Desire Buses begin on 30-May-1948.
New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) converted their Desire line from streetcars to buses over Memorial Day Weekend in 1948. This flyer, distributed on transit lines across the city, explained the change. Streetcars ran until Saturday evening on 29-May. On Sunday morning, 30-May, White Company buses rolled out of Canal Station, taking over on Desire.
NOPSI moved quickly to remove streetcar tracks on the Desire line. So, they wanted the ride along the line to be smooth. Removing the tracks and re-blacktopping the street helped. From the brochure:
Street car tracks below Almonaster will be removed and the streets over which the buses are to travel will be resurfaced. During the progress of the track removal and re-paving, short temporary detours from the permanent route will be necessary. Signs at regular stops will direct passengers to the nearest temporary stop.
NOPSI implemented this plan for several reasons. First, streetcar tracks made for a bumpy ride for automobiles. To generate buy-in for buses, the company, along with the city, gave folks a smoother car trip. Sentimental feelings for the “Streetcar Named Desire” vanished quickly. Once the tracks were gone, the streetcars were quickly forgotten.
NOPSI and City Hall tore up streetcar tracks quickly on other converted lines. When the company converted the Magazine line to trackless trolleys, they left the overhead wire. Since the electric buses didn’t require tracks, up they came. Now, the blocks on Camp street the line traveled got that smooth-ride treatment. It also didn’t hurt that nobody really missed streetcars on Magazine.
NOPSI planned to convert a number of lines in the late 1930s. The outbreak of World War II delayed those plans. The War Department, along with other agencies supporting the war effort, denied the companies requests. Streetcars operated using electricity. They ran on existing steel rails. Buses required rubber tires and gasoline. The War Department needed those two resources more than public transit. So, streetcars remained throughout the war. As part of the peacetime economy transitions, the government approved the bus conversions.
Pirate’s Alley Postcard from the early 1900s.
Pirate’s Alley Postcard
This Pirate’s Alley Postcard presents the New Orleans landmark from Royal Street to Chartres Street. The Newberry Library, University of Illinois, retains the original copy as part of the Curt Teich Postcard Donation. So, the card shows the corner of the St. Anthony’s Garden. The garden offers green space to those working at the St. Louis Cathedral some . The buildings on the right remain in place today. So, first floor space of these buildings contains retail shops. A man walks down the alley, approaching a gas lamp. The lamp marks the intersection of Pirate’s Alley and Cabildo Alley. A right turn into Cabildo Alley connects you to the back of the Cabildo building and St. Peter Street.
The legend of the pirates
The namesakes of the alley are the “pirates” Jean and Pierre Lafitte. Many prefer to think of them as privateers. Did they meet in the mists that creep into this alley? Finding pirates on dark night in the French Quarter? Hard to day. Pirate’s Alley separates St. Louis Cathedral from the seat of Spanish Colonial government, the Cabildo. Additionally, W.C.C. Claiborne, territorial governor of Louisiana, set up shop in the Cabildo. Officers of the United States Navy, seeking to close down the Lafitte brothers’ base in Barataria Bay, would no doubt present themselves to Claiborne to report on their progress. So, clandestine meetings between pirates and their customers right next to government offices doesn’t make sense. Fast forward to the middle of the 19th Century. New Orleans welcomes visitors as the second largest port city in the United States. So, the mystique, the lore of the pirates and the lore of the 1815 battle enticed tourists to stay around, perhaps an extra day or two, exploring the Vieux Carré, possibly down to the battlefield.
While the visual is fascinating, the more likely places for clandestine meetings between pirates would be the blacksmith shop reputed to be owned by the brothers. Other locations include the Old Absinthe House and other warehouse buildings in the city. The Lafittes supervised a number of smuggling operations. Jean moved between Barataria and New Orleans, while Pierre handled the business aspects of the operations in the city.
This Pirate’s Alley postcard scene entices the modern visitor. Turn into the alley from Rue Royale. Stop for a beverage in the bar at Cabildo Alley. Peer into the entrance of the Cabildo. You may even encounter a couple getting married, just outside the cathedral. Pirate’s Alley is a popular place to tie the knot.
French Quarter mini-bus offered an alternative to standard-size buses.
French Quarter mini-bus
NOPSI 1002, a “Flxette” from the Flxible Company, going down Chartres Street in 1980. NOPSI operated a “French Quarter” line, replacing standard buses with these minis. They re-routed regular bus lines to Decatur and N. Rampart Streets. This lessened the impact of larger buses on the interior streets of the Quarter. While the route changes for standard buses remain, the mini-bus line was not successful. In this photo, NOPSI 1002 passes the side of the Royal Orleans Hotel.
Streetcar lines regularly transited the interior of the French Quarter, dating back to the days of mule-drawn operation. Streetcars traveled inbound on Royal Street. They reached Canal Street, turned right, then right again on Bourbon Street. Bourbon served as the outlet for the outbound leg of a number of lines.
As NOPSI discontinued streetcar operations on all but St. Charles and Canal, buses took over on the same routes. Diesel and gas exhaust fumes flooded the streets. The weight of the buses shook the streets and the buildings lining them. As the city became more conscious of long-term damage to historic buildings, buses moved up on their radar.
The Landrieu administration and the City Council studied the problem of buses in the Quarter in the late 1970s. Concerns related to preservation moved up the agendas. They concluded it was time to pull buses out of the Quarter.
NOPSI buses weren’t the only problem, though. Tour buses from a number of companies, along with motor coaches from commercial companies, transporting convention attendees and other visitors to Quarter hotels. So, the rumble-bumble of big vehicles had to go.
The city implemented French Quarter mini-bus use in 1978. NOPSI acquired the “Flxette’ vehicles for use on the “French Quarter” transit line. The city banned large buses of all kinds outright. Private transportation companies complained, but they adopted.
Thanks to Aaron Handy, III for this photo!
Cabildo courtyard, captured in a 1940 postcard.
“Courtyard and Prison Rooms in the Cabildo.” This postcard, from the Curt Teich Postcard Archives Digital Collection at the Newberry Library, University of Illinois, is from a photo by Bill Leeper. It features the Cabildo, the building that housed the seat of the Spanish Colonial government in New Orleans. While the original government building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1788, this building replaced it. The Spanish government completed the Cabildo in 1799. The United States took ownership of the Cabildo in 1803, as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Louisiana State Museum
After serving as the seat of the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Cabildo became the home of the Louisiana State Museum in 1911. As such, the building housed a number of exhibits. Since the Cabildo is an exhibit in itself, there’s usually some sort of display/exhibition that brings visitors back to the Colonial period. The courtyard played that role in 1940.
The courtyard and the “prison”
This postcard captures the courtyard behind the Cabildo. Outdoor space is a common feature in the architecture of Spanish Colonial buildings. Homes were built around a central courtyard. The open space allowed heat to rise out through the central space, and let the breeze come in.
The courtyard at the Cabildo differs from others in the Vieux Carré. It appears to be open space surrounded by the Cabildo, but it’s really two buildings. The structure in the rear of the photo is the Louisiana State Armory, commonly known as the Arsenal. The Spanish built their arsenal on this spot. In addition to holding weapons and ammunition, the Arsenal included jail cells. So, that’s how the postcard gets its title. The Americans remodeled the Arsenal in 1839. The street entrance on St. Peter Street received a Greek Revival entrance, but the interior retained the Spanish style.
Friends of the Cabildo
The Louisiana State Museum uses the Arsenal as an extension of the Cabildo’s museum space. There’s a large meeting room on the second floor. This morning, I had the privilege of speaking to the Tour Guides of the Friends of the Cabildo, at their monthly meeting. The meeting was via Zoom. Before the pandemic, the tour guides met on the second floor of the Arsenal. I look forward to my next talk to the group, back in this wonderful building.
Krauss warehouse building on Iberville Street supported the store.
Krauss warehouse building
The Krauss Company used this seven-story building at 201 N. Front Street (Front and Iberville) as warehouse space in the 1930s to the 1960s. The store, located at 1201 Canal, was only in the block between Canal and Iberville at the time. The building was originally part of the Louisiana Sugar Exchange complex, until that business closed in the 1930s. The photo is undated, but the Frank Studios woody at the bottom right places it in the early 1950s.
The Louisiana Sugar Exchange stood on Iberville and Front Streets from 1883ish until the early 1930s. The seven-story warehouse stood next to a ten-story “filter house.” Sugar syrup required filtration to remove impurities. Large plants use gravity to filter the product. Once the syrup was filtered, the plants processed it. They barreled the product as molasses, storing it in the warehouse. Molasses was easy to ship.
By the 1930s, sugar producers moved away from downtown New Orleans. They built larger processing facilities up or down the river. The filter house and warehouse stood unused.
Leon Heymann and Krauss
Krauss Department Store opened on Canal Street in 1903. The company expanded from the original two stories in 1911, adding a five-story extension. Leon Heymann, President of the Krauss company (and brother-in-law to the original four Krauss brothers) eventually acquired the entire 1201 block of Canal Street, back to Iberville. He then acquired the block behind the store, from Iberville to Bienville Streets. While he planned a service/warehouse building for that second block, World War II slowed that down. The second building didn’t happen until 1952. So, the warehouse space down by the river was an important part of the business.
Into the 1960s
The Krauss Company sold the 201 N. Front building after the completion of the service building behind the store. The 201 N. front building changed hands a few times in the 1960s and 1970s. Folks may remember the building as the location of “Victoria Station,” a train-themed restaurant where diners ate in railcars (as well as in the building).
The old warehouse building now houses the One11 Hotel, and its Batture Bistro and Bar.
This photo is via HNOC. Tip of the hat to Mike Scott for his 2020 article about the building in Da Paper.
Lower Mississippi Valley map showing the region in 1720.
Lower Mississippi Valley
French map showing New Orleans and the Lower Mississippi Valley, ca. 1720. The image features a plan of the Vieux Carre. The draftsman overlaid the city plan on top of a map of the larger region. The regional map shows waterways stemming from the Mississippi River. The map description and commentary are in French.
Plan of the city
This map is dated as 1720. While that’s close enough to develop a sense of the region at the time, it is off by at least a couple of years. Adrien de Pauger, an engineer and cartographer on Bienville’s staff, arrived in New Orleans in 1721. Bienville tasked de Pauger with surveying the land and planning out the city. He completed the project towards the end of 1721. Additionally, de Pauger traveled to Mobile, planning the original layout of that city. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette lists the publication date of this map as circa 1730. That matches better than the 1720 origin date.
Just a plan
This map reflects a serious issue researchers face when examining old maps and surveys. While de Pauger laid out the full grid for the neighborhood we now call the French Quarter, it was a plan. It would be decades before residents moved away from the streets closer to the river. There are several reasons for this. First, civilians built homes in the Southwest corner of the grid in the first half of the 18th century. Bienville established Fort St. Charles in that corner. The fort housed the small garrison assigned to New Orleans. Additionally, it offered a refuge to citizens in the event the settlement was attacked. So, naturally, New Orleanians desired to be close to the fort.
Maps showing the extent of fire damage in 1788 detail areas of de Pauger’s grid that were occupied at that time. Almost all of the planned grid above Dauphine Street (called “Calle de Bayona” during the Spanish Colonial period) remained occupied, fifty-plus years after this 1720ish map.
This trend isn’t limited to 18th century maps, as we’ve seen with railroad maps in the 1840s-1850s. Exercise caution when using a single source!