Detroit Publishing Company postcard of Maison Blanche Department Store, 1910
I Tell Stories
I’ve written six books on various aspects of the history of New Orleans. They’re stories ranging from streetcars to department stores to schools to Jazz. I earned a BA in Social Sciences Education from the University of New Orleans in 1980. I taught Social Studies at a local high school for a few years. Teaching History is indeed storytelling. It’s a good bit more, of course, particularly when working to improve students’ reading skills, but the content is stories about things in the past. I moved on from high school, using retail sales as a bridge. Invariably, I came back to telling stories, as an adult education instructor (UNO Metropolitan College), and later moving into the world of corporate training. Everything involved storytelling.
While delivering corporate training, I needed things to stay occupied when out of the classroom. So, in 2003, I pitched a book idea to Arcadia Publishing. Streetcars vanished from Canal Street in New Orleans in 1964. The city planned to bring them back, forty years later. It was a great story to share. Even though many stories exist about the older, senior streetcar line, St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street remained essentially an untold story. Arcadia liked the idea and I wrote the book. Promoting a book means telling stories to get folks to buy it.
St. Alphonsus Church, New Orleans, by Theodore Lilienthal, 1880
After the first book, more storytelling opportunities materialized. I pitched a book about my high school, Brother Martin, in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. The school’s roots go back to 1869, when the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened St. Aloysius in the Vieux Carré. Promoting two books opened up more possibilities. I told shorter stories as the “history blogger” for GoNOLA.com, a site sponsored by the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation, now New Orleans, Incorporated. Monthly exposure led to weekly exposure. Various groups around the area invited me to speak to their membership. I’m particularly flattered that the Friends of the Cabildo’s Tour Guides regularly have me in to talk.
Of course, none of this history stuff, from teaching to writing to speaking, pays quite like corporate computer consulting and training. I lived a double life in this respect. That presented challenges for my LinkedIn Presence.
Ramping up LinkedIn
The “second” St. Charles Hotel, stereo card by Theodore Lilienthal, 1880.
I’ve had a presence on LinkedIn since 2007. While I was a good bit active when developing a client base for YatMedia, my activity diminished after that side of what I do scaled back. The computer work I do rarely involves anything local. I traveled extensively for years, teaching UNIX and Enterprise Storage for international companies. The market for those products and services only touches New Orleans very lightly. So, I flew literally around the world, delivering training. The sales staffs of the companies I’ve taught for did the dirty work. I showed up and taught. I still do, in fact, even though “showing up” now means walking here to my home office and firing up WebEx.
The corporate training landscape changed dramatically around 2016 or so. I remember, during the pandemic, a good friend started a podcast for IT professionals. Jeff interviewed folks, and we talked about how the pandemic changed work habits, etc. I explained that my training workload went “virtual” long before people knew what Zoom was about. Traditional job recruiters didn’t help me, since I work through a training company that contracts me out to computer companies. So, even though I’m self-employed, I don’t present a target for those looking to increase their business using LinkedIn.
It’s fun to include LinkedIn users when I tell stories. The larger the audience, the more people I can interest in buying the books! Still, LinkedIn remained secondary to Twitter and Facebook. Now that those platforms morphed into dumpster fires in many ways, the stability of LinkedIn is appealing.
Public swimming pools have a long history in New Orleans.
Architectural rendering of the City Park Swimming Pool complex, 27-July-1924, by Favrot and Livaudais.
Beat the heat in public swimming pools
City Park and Audubon Park both opened public swimming pools in the 1920s. City Park was first, in 1925, followed by the uptown park in 1928. So much of their stories is enmeshed with local politics and national cultural shifts.
The City Park pool opened in 1924. The Times-Picayune wrote about the start of construction on 27-July-1924:
The park commissioners announce that the pool will include beautiful buildings and equipment complete in every detail. It will be constructed between the famous deulling oaks, in the west section of the park, about 400 feet from Orleans Avenue. the completed structure will blend with the surroundings and make an attractive landscape picture.
The location made sense, as the western side of the park was pretty much undeveloped. The park expanded from the old Allard Plantation. Commercial air conditioning didn’t come to New Orleans until the 1930s, so public strategies to beat the heat were important.
The pool opened upon completion of construction. When the park built the miniature railroad, they naturally added a stop at the pool. The pool operated until 1958. Rather than comply with court orders directing the city to integrate public park facilities, the New Orleans City Park Improvement Association closed the pool. The park converted the facility into a sea lion pool, featuring an island in the center. They populated the island with monkeys, creating a zoo-like attraction.
Monkey re-capture at City Park, 9-July-1965
While I wasn’t able to find a photo of the “monkey island” phase, there was a photo in Da Paper on 9-July-1965. There was a “mass escape” of twelve monkeys the day before. Mr. S. H. Daigle, one of the attraction’s attendant, is shown fishing a monkey out of one of the park’s lagoons.
The park closed “monkey island” in 1967. They converted the facility into a miniature golf course. That feature closed in the 1980s. The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s office (OPCS) used the facility for storage and maintenance equipment. Long-time Criminal Sheriff (and later Louisiana Attorney General) Charles Foti built the pool area out as a “haunted house” attraction for Halloween. When the park began the incredibly-popular “Celebration in the Oaks” attraction for Christmas, the OPCS would re-decorate the old pool into a “Cajun Christmas” feature.
The entire pool area simply ain’t there no more. After Foti left OPCS, the department lost interest in using the pool facility. The remains of the pool were razed and the area is now green space.
A Kansas City Southern train heads west out of Union Station. It’s crossing S. Carrollton Avenue, just before the intersection of S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues. A pair of Electro Motive Corporation E3 locomotives are in the lead. Below the underpass bridge, two NOPSI trackless trolleys operating on the Tulane line. The train is likely the “Southern Belle,” the flagship passenger train of the railroad.
Color photo of a KCS EMC E3, pulling the Flying Crow at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal in 1967, by Roger Puta.
The Southern Belle operated from New Orleans to Kansas City, via Shreveport and Dallas. So, it was an important transportation link in Louisiana. The train used EMC E3 engines from its inauguration in 1940 until its last service in 1969.
KCS passenger service operated from the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad depot at 705 S. Rampart until 1954. Like other railroads, KCS trains transferred to Union Passenger Terminal that year. The city converted the depot into a fire station for NOFD, then later demolished it. The site is now a surface parking lot.
The L&A Depot stood just below the turning basin of the New Canal. Trains departed north from the depot, then turned west. They merged onto the tracks coming from Union Station. Illinois Central and Southern Pacific trains operated from that terminal. The westbound tracks passed over S. Carrollton Avenue on an underpass built by a WPA streets improvement program. The city filled in the Canal in 1949.
NOPSI trackless trolleys
Since the Southern Belle (and the Flying Crow, which operated from New Orleans to Port Arthur, Texas, to Kansas City) both operated in the 1940s, the buses narrow the time range for this photo. While this section of S. Carrollton was part of the St. Charles/Tulane Belt lines during streetcar operations, that service ended in 1951. NOPSI cut back the St. Charles line to S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues. They discontinued streetcar service on Tulane at that time. NOPSI replaced streetcars on Tulane with trackless trolleys on January 8, 1951. The company substituted buses on the line on December 27, 1964. So, the photo can’t be earlier than 1951.
The other factor limiting this photo’s date range is the Carrollton Interchange. It’s not there yet! That’s because that part of the Pontchartrain Expressway wasn’t completed until 1956. The design phase of the project began in 1952. Since there’s not even construction above the train, the project wasn’t really underway yet.
Of course, the other identifiers in this photo are the automobiles. I’ll leave it to readers to tell us what they see.
Chevra Thilim Cemetery (Gates of Prayer) stands at 4824 Canal Street, near City Park Avenue.
Gates of Prayer Cemetery, also known as Chevra Thilim
1999 image of the “Jewish Cemetery” at 4824 Canal Street. The building in the background is the Botinelli Building. The spires on top originally stood on top of the old Temple Sinai building on Carondelet Street. In 1977, the congregation decided to move uptown, they demolished their synagogue. Theodore Botinelli built an office/apartment building behind his family’s home. He salvaged the spires and put them on top of his new building.
Botinelli’s building overlooks the Jewish Cemetery, which was founded in 1858. Gates of Prayer has a detailed history of the cemetery, which has a fascinating story:
The Gates of Prayer cemetery at 4824 Canal Street has been called many names since it was founded in 1858 . It’s been called many names, in part because it has never been a single cemetery. Instead, it has been owned by and used by five different local congregations/organizations who have buried their members there over its lengthy history. Today, the cemetery is owned by Congregation Gates of Prayer, Chevra Thilim Cemetery Corporation, and Congregation Beth Israel.
So, as you walk up Canal Street from, say, St. Dominic Church at S. St. Patrick Street, you first encounter the old McMahon Funeral Home, 4800 Canal Street (cor S. Bernadotte). That building is now “The Mortuary,” a haunted house.
Theodore Botinelli’s father was an Italian-born artist and sculptor. The family lived in a house on St. Anthony Street, between the Jewish Cemetery and St. Patrick Number One. His mother opened a flower shop on the corner. Botinelli acquired more property on St. Anthony Street. He eventually built a three-story building at the end of the dead-end street. With the distinctive spires installed on top, people took notice. Theodore pitched the City Council to change the name of that dead-end block of St. Anthony to Botinelli Place.
This photo, dated 1999, is from the Louisiana Film Commission collection at the State Library of Louisiana. The photographer is unidentified.
Route 47 first car of the morning heads to the Cemeteries.
Early Morning Route 47
Early morning outbound on Route 47, the Canal Streetcar to the Cemeteries Terminal. ‘Twas a foggy morning, as NORTA 2021 heads up Canal. The car’s following the standard route out of the barn down the street at Canal and N. White Streets. It’s passing through Hennessey Street here, right by Blue Dot Donuts. The Canal cars exit the barn (next to Warren Easton High), turn right, heading outbound to Cemeteries. They then start a full run to the river.
the Canal line originally operated from Canal Station at N. White Street, down to the river. After two months in the summer of 1861, the New Orleans City Railroad Company expanded the route, up to Metaire Road/City Park Avenue. This enabled riders to easily get up to the cemeteries at that end of the street. Mid-City as we know it now didn’t exist. So, the trip past the streetcar barn moved fast. People got down to Cypress Grove, Greenwood, the three St. Patrick’s cemeteries, as well as several cemeteries owned by Jewish congretations.
When the streetcars reached the CBD, they connected with other lines, such as Esplanade, St. Claude, and the Carrollton (later St. Charles) line.
Canal Streetcar branches
For years, the Canal line serviced just stops on Canal Street. The sort-of exception to this was the years of “belt” service, where Canal ran in one direction and the Esplanade line in the other. Still, the line was just a straight shot up and down the city’s high street. In 2004, the line returned with not only the streetcars operating on Canal, but also on N. Carrollton Avenue. The “Carrollton Spur” runs from the river, but then makes a right-turn onto N. Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City. NOPSI and NORTA serviced this part of Carrollton Avenue with buses, since there were so many railroad tracks crossing the street. By the time of the return of the Canal line, it was easy to run the Von Dullen cars out to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Mystic Canal Street
The fog offers such visual impressions! Fantastic writing prompts to let your imagination run wild.
AMA on streetcars! If I don’t have an answer, I’ll likely work to find it.
MOW (Maintenance of Way) equipment keeps the trains running.
Norfolk Southern MOW vehicles changing direction on the Back Belt.
MOW equipment and trucks
Norfolk Southern Maintenance of Way (MOW) equipment along the Back Belt in New Orleans. These units perform regular work on the rails to insure quality. These vehicles are a ballast clearer and a spike repair unit. They maintain the track leading out to the 5-mile bridge and down to the NS Gentilly Yard.
The Back Belt
The Back Belt originates in Jefferson Parish, joining with the Kansas City Southern and Canadian National (formerly Illinois Central) main lines. As it reaches Orleans Parish, these tracks join with the New Orleans Terminal Company trackage at the New Basin Canal. The Pontchartrain Expressway replaced the canal in 1949. Now, the highway is part of I-10. New Orleans Terminal Company merged with the Southern Railway system (now Norfolk-Southern Railroad) in 1916. The NOTC track led out of old Union Station on S. Rampart Street. Union Passenger Terminal used the track starting in 1954. The Amtrak Crescent follows this track to the Back Belt, then out of town.
Types of MOW cars
Norfolk Southern operates a number of maintenance cars, including:
The top photo shows these units at work on the Back Belt. They use the crossovers between Marconi Drive and the track leading to UPT to change directions.
Norfolk Southern maintenance vehicles parked at the mouth of the old Bernadotte Yard, Mid-City
This photo shows the vehicles parked at the mouth of Southern Railway’s former Bernadotte Yard. These tracks are just to the east of Canal Boulevard. This rail yard was a mainstay of Southern’s local operations from the 1920s to the 1950s. Now, there are a couple of customers along the old access line in Mid-City. When the MOW units are working this area for a few days, the railroad parks them here.
Norfolk Southern maintenance pick-up truck (top), on the Back Belt
Trucks owned by the railroad appear regularly on the Back Belt. These units run with both rubber tires and steel train wheels. The truck pulls up to the track, and gets aligned. Then the driver lowers the steel wheels down. The truck proceeds as a train car! It’s a good way to do quick visual inspections, or move personnel up and down the line. A train’s coming? No problem, raise the wheels and roll down on the tires to a street.