1964 Transit Improvement Program ended the Canal streetcar line.
1964 Transit Improvement
Flyer updating riders on the 1964 Transit Improvement Program. New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) planned the removal of streetcars from the Canal Street line for May 31, 1964. While advocacy groups organized in late 1963/early 1964 to oppose the program, it was too little, too late. The plans for this removal began in late 1959.
This flyer emphasizes the advantages of switching Canal to bus service. NOPSI rolled out new buses as part of this “improvement.” Those Flixible company buses were air-conditioned. Riders in Lakeview and Lakeshore could get on the bus close to the house and ride all the way into the CBD.
This flyer promotes the Phase 2 changes. In Phase 1 of 1964 Transit Improvement, the city cut back the width of the Canal Street neutral ground. This allowed for three traffic lanes on either side of the street. When streetcars returned to Canal Street in 2004, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA, successor to NOPSI’s transit operations) built a single-track terminal at Canal Street and City Park Avenue. There was no space to re-create the two-track end of the line. So, at the time, New Orleanians approved these changes. Preservationists were caught off guard.
NOPSI immediately cut down the electric overhead wires on 31-May-1964, as part of Phase 2 of 1964 Transit Improvement. The city ripped up the streetcar tracks within weeks of the switch to buses. Additionally, the air-conditioning started on 31-May.
NOPSI expanded the “suburban” bus lines. They extended buses going to West End and Lakeview into downtown. Streetcars on the Canal line ended their runs at City Park Avenue. So, a rider living, say, off Fleur-de-Lis Avenue walked to Pontchartrain Blvd. They caught the bus to City Park Avenue, transferring there to the streetcar. While that doesn’t sound like a big deal, NOPSI discovered an opportunity. The rider starts on a bus with a/c, but switches to a hot, humid streetcar. If it’s raining, well, you get the idea.
Additionally, NOPSI offered an enhanced service, the “express” lines. Express 80 followed the Canal-Lake Vista (via Canal Boulevard) route. For an extra nickel, riders boarded Express 80 rather than the regular line. When the express bus reached City Park Avenue, Express 80 made no stops until Claiborne Avenue. Same for Express 81, which followed the Canal-Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Boulevard line. So that rider could not only stay on the bus from home, they got to the office that much quicker.
Downtown workers relied upon public transit so much more in 1964. When something is part of your day-to-day routine, improvements that enhance your experience are easy to sell. Preserving forty-year old streetcars didn’t seem like a big deal compared to not sweating through your clothes by the time you arrived at work.
Thanks to Aaron Handy, III, for this image of the flyer!
West End Streetcar line ran until 1950.
West End Streetcar
NOPSI 933, running on the West End Streetcar line. Undated photo, between 1948 and 1950. This is the end of the line, out by Lake Pontchartrain. The streetcar ran from the the river, up Canal Street, turning left (West) on City Park Avenue, then turning right (North), following the New Canal to the lakefront.
The New Orleans City Railroad Company opened the West End line in April, 1876. It originally ran from the Halfway House, on City Park Avenue, out to the lake. So, if you wanted to get out to West End, you took the Canal Street line to the end, then the West End line. Two months later, in June, 1876, service was extended to Carondelet and Canal Street.
Service for the first twenty-two years of operation was via steam locomotive. A steam engine was made to look like a tram, a streetcar. The line was electrified in 1898, three years after the Canal Line.
Out to the lake
The West End line’s peak was in the 1920s. NOPSI operated the American Car Company’s “Palace” cars on the Canal/Esplanade Belt, along with West End. During the Spring/Summer seasons, The Palace cars pulled unpowered Coleman trailers. So, small trains of two to four cars went out to the lake.
Streetcars and canals
The West End line ran next to the New Canal, for all but the last year of its operation. While the main street connecting Mid-City to West End was Pontchartrain Boulevard, on the West side of the canal, the streetcar ran along West End Boulevard, on the East side of the canal. Confusing? Welcome to New Orleans. The streetcar tracks didn’t cross the canal. The line ran up to the lake, just past Robert E. Lee (now Allen Toussaint) Bouelevard. The West End line connected with the Spanish Fort Shuttle line, after the direct-from-downtown Spanish Fort line was closed in 1911.
The lakefront changed dramatically after 1940. The Orleans Parish Levee District reclaimed a massive amount of land and built the seawall in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1940, the US Army and Navy built hospitals in what are now the East and West Lakeshore subdivisions. The West End streetcar shifted from excursion service to commuter operation after 1940. NOPSI converted the line to buses in 1950.
This photo is courtesy H. George Friedman’s collection.
Southern Yacht Club still stands at the entrance to the New Canal.
Southern Yacht Club
Postcard from the Detroit Publishing Company of the Southern Yacht Club on Lake Pontchartrain. The club stands at the entrance to the New Canal. A local photographer shot this between 1900 and 1909. They sold the photo to the publisher, who colorized it and published it as a postcard.
The New Canal connected Lake Pontchartrain with the Central Business District for over a century. Locals refer to the canal as the “New Basin Canal,” distinguishing it from the Carondelet Canal. Creole businessmen financed the Carondelet Canal. They built it in 1795. While Canal Street was supposed to have a canal running its length, competing business interests changed the plans. The Creoles living in the Vieux Carre weren’t interested in helping the Anglo-Irish in Faubourg Ste. Marie. They built their canal just north of the Vieux Carre.
The Anglo-Irish responded in the 1830s by building the New Canal. Its basin stood on S. Rampart Street. The canal ran from there to the lake. So, by the 1840s, the city had two navigation canals. Eventually, the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (Industrial Canal) rendered both of the older canals obsolete.
Southern Yacht Club anchored the West End entertainment district. Roads and railroad service linked West End to the city proper. Beginning in the 1850s, entrepreneurs built hotels and restaurants at West End. While the Southern Yacht Club was the largest sailing club on the lakefront, a number of other sailing and rowing clubs established themselves along the New Canal.
This photo shows the New Canal outlet to the lake. This section of the canal is all that remains. The city filled in the rest of the canal in the late 1940s. So, with the canal gone, the city built the Pontchartrain Expressway. This highway followed the canal’s path, from what is now Veterans Blvd to downtown. This enabled Lakeview residents to easily commute by car into the CBD.
Maison Blanche Swimsuits 1956 for Memorial Day sale.
Maison Blanche Swimsuits 1956
Swimsuits and other summer wear filled up almost an entire page of the Times-Picayune on 31-May-1956. Cotton swimsuits for $5.50, and in stock after Memorial Day? Whoa. Sixty-four years later, women stress over buying a swimsuit in January.
Summering in the late 1950s
Many New Orleans families packed up and headed to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in June. School’s out, and the heat rolled in. Central air-conditioning wasn’t nearly what it is now. So, Mom and the kids left town. Literally. Dad worked, of course, joining the family Friday night.
Folks who didn’t have the means to buy or rent a summer home, or a fishing camp down the bayou, managed with day trips. The Elysian Fields bus transported generations to Pontchartrain Beach for a day of sun and swim. Others chose the West End bus, for picnics at the park. Black families rode out to Lincoln Beach, on Hayne Blvd., in New Orleans East. Others chose the shelters maintained by the Orleans Parish Levee Board along the lake. Shelter No. 3, by the old Coast Guard station, featured a roped-off swimming area. Lifeguards manned watch stations there, by the entrance of Bayou St. John. Whichever escape the family desired, the right clothes were essential.
By 1956, Maison Blanche operated three stores. The Canal Street store always served as the flagship and corporate headquarters. The buyers chose lots of clothing for deeper discounts as summer approached. The stockrooms on the second floor emptied, filling the displays on the first floor. They buyers sent stock and brand lists to the art department. Messengers delivered ads to the paper.
Those buyers factored in stock levels of certain items for these sales. Not only did they consider shoppers on Canal Street, but folks in Mid-City and Gentilly. MB operated the store at S. Carrollton and Tulane, serving Mid-City and the growing Metairie subdivisions. In Gentilly, the store at Frenchmen and Gentilly Blvd. offered a closer alternative than Canal Street to families out there.
The block-font “Maison Blanche” logo at the bottom of the page served as the “standard” for MB at the time. The top “MB” varied, depending on the artist.
Day trippin to West End
West End was very active in the early 1900s, right up to the great Hurricane of 1915 (hurricanes weren’t named at that time). The last piece of Pontchartrain Boulevard, the road on the western side of the New Basin Canal, was a toll road, the toll receipts used for road upkeep. The West End Streetcar line traveled on the east side of the canal, parallel to West End Boulevard (just out of the frame here, on the right).
Messages – windows to the past
The message on the postcard says:
I did not get a chance to send the thread sooner, but I did not get a chance to go out. Mama is very bad off. There will be another consultation today. Ed (?)/Eda (?) is here, & Ernest is leaving Sunday. Lariern left Wed and came to see us Tuesday. Love to all. (illegible) soon, Bertice.
The postcard is typical of the period, a black-and-white photo that is then hand-colored and printed. It’s interesting that Bertice wrote her message on the bottom of the front. Perhaps she was afraid that the recipient would admire the photo and not read anything on the back?
The choice of scenes for this card is also interesting. She’s conveying what appears to be bad news about “mama”, yet the postcard is of a part of town usually associated with happy experiences. West End was a big day-trip destination at the time. Of course, I’m probably reading too much into this. It’s more likely that Miss Bertice grabbed an inexpensive card at the drugstore to send a quick note, not giving much thought to the image on it. I hope mama’s consultation went OK!
Image courtesy of the Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC) at Tulane. If you’re on Facebook, you want to follow their page. They post some cool stuff, and it’s fun to look at the stories behind what they share.
Lake House Hotel, 1860s
Be sure to check out the latest episode of NOLA History Guy Podcast, which presents the history of West End as a day-trip destination for New Orleanians looking to escape from the heat and humidity of city life.
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Podcast #3 – Day trips out to West End and Spanish Fort, by train or streetcar. Beating the summer heat is an ongoing challenge in New Orleans!
“The Coney Island of the South” – Spanish Fort
Welcome to NOLA History Guy Podcast! We’re back, talking about our hot New Orleans summers with an edition we call Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans
Hot summers in New Orleans are certainly not a new phenomenon. Staying cool in the Summer months has been a challenge since the French and Spanish explorers came Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. These days, we run from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned offices, then back again in the evening.
Now, think about doing that at a time when there was no air-conditioning! Every work day, riding the streetcar or a bus to the office, and home again. Older homes were designed to maximize air flow, and electrification provided power for fans in any rooms in the house. Still, it got hot. You know how that goes, when the a/c is broken and you have to rely on ceiling fans!
The men who went off to work had to deal with the same heat and humidity as the women, but they were on the move more. Mom was stuck at home with the kids. Day in, day out, doing the housework, cooking the meals, supervising the kids, Mom needed an escape!
The easiest escape route for mom and the kids, sometimes even dad, if he could take a day off, was on the streetcar, heading out to the Lakefront. There were two popular escape destinations, West End and Spanish Fort. We’ll talk about the attractions at both, and how folks got out to Lake Pontchartrain.
1860 – 1880 – Summer Heat at West End
Lake House Hotel, 1860s
1880 – 1900
West End Resorts, 1892 (Charles Franck photo)
1900 – 1920
West End Lighthouse, 1910 (courtesy NOPL)
Entrance to the West End Garden, 1911 (Charles Durkee photo)
1912 Postcard of West End
Mugnier Photo (stereo), bridge connecting New Basin Canal with West End Amusement pavillions, 1900s
Confederate Submarine at Over the Rhine at Spanish Fort, 1895 (Mugnier photo)
Casino at Spanish Fort New Orleans, 1890s
Barney & Smith motorized streetcar pulling dummy cars, 1911
Spanish Fort Casino, 1890s (Mugnier Photo)
Spanish Fort midway, 1900s (Franck photo)
End of the Spanish Fort Streetcar line, at the bathhouse, 1912 (Franck photo)
Swimmers at Spanish Fort, 1900s (Franck photo)