Mid-City Magic on Murat

Mid-City Magic on Murat

Mid-City Magic – The Centanni Home.

Mid City Magic

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

mid city magic

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.

mid city magic

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

mid city magic

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

Metairie Cemetery Traffic Pattern

Metairie Cemetery traffic pattern was important on All Saints Day.

metairie cemetery traffic pattern

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.

Busy day

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

Freret’s Cenotaph

Freret’s Cenotaph remained on paper when the Washington Artillery chose another design.

Freret's Cenotaph

Freret’s Cenotaph

“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.

Different direction

freret's cenotaph

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.

Washington Artillery Cenotaph

Washington Artillery Cenotaph

Metairie Cemetery is the site of the Washington Artillery Cenotaph.

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 Monument

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.

Dedication

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.

Palace Car Damage

Palace Car Damage

The 1929 transit car strike left a lot of Palace car damage.

palace car damage

Palace car damage

Photo of New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) streetcar 625, an American Car Company “Palace” streetcar, photographed on 2-July-1929, showing damage by vandals. The motormen and conductors operating the city’s streetcars struck NOPSI on 1-July-1929. Those workers inflicted a great deal of damage to streetcars, tracks, and stations overnight, 30-June/1-July, and into 2-July. This photo, taken by Franck Studios, is part of a series documenting that damage for NOPSI’s lawyers. NOPSI 625’s roll board indicates it last operated on the West End line, likely on 30-June. The operator parked the streetcar at Canal Station. That station stood on the original site of the New Orleans City Railroad Company’s car and mule barns, built in 1861. By the 1920s, several of the original buildings remained. The public notices like the one tacked up on the end of the streetcar went out on 11-July-1929, so that may specifically date this photo.

The 1929 Strike

The Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America, Division No. 194, negotiated with transit managers for NOPSI for several years, in the run-up to 1-July-1929. Talks broke down that Summer, and the union called for a strike. The motormen and conductors took destructive actions overnight. They vandalized a number of streetcars, particular at Canal Station, along with track on Canal Street. They also vandalized the station itself.

While the story of the invention/creation of the po-boy sandwich offers a romanticized version of the four months of the strike. It’s clear, however, that the circumstances were anything but romantic. While the violence of the first two days of the strike subsided, it picked up again by 5-July. NOPSI decided not to operate any streetcars from 1-4 July.

On 5-July-1929, NOPSI brought in strike-breakers in an attempt to restore streetcar service. One Palace streetcar departed Canal Station that Saturday morning. Crowds of union members and their supporters blocked Canal Station and the other streetcar barns after that first streetcar left. The lone streetcar traveled down Canal Street to Liberty Place. The crowd followed it, eventually surrounding the car. They pulled the strike breakers off the car and set it on fire.

 

Canal Lakeshore Bus

Canal Lakeshore Bus

The Canal Lakeshore bus took over for the West End line.

canal lakeshore bus

Canal Lakeshore bus

Photo of Canal Street, showing Flxible buses operating on the various “Canal Street” lines, after the conversion of the Canal line to buses in 1964. NOPSI cut back streetcar operations on Canal Street to a single block, on what was the inbound outside track. Arch roof streetcars on the St. Charles line, like the one in the photo. I can’t make out which of the 35 remaining 1923-vintage streetcars makes the turn on the left side. If you can sort it out, let me know. The photographer stands in the “Canal Street Zone,” just on the river side of St. Charles Avenue.

Post-streetcar Canal buses

The official name for the line NOPSI 314 rolls on in this photo is, “Canal – Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Boulevard.” Here’s the route.

Outbound

  • Canal Street and the river
  • “Canal Street Zone” lakebound to Claiborne Avenue
  • Merge into auto lanes at Claiborne, continue outbound to City Park Avenue
  • Left turn at City Park Avenue
  • Right Turn at West End Blvd.
  • Left turn under the Pontchartrain Expressway (later I-10) overpass at Metairie Road.
  • Right turn onto Pontchartrain Boulevard
  • Continue outbound on Pontchartrain Boulevard
  • Right-turn on Fleur-de-lis Avenue (prior to I-10)
  • Curve around on Pontchartrain Blvd, go under I-10, continue to Fleur-de-Lis. Left turn onto Fleur-de-Lis. (after I-10)
  • Lakebound on Fleur-de-Lis to Veterans
  • Right on Veterans to West End Blvd.
  • Left on West End to Robert E. Lee Blvd. (Now Allen Toussant Blvd.)
  • Right on Toussaint to Canal Blvd.
  • Left on Canal Blvd to bus terminal at the lake.

INBOUND

  • Depart Canal Blvd terminal, riverbound.
  • Right turn on Toussaint to Pontchartrain Blvd.
  • Pontchartrain Blvd to Veterans, right turn on Veterans
  • Left turn on Fleur-de-Lis
  • Fleur-de-Lis back to Pontchartrain Blvd.
  • Pontchartrain Blvd to City Park Avenue
  • Left on City Park Avenue, the right onto Canal Street
  • Canal Street, riverbound to the river.

This route, was one of the main killers of the Canal streetcars. Air-conditioning all the way into town. No change from West End to the streetcar at City Park Avenue.

Canal buses in the 1970s

By the time I rode the Canal buses in the 1970s, on my way to and from Brother Martin, I could hop on any of the three Canal lines, to get to City Park Avenue. Canal Cemeteries ended at City Park Avenue. Canal-Lake Vista and Canal-Lakeshore split there, but all I needed was to get to the outbound Veterans bus.