Early morning outbound and inbound on the Canal Street Line, 2-April-2022. The first streetcar, outbound, is actually the second car out of the barn. The Canal line cars leave the barn at Canal and S. White Streets, turn lakebound, and travel to the Cemeteries terminal. The first streetcar of the morning already did this when I pulled up at Blue Dot Donuts. That car is the second one in the video. The operator pulled out, headed to Cemeteries, and now is doing a full inbound run. You can see the “01” on the right-side rollboard on this second car, 2023. That indicates it was the first one on the line this morning.
Canal line operations
NORTA 2023, inbound on Canal Street, 2-April-2022
There’s a couple of reasons NORTA operates Canal in this mode. First, it’s easier to come out of the barn and make a simple right turn. The car barn is behind the A. Phillip Randolph bus facility, the big building you see on Canal Street. This used to be the location of the original New Orleans City Railroad barn. That building, parts of which were from the 1860s, was demolished in the 90s. When streetcars returned in 2004, NORTA built a new streetcar barn. It’s big enough to hold all the red and green streetcars. So, Carrollton Station, up on Willow Street, is just a maintenance facility. The 2000-series Von Dullen streetcars always operated from this barn. The Rail Department performs minor repairs on the cars on Canal. The streetcars return Uptown for major repairs, maintenance, painting, etc.
The second reason the streetcars go up to Cemeteries first is that it gives the operator a chance to shake the car down before they go to work. If there’s a problem, they can turn around and go back to the barn.
NORTA operates a limited schedule this weekend, because of the NCAA Final Four.
North Carrollton Streetcars have operated only since 2005.
North Carrollton Streetcars
NORTA 2012, operating on the “Carrollton Spur” of the Canal Street line, 23-December-2021. One in three (or four, depending on how busy the line is) cars running on Canal spin off at Carrollton Avenue, traveling the length of North Carrollton Avenue, out to City Park. NORTA built the 2000-series “Von Dullen” streetcars in 2003/2004, for the return of streetcar operation on Canal. Like the green, 1923-vintage arch roof cars running on St. Charles Avenue, the Von Dullens get holiday decorations for Yuletide.
The Carrollton Spur
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority planned for streetcars back on Canal Street starting in the late 1990s. They pitched electric street rail operation to the Federal Transportation Authority at a time when local governments only had to put up 20% of the cost. So, once the city assembled a financial package, the Feds got on board. Additionally, they pitched an extension of the traditional Canal route, a “spur” going down Carrollton Avenue. This spur connects Canal Street with City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The original plan was to get the almost-five miles of Canal Street track done and settled, then NORTA would turn its attention to the spur in a year or two. When George W. Bush became POTUS in 2001, the FTA dramatically cut back their contribution to street rail projects. Despite securing funding for the Canal project, NORTA became concerned. They moved up the plan to run North Carrollton Streetcars. So, construction began on the spur as the main line approached completion.
As much as construction-related street closures interrupted business along N. Carrollton, most owners saw the streetcars as a good thing in the long-term. While Hurricane Katrina slammed down economic growth immediately, the streetcars eventually boosted the neighborhood.
First time streetcars
Back in the days when New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated transit in the city, they never ran North Carrollton Streetcars. This is because of the Southern Railway’s “Bernadotte Yard.” The railroad built an extensive rail yard in Mid-City New Orleans. It ran from Canal Boulevard and Bernadotte Street, down St. Louis Street, crossing N. Carrollton, up to Dr. Norman C. Francis Parkway. So, when the rail yard reached N. Carrollton, six railroad tracks crossed the street.
Now, that many railroad tracks was bad enough for automobile and truck traffic. Those tracks made it impossible for street rail to run down the street, crossing the tracks. So, NOPSI never ran streetcars on that side of Canal Street. They operated the “Carrollton” bus line, from Elysian Fields and Gentilly Road, to DeSaix Street, to Wisner, N. Carrollton, all the way to S. Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues, Uptown.
As you can see from the video, the Carrollton Spur operates in the street, not the neutral ground. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the entire Canal line used the old arch-roof cars, as the Von Dullens underwent repairs.
The Centanni home, located on Canal and S. Murat Streets, was a magical place for kids growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Sam Centanni, owner of Gold Seal Creamery, decorated the house annually. The lights and figures drew New Orleanians from across the metro area. Centanni turned off the lights when his wife passed in 1966. Now, a Centanni descendant owns the house. They’ve renewed the Christmas tradition.
Gold Seal Creamery
Antonino Centanni founded Gold Seal Creamery in the 1920s. Mid-City was very Sicilian at that time. Immigrants from Sicily arrived in numbers, starting in the 1880s. They quickly took over most of the Vieux Carre’s business locations. Pasta factories, bakeries, shoemakers, eventually even hotels came under Sicilian ownership. By 1915, the community asked the Archdiocese for permission to move St. Anthony of Padua Church from N. Rampart Street to Canal and S. St. Patrick Streets in Mid-City. Sicilians moved into the neighborhood bounded on one side by the New Canal and the Southern Railway’s Bernadotte Yard on the other.
Centanni opened his dairy at S. Alexander and D’Hemecourt Streets. This was close enough to the New Canal and Banks Street to easily take in raw milk in from farms via boat and truck. The dairy serviced the Mid-City neighborhood. The Centannis were the first local dairy to bring in homogenizing equipment. They homogenized milk for other dairies as well, increasing the profit of their business. Gold Seal branched out, selling “Creole Cream Cheese” to families and bakeries. Gold Seal’s cream cheese became the primary ingredient in cannolis, the Sicilian pastry, at many bakeries.
The Centanni Home
The success of Gold Seal meant the Centanni’s acquired some wealth. Antonino’s son, Sam, worked with his father in the business, and eventually took it over. He built the house at Canal and S. Murat Street, where he lived with his wife, Myra and their children. Mrs. Centanni went all-out in decorating the house for the season. In 1946, with wartime restrictions on lights and electricity consumption lifted, the Centannis went all-out in decorating the house. Myra added to their collection of wooden figures, adding plastic ones by the 1960s.
As the display grew, so did its reputation. Folks would add the Centanni home as one of their stops to go see Christmas lights in other neighborhoods. The display awed and inspired children throughout the 1950s, including a young man from the Ninth Ward named Al Copeland. Al would credit the Centannis as the inspiration for the huge light display at his Metairie home.
Myra Centanni passed on New Year’s Eve, 1966. Sam turned the lights off. In later years, the family allowed the display to live on. They donated many of the pieces to City Park. The park incorporated them into the annual “Celebration in the Oaks” presentation. While much of the Centanni pieces were older and “outdated,” City Park required so many things to fill out Storyland and the Botanical Gardens, the decorations were welcome.
Gold Seal Lofts
Mr. Sam sold Gold Seal Creamery in 1986. He was 88, and ready to hang it up. The building is now the “Gold Seal Lofts,” a condo conversion. The condos use a modified version of the Gold Seal logo.
The Modern House
Over fifty years after Myra passed, the Centanni home lights up Mid-City. With so many things “ain’t there no more,” it’s nice to see Mr. Bingle looking down from the porch.
Metairie Cemetery traffic pattern was important on All Saints Day.
Metairie Cemetery traffic pattern
Ad in the Times-Picayune, 28-October-1962, for Metairie Cemetery. The cemetery stood next to the New Canal for over eighty years. The city filled in the canal in 1949-1950. They then built the Pontchartrain Expressway, connecting Lakeview with downtown, in 1954. It took a few years to complete the ground-level access at Metairie Road. By 1962, the cemetery decided to explain the traffic flow to visitors:
Highway service and traffic lanes are now completed in the Metairie Cemetery area to accomodate autos entering Metairie Cemetery. If you plan to visit the Cemetery on All Saints’ Day, or the preceding day to place flowers, we suggest that you use the road guide printed below.
Visitors driving in from the west turned off Veterans Highway at Bellaire Drive. Bellaire is the first street on the Orleans Parish side of the 17th Street Canal. As Veterans evolved, this pattern altered slightly. Now, drivers turn right at Vets and Fleur-de-Lis. Since Bellaire no longer connects directly with Veterans, drivers go up to the light at Fleur-de-Lis, then curve around from there.
This route didn’t change after the construction of the I-10/I-610 highways over the canal. Just follow the service road. The sights along the way changed over time, from the country club, to New Orleans Academy (a military school), to the local LDS Temple. Now, the area along the service road is all residential.
All Saints’ Day continues to be one of the busiest days for local cemeteries. Since All Saints’ is a “holy day of obligation” for Roman Catholics, many companies took the day off. So, folks would attend Mass at their parish church, then head to the cemeteries to spruce up the family tombs. This was important, because of the next day, All Souls’ Day. All the Saints were already in heaven. The Souls in purgatory needed to get out of the holding pen and up to heaven. You knew that maw-maw went on to her reward. Paw-paw, on the other hand, you had your doubts. So, fixing up the tomb to show you cared became an important ritual.
Freret’s Cenotaph remained on paper when the Washington Artillery chose another design.
“Front elevation design for the Washington Artillery Monument (tomb).” by James Freret. Like most architects in New Orleans, Freret worked on spec. He drafted concept drawings to accompany proposals for buildings and monuments. This drawing illustrates Freret’s concept for the Washington Artillery Association monument. The monument stands in Metairie Cemetery. So, when Freret lost the bid, he filed away the drawings. Those illustrations eventually found their way to the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University.
Washington Monument Association
The United States Army formed the Washington Artillery (WA) in 1838. The unit now operates as the 141st Field Artillery Battalion. While originally an Army unit, they’re now part of the Louisiana Army National Guard. After the Southern Rebellion, veterans of the WA formed the Washington Artillery Association. Their mission was mutual aid and remembrance of the members of the unit. In 1879, the Association decided to build a monument. It would be a memorial to fallen members of the unit. They raised funds and solicited proposals from architectural firms.
James Freret responded to their request for proposal. He submitted the concept shown above. He submitted a design for a tomb. The number of vaults isn’t clear from the drawing. Freret envisioned an obelisk. So, Egyptian pyramids and obelisks were quite popular in burial architecture in the late 19th Century. Therefore, Freret expected his design to be appealing.
Invitation to the dedication of the Washington Artillery Monument, 1880. Card features a sketch of Charles Orleans’ design, including the Doyle sculpture.
The Association passed on Freret’s design. They chose a design by architect Charles A. Orleans. Mr. Orleans represented the Hinsdale-Doyle Granite Co. of New York. The Association changed their original plans for a tomb. They shifted the specifications to that of a cenotaph. This reduced the construction costs. Orleans selected the sculptor Alexander Doyle to create a statue. Doyle produced a sculpture of a WA private, wearing the uniform of the rebellion period.
The WA moved past the direct connection of the Metairie Cemetery monument to the rebellion. So, the 141st expanded the scope of the monument. While the statue remains, they included other battle honors. The cenotaph lists honors from other. conflicts. Given the backlash against “Confederate monuments” in recent years, perhaps Freret’s design would have been better in the long run.
Metairie Cemetery is the site of the Washington Artillery Cenotaph.
Washington Artillery Cenotaph
George Mugnier photo (courtesy NOPL) of the Washington Artillery Cenotaph in Metairie Cemetery. A “cenotaph” is an empty tomb. They serve as monuments to people buried elsewhere. So, the United States Army formed the Washington Artillery (WA) in 1838. It is now the 141st Field Artillery Regiment. The unit is attached to the Louisiana National Guard. In 1861, the government of Louisiana took control of the unit. It was a battalion at the time. WA fought as part of the main rebel force. WA re-organized in the 1870s.
The Washington Artillery Association raised funds for a monument to the battalion in 1879. The unit consisted of four companies at the time. Additionally, a fought with the Army of Tennessee. So, the association accepted proposals from various architects, They chose the design submitted by Charles A. Orleans. Orleans proposal included a sculpture by Alexander Doyle. Doyle imagined a figure of an artillery private, holding a “sponge.” The sponge was fixed to a ramrod. Gunners used them to clean out a just-fired gun. So, the cenotaph’s price tag was $10,000. Donations ranging from $25 to $250 came in to cover the costs.
While the unit fought for twenty years in the Union Army, the monument honors the rebel years. The roll of the dead listed members of the unit killed during that period. The battle honors initially engraved on the cenotaph began with Bull Run. Mexican War honors were not listed. The list of engagements shows just how active and effective the unit was.
The Association dedicated the cenotaph on February 23, 1880. A thousand people came out to honor the unit. The unit and its veterans association updated the cenotaph, expanding the battle honors as the battalion returned to active duty with the Army. The 141st hold a memorial annually at the cenotaph, as part of the unit’s heritage and traditions.