NOPSI 888, a wrecked streetcar, outside Carrollton Station.
The running joke is, when there’s a streetcar-versus-automobile confrontation, the streetcar wins. While this is true, it doesn’t mean the streetcar comes out unscathed. Such was the case on 13-May-1947. NOPSI 888 became a wrecked streetcar, after striking a vehicle while operating on the Desire line. NOPSI 888 received a lot more damage than those involved in wrecks with automobiles because it hit a truck. The streetcar left the scene with heavy damage on the opposite end. We documented the wreck some time ago. Franck Studios photographed 888 from all sides. From this angle, the streetcar appears fine, unless you look through the window! While the Desire line operated out of Canal Station, the Rail Department brought 888 back to Carrollton Station. NOPSI 888 stands here on Jeanette Street. Once the photographer finished, they rolled the streetcar into the barn.
The “Streetcar Named Desire” operated until May 30, 1948. NOPSI replaced the 800- and 900-series arch roof streetcars with White Company buses. These buses bore the classic maroon-and-cream livery of the “old style” buses. The streetcars operating on Desire shifted to the two remaining lines, St. Charles. NOPSI chose not to repair 888. So, it was the first 800-series car scrapped. The remaining 800s, with only a couple of exceptions, joined 888 on the junk pile in the summer of 1964.
While the Desire line gained immortality thanks to Tennessee Williams, it didn’t happen because of traveling on Desire Street. The Desire line rolled inbound on Royal Street, and outbound on Bourbon Street, for the length of the French Quarter. Since Williams lived in a third-story walk-up on Royal Street, he heard those streetcars running past, night and day. Even had Williams not gotten around town much, those streetcars would still stick out in his memory.
On this day, NOPSI 888 sported ad signs on the ends for Regal Beer. The American Brewing Company owned the Regal (“lager” spelled backwards) brand. They brewed and bottled Regal from their plant on Bourbon Street, from 1890 to 1960.
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.
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NOPSI 830 on Bourbon at St. Peter, 1947. (Courtesy the Thelma Hecht Coleman Memorial Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries)
This weekend is the annual Tennessee Williams Festival, and tomorrow will be the festival’s “Stella” yelling contest, conjuring the spirit of “Streetcar Named Desire” in the streets of New Orleans. “Desire” was a metaphor to Williams, but the Desire streetcar line was real, and an important route, tying the Upper Ninth Ward to the rest of the city.
Signbox for a 900-series arch roof streetcar. “DESIRE” sign made for the box by Earl Hampton.
Tennessee Williams (courtesy of Hotel Monteleone)
Tennessee Williams, relaxing at the Hotel Monteleone, 1950s.
River – Lake – Uptown – Downtown by Dirty Coast
Buy this t-shirt from Dirty Coast and you’ll get oriented quickly.
Route of the Desire line, 1920-1923
Desire Line route, 1920-1923. Dark = outbound, Light = inbound
Route of the Desire line, 1923-1948
Desire Line route, 1920-1923. Dark = outbound, Light = inbound
“Why, they told me to take a streetcar named Desire and then transfer to one called Cemetery and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields.”
722 Toulouse Street
When Tennessee Williams arrived in New Orleans in 1938, he took a room here, at 722 Toulouse Street. Now it’s the offices of the Historic New Orleans Collection. WGNO “News with a Twist” did a great spot on the house this week.
Royal Street in Faubourg Marigny, 1951 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)
The streetcar tracks are gone in this 1951 photo of Royal Street in the Marigny, but it’s a good idea of what riders of the Desire line saw on their way into town.
Looking down N. Tonti at Pauline Street, 1947 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)
Looking up N. Tonti at Pauline Street, 1946 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)
Two views of the Upper Ninth Ward from 1946 and 1947. These shots of N. Tonti Street at Pauline are a good illustration of the houses and buildings in the neighborhood serviced by the Desire line.
NORTA 29, the last Ford, Bacon, and Davis streetcar. (Edward Branley photo)
The first streetcars to run on the Desire line were single-truck Ford, Bacon, and Davis cars. NORTA 29 (ex-NOPSI 29) is the last FB&D streetcar.
NOPSI 888, running on the Desire Line, 1947 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)
The 800- and 900-series arch roof streetcars operated on the Desire line from 1923, until its discontinuance in 1948.
NOPSI Bus on Dauphine, 1954 (Franck photo courtesy HNOC)
The streetcar tracks were ripped up in 1948, and “A Bus Named Desire” took over bringing commuters to and from the Ninth Ward to Canal Street.
The Streetcars of New Orleans, by Hennick and Charlton, 1964 (amazon link)
The Streetcars of New Orleans by Hennick and Charlton – the authoritative reference on New Orleans streetcars to 1964
The Streetcars of New Orleans, 1964 – Present by Earl Hampton (amazon link)
Earl Hampton’s book, The Streetcars of New Orleans, 1964-Present, picks up where Hennick and Charlton leave off.
My book, New Orleans, The Canal Streetcar Line. Amazon Link | Signed Copies here.
Wakin’ Bakin’ on Banks Street in Mid City
The Historic New Orleans Collection
Easter Sunday morning in St. Roch Cemetery, by Frank B. Moore (courtesy UNO Earl K. Long Library)
St. Roch Cemetery at Sunrise
The sun rising over St. Roch Cemetery in the 9th Ward, in this lovely photograph from Frank B. Moore. The cemetery, located on St. Roch Avenue in the Upper 9th Ward, was constructed in 1874. It is, along with Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, the anchor of this particular section of the “Upper Nine”.
Here is the bio on Moore from the University of New Orleans Earl K. Long Library:
Frank B. Moore (1869-1957) was a commercial photographer in New Orleans from 1896 until his death on January 21, 1957. Born in Sauk Center, Minnesota, Moore learned his trade in Milwaukee working with the noted photographer Simon Leonard Stein. He had various studios during his sixty-seven year career in New Orleans, including 1008 Canal St. (1896-99), 147 Baronne St. (1900-02), 1001 St. Charles Ave. (1903-06), 1700 St. Charles Ave. (1907-14); 114 ½ Baronne (1915-20); and 1317 Tulane Ae. (1923-58). For a brief time in the mid-920s he also managed a film studio called “Crescent Comedies.” Moore married Elizabeth (Bessie) Meade, sister of British artist Sir Arthur Meade, and they had two children: Frank B. (Sonny) Moore, Jr., and Gladys Renya Moore. At various times the whole family was involved in the business. Bessie worked before their marriage as a “retoucher”, as president and secretary of the business after they married, and photographer after her husband retired. Frank, Jr., worked as a photographer for a time in the 1930s, while Gladys served as a frequent model for her father, winning many beauty contests in the 1920s, including “Miss New Orleans” in 1926. After Bessie retired, Gladys Moore continued the business until 1972.
If you’re roaming the Bywater, perhaps stopped for lunch at St. Roch Market, St. Roch Campo Santo is just a short walk up the street. It’s worth exploring, to learn more about the neighborhood and the German community who founded it.