Maison Blanche Gentilly was the second store off of Canal Street.
MB Gentilly, 1948. Franck Studios via THNOC
Maison Blanche Gentilly
Franck Studios photo of Maison Blanche Gentilly in 1948. The department store opened its third store just off Gentilly Boulevard, at Frenchmen Street. This strip mall anchored a large commercial development near the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard. Other stores in the strip at this time include Walgreens, Morgan and Lindsey (a five-and-dime store) and Capital Stores Supermarket. A huge billboard for JAX Beer stands above the Walgreens. The MB is the only two-story store.
The intersection of Elysian Fields and Gentilly Blvd grew into an important commercial area towards the end of the 19th century. The Pontchartrain Railroad operated along the length of Elysian Fields, from Chartres Street to Milneburg at the lake. The railroad marked the road along the Gentilly Ridge, Gentilly Road, the half-way point of the route. The train stopped there if a passenger notified the conductor. The train also stopped for pick-up if it was flagged down. The rail stop evolved into a local hub. The Zuppardo’s parked their produce truck there. That evolved into a brick-and-mortar store. Several Jewish congregations purchased the high ground on the ridge. They built cemeteries there, so they could bury their loved ones in-ground.
World War II
After the war, men and women came home, ready to start families of their own. Developers created subdivisions around the commercial hub. While housing remained segregated, Pontchartrain Park opened as a subdivision for Black families. So, more businesses opened. The Frenchmen strip mall reflected that demand. Residents of Gentilly appreciated the convenience. Instead of taking the Gentilly streetcar (on Franklin) or the Elysian Fields bus into the CBD, they shopped at Maison Blanche Gentilly.
T-P ad, 24-October-1953
“The Woman who works shops at MB for smart, thrift-wise wearables” in this ad in the Times-Picayune, 24-October-1953. MB enticed the working woman with nylon blousettes, wool suits and dresses, and butter calf handbags. With the Gentilly Store, woman shopped without having to schlep back downtown!
Harry Batt, Jr., promoted Pontchartrain Beach 1934 in the local paper.
Pontchartrain Beach 1934
A full-page advertisement in the Times-Picayune, 1-July-1934, offered readers prizes at Pontchartrain Beach 1934. Participating stores included White Bros. jewelers, Cary and Helwick Hardware, Oliver H. Van Horn, Arrow Family Outfitters, and The Pants Store.
Pontchartrain Beach on the Bayou
Entrance to Pontchartrain Beach, when it was located along Bayou St. John.
Harry Batt, Jr., opened Pontchartrain Beach in 1929. He placed his amusement park on the east side of Bayou St. John at the lake. The Spanish Fort amusement area occupied the west side of the bayou for decades. Those attractions declined in the 1920s. So, Batt leased the land on the other side and opened a new attraction. Additionally, Batt’s experience selling ice to Spanish Fort attractions gave him knowledge of the area. He promoted the park with ads in the daily newspapers.
The concept of “co-operative” advertising benefits small businesses. On their own, a business may not be able to afford a full-page ad. So, if they pooled their funds with other businesses, the all received better visibility. Notice that the advertisers here don’t really overlap in terms of products. The most common co-op ads were from a manufacturer, who then listed the stores selling their products. Here, Pontchartrain Beach worked with stores to offer prizes for events and contests at the amusement park.
Getting to the Beach
ad for New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated, 1-June-1934
The route to Pontchartrain Beach at this time was the Spanish Fort streetcar line. Initially, folks traveled to the Bayou via rail service. When electric streetcars came on the scene in the 1890s, the amusement area at Spanish Fort was in decline.
That changed in 1911. New Orleans Railway and Light Company, NOPSI’s predecessor, offered electric streetcar service back to the bayou. The line followed the route of the West End line. When it reached Adams Street in Lakeview (now Allen Toussaint Blvd.), the line turned right, ending at the Bayou. When Batt opened his park, all folks had to do was cross the bridge and go ride the rides.
Pontchartrain Beach moved from the bayou to Milneburg in 1939. That’s another story, but Batt continued to promote the park regularly in the newspaper. For more history on Da Beach and Lake Pontchartrain, check out Catherine Campanella’s books on the subject.
New Orleans offered great options for Dining, Dancing, Entertainment in 1978.
Dining, Dancing, Entertainment.
Summertime in New Orleans in the 1970s offered a wide variety of going-out options, from dining to live music, to a night at Da Beach. Begue’s at the Royal Sonesta Hotel offered a different spread on the lunch buffet daily. We would go on Thursdays, when it was the big seafood buffet (above).
Vincenzo’s, 3000 Severn, in #themetrys tempted folks into their world “of Good Food, of Good Drinks, of Great Entertainment.” Creole-Italian food, a solid bar and a good wine list, and a piano man for live music, five days a week. The location is the strip mall next to Breaux Mart on Severn. It’s now boutiques and a Hallmark store.
The Monteleone Hotel on Royal Street presented “Steaks Unlimited” as one of their restaurants. The Sunday Brunch at the hotel featured breakfast food and Creole classics. While some brunch spreads provided the bare minimum for guests who didn’t want to venture out, The Monteleone competed for locals coming into town for a day of sightseeing.
Dancing and Live Music
Disco Dancing at Da Beach (top)! A night out riding the Zephyr and the “Ragin Cajun” roller coasters required fashion choices other than nice clubbing clothes. Still, 1978 was peak disco. So, the amusement park turned the main stage (more-or-less in the center of the midway) into an outdoor disco, Monday thru Friday nights. On Saturdays and Sundays, Da Beach held a “Gong Show.” Local radio DJs emceed these crazy talent shows.
For a show/club experience, The Front Page featured a classic two-shows-a-night band/review. Tommy Cook and the Platters entertained at the Fat City club the week of 13-18 June, 1978. No cover, weeknights and Sundays.
Not interested in sweating out at Da Beach? Tulane’s Summer Lyric Theater presented three musicals in the Summer of 1978. Theater enthusiasts turned out at Dixon Hall on the Uptown campus for “Girl Crazy,” “Die Fledermaus,” and “Camelot.” Tulane’s Summer Lyric Theater is still going strong in 2022.
New Orleans entertained itself nicely during the Oil Boom of the late 1970s. As Boom turned into Bust, we began to re-invent ourselves, offering tourist-oriented attractions on a larger scale.
In 1966, newspapers offered Maison Blanche Advertising a solid platform.
Maison Blanche Advertising
The Sunday edition of the Times-Picayune for February 13, 1966 offered a target-rich environment for the department stores. The store placed numerous full-page ads, like this one for “GEORGIA GRIFFIN’S ‘TOWN and TRAVEL’ COLLECTION OF DACRON/COTTONS” – “leaves pressing business behind.” Additionally, they ran an ad for Maison Blanche auto centers,
The dresses featured three neck styles, Italian collar, Double-collar, and Cardigan neck. So, this collection sold at Misses’ and Women’s Dresses, Second Floor of MB Canal. Additionally, they went out to the “suburban” stores. Gentilly Woods, which later migrated to The Plaza at Lake Forest. Airline, which moved to Clearview Shopping Center, and Westside Shopping Center.
MB never sleeps…
With a full final shopping day on Monday, February 14, MB presented Rudy Grenreich’s “Exquisite Form “L’Intrigue” Sleepwear Collection. “(Surprise surprise! … no gossamer peakboo here. All is demure, or is it?)”
Styles from “THE LOCKE SHOE TRUNK SHOWING” by Mr. George D. Williams, stood next to the sleepwear. The “Carol,” “Cameo,” and “Pinafore” enticed women out for the showing. Shoppers ventured only to the downtown Shoe Salon for the Locke shoe. While the outlying stores attracted regular shoppers, the “get dressed and go downtown” view held.
“High-stepping, uninhibited as the season … four great fashion looks from Carmelettes take lower heels, joyous colorings, or the sparkling polish of black.” While the Shoe Department offered several styles and colors only at Canal Street, others appeared at the other stores.
“Carnival arrives at first blush of spring as Samuel Winston, not a moment too soon, proposes you wear his pink frosting spectator’s costume as a foil to the first azaleas and a compliment to a king.” The Designers’ Shop on the Second Floor offered lovely suits perfect for grandstand viewing of parades.
Pfaff’s “DIAL-A-STITCH AUTOMATIC SEWING MACHINE,” priced in the ballpark of the designer suits, contained numerous automatic features. Families with a skilled seamstress at home created their own women’s suits with sewing machines. MB sold them on the Fourth Floor. The 1966 Dial-A-Stitch sold at Canal Street only.
More MB 1966 to come! Be sure to pick up the book, Maison Blanche Department Stores.
Maison Blanche Thanksgiving weekend was always hectic.
Maison Blanche Thanksgiving
Ad from Thanksgiving Weekend, 1978. MB ran this ad on Sunday, 26-November-1978, after the madness of Friday and Saturday were over. Holiday season 1978 was my first at MB Clearview. I spent that weekend glued to one of those old electro-mechanical cash registers the store used at the time.
The Post-Thanksgiving sales in the Maison Blanche Men’s Department included mostly grab-and-go items. Casual shirts, slacks, some jackets and coats. Mom would hit the stores while dad slept in or went fishing. So, Mom picked up stuff for dad that didn’t require his presence. That gave her time to explore the various ladies departments. From the employee perspective, it was easy. The lines stached up a bit, so shoppers didn’t come up for conversation.
Selling in 1978
While individual/personal calculators grew in popularity, retail transactions in 1978 had not changed for forty years. Stores shifted from mechanical to electro-mechanical cash register. Credit card transactions remained the same. At MB, store charges (using one’s New Orleans Shoppers’ credit card) rung up on the regular sales ticket. Slide the ticket under the printer in the register. Push the old-style keys for department and item number. Cash, credit, or bank card. The sale rung up, then you’d make an imprint of the card, in the body of the sales ticket. Both store and bank cards required a phone call to verify the credit line, if the purchase was over a set amount. The approval process hadn’t changed much since the 1950s. Credit staff at the Canal Street store answered phones from downstairs and the suburban stores. Those phones had super-long cords (yes, folks, we’re talking about phones with cords). The salesperson at the register gave the card information. The credit staffers looked up the account numbers, calculated the customer’s limit, then approved or declined the purchase.
Suit separates for men
The big ad for Sunday, 26-Nov-1978 for MB presented men’s suit separates from Haggar. “Choose them by the piece: a sport coat, a vest, the slack,, or choose them all for a 3 piece vested look for under 100.00.” These pieces sold well with men whose measurements crossed over suit sizes. The price was right for younger men, as well. These items appear in the Sunday paper. While most people bought the Haggar stuff and brought it home to dad, some folks came in for alterations. We didn’t do alterations over the weekend, but Monday evening after was just fine.
LMEA Marching Festival brings local bands together to perform.
LMEA Marching Festival
Each year, District 6 of the Louisiana Music Educators Association (LMEA) holds a “Marching Assessment” in the Fall. Crusader Band (along with other local bands) call it “Marching Festival.” At the end, when the scores are announced, the officers of the participating bands gather on the field to accept their awards. For the 2007 Festival, Crusader Band’s Drum Major and two Band Captains, along with the co-Captains of the Dominican Debs wait for wait for their scores. I don’t have names for these young men and women at this time. If you know them, let me know. (I sent the photo to my class of 2012 kiddo, who was Brass Captain in his senior year, but he’s in Palo Alto and not awake yet).
Football Season for Crusader Band
In the Fall, Crusader Band is a football band.Going back to the beginning, the band turned out to perform in the stands at games. While some band programs place football as a second priority, behind band competitions, the Crusader Band’s mission was to support the team. The school and the Athletic Department recognized this, and funded a good bit of the program’s expenses. So, as a five-year band dad, I remained silent when parents whose kids attended other schools fussed about money. They were going out of pocket for trips to competitions. I paid a $50 uniform cleaning fee.
The late Mr. Marty Hurley, long-time Band Director, had a solid strategy for preparing for Festival. The festival program called for performance of three tunes and a percussion performance. Hurley chose a theme, picked three tunes, then worked up the drum routine. One of the tunes always featured the auxiliary unit. Crusader Band partners with the “Debs” of Dominican High School.
The band wore the NJROTC service dress blues in those early years. When NJROTC became an elective course track, Crusader Band switched to a classic-style uniform. The style changed over the years. They wore this set of uniforms through my son’s senior year (2011-2012).