. Ryan Bordenave, my go-to expert for All Things Canal Street, shared a photo he has down at the DDD. The sign at 622 Canal is visible, but blurry. What’s not blurry is the Kolbs sign on St. Charles! I didn’t mention Kolbs at all in that discussion, and up this popped!

That’s why this will be a fun project.

Mr. Bingle 1952 – Maison Blanche Canal Street

Mr. Bingle 1952 – Maison Blanche Canal Street

Mr. Bingle 1952 – Jingle, Jangle Jingle

mr. bingle 1952

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.

Christmas Spokes-Elf

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

Mr. Bingle 1952

Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley

Mr. Bingle tells his story in Chapter 3! Buy the book here!