The Desire line operated as bus service in 1978.
Photo of a NOPSI bus on the Desire line in 1978. Here’s Aaron’s caption from Vintage New Orleans Transit:
Inbound NOPSI Flxible New Look bus 325, a Streetbus Named Desire-Florida, crosses Saint Ann Street on Decatur Street. Notice the standee window with a billboard promoting WDSU-TV. May 1978.
New Look buses operated across the city in the 1970s. Their air-conditioning was fantastic. The buses skirted the French Quarter, connecting back-of-town neighborhoods with Canal Street, via N. Rampart and Decatur Streets.
Mid-70s bus rides
I rode a lot of NOPSI buses in the mid-1970s. Living in Metairie and attending high school in Gentilly meant several transfers to get home. As a rule, my bus travel went East to West.
Exam days at Brother Martin High School offered opportunities for exploration. Afternoon or early evening bus rides involved getting to Canal Street and City Park Avenue as quickly as possible. Fisnished at 10am? Different story.
Travel to the CBD
Rides home started at either Gentilly Blvd. or Mirabeau Ave. Carrollton to Esplanade to the Veterans started on Gentilly. Cartier to Lake Vista to Lakeshore started on Mirabeau. Those weren’t the only options, though. With some free time, why not pick up the Canal bus closer to the start of its outbound run?
French Quarter Periphery
Step into one of those New Look buses running on the Elysian Fields line. Drop in a quarter, and ride it in. The bus ran down Elysian Fields Avenue to N. Peters Street. From there, a right-turn onto N. Peters. Then that street merged into Decatur Street, than back out to N. Peters again. End of the line at Canal.
Elysian Fields, Desire, and Franklin, along with a few other lines, skirted the Quarter in the 1970s. This is because the City Council declared that full-sized buses operating in the interior of the Quarter were a bad idea. For generations, streetcars rolled inbound on Royal Street, outbound on Bourbon. Buses followed that route after NOPSI discontinued streetcar operation on all but St. Charles and Canal. While streetcars were noisy and slowed down traffic, they didn’t emit diesel fumes. Buses literally gassed out the neighborhood.
There were other arguments for the restrictions, most notably from the Fire Department. Big vehicles in the Quarter make getting to the scene of a fire all that more difficult. So, when the proposal to alter the routes came up, it seemed reasonable to most. After all, most riders of those lines hung on until Canal, anyway.
NOPSI Canal Station is usually photographed from Canal Street.
NOPSI Canal Station
The New Orleans City Railroad Company (NOCRR, the first incarnation) built the streetcar barn/station on Canal Street in 1860-61. This photo, from 1954, offers an interesting perspective, from the rear. The original facility consisted of three parts. NOCRR built an actual barn, for the mules, pre-electrification. Next to that, they built the streetcar facility. Additionally, they constructed a steam-train engine house. The engine facility stood right behind the buildings facing Canal Street. So, steam engines exited their shed, heading to West End. NOCRR ran steam from N. White Street out to the cemeteries, then the lake. Since that part of Canal Street was less ti at the time, they got away with the smoke and noise.
I came across an aerial photo of NOPSI Canal Station from 1921 during research for the streetcar book. New Orleans Railway & Light operated the streetcars at that time. While the steam operations vanished with electrification, the company expanded the streetcar facilities into the block between Iberville and Bienvile. In 1921, a New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) ballpark separated Canal Station from the Boy’s High School (now Warren Easton). I hired a photographer to get me some contemporary shots of the facility. By 2004, the ballpark vanished. The current facility runs all the way to the school.
Railroad historian Mike Palmieri shared this photo on a Facebook group. Here’s his caption:
NOPSI – NEW ORLEANS – APR 1954 – WILLIAM T. HARRY image
This was a view of the streetcar storage yard at the New Orleans Public Service’s CANAL STATION and BUS GARAGE in the 2900-block of Canal Street, as seen from Iberville Street, and the cars which can be identified were the 942, 931, 943, 932 and 930. The first three of these were scrapped after the CANAL car line was discontinued 10 years later, but the other two survive on the ST. CHARLES line. The trolleybus parking area was off to the right, on the opposite side of Iberville.
So, by the 1950s, NOPSI converted that ballpark to outdoor bus and streetcar parking. Mr. Harry got photos of that side as well that we’ll share as we go along.
Flixible buses that ended the Canal Streetcar.
Aaron Handy III posted this photo a while back:
“Inbound NOPSI Flxible New Look 194, assigned to Canal-Cemeteries, and a piggybacking colleague, both of the 1964 F2D6V-401-1 fleet (194 was next-to-last of the batch), waits at the corner of Canal and Carondelet Streets. May 1975.”
Those green buses are how NOPSI convinced transit riders to give up on the Canal Streetcar. In the late 1950s/early 60s, to get to downtown from Lakeview, you rode the West End bus to City Park Avenue. From there, you transferred to the Canal Streetcar. Hot or cold, rain or shine, you had to switch. In 1962-1963, NOPSI pitched the city and the public with running air-conditioned buses on West End and Canal Blvd. The commuter could board a bus near home and ride in a/c until their downtown stop. No transfer in Mid-City. No sweaty, crowded streetcar. Men in suits and women in stockings arrived ready for work. While there were activists in May of 1964 who tried to stop the conversion, they were way too late to the game. The city approved the plan, most of the ridership agreed, and all the activists could do was sacrifice the Canal line to save St. Charles (their primary goal anyway).
Going home from school
As stated in Aaron’s caption, the 1964 Flixibles were still operating in 1975. That’s when I was at Brother Martin High, 1971-1976. One of the options for getting home was connecting with the Canal Street lines. NOPSI offered the choice of taking the Carrollton line to Canal Street. The other choice was the Broad line to Canal. So, from Broad and Canal or Carrollton and Canal (next to the Manuel’s Hot Tamales stand), we connected outbound.
NOPSI operated three Canal Street lines at the time:
- Cemeteries, which terminated at City Park Avenue.
- Lake Vista (via Canal Blvd), which went up Canal Blvd, along Lakeshore Drive, and terminated at Spanish Fort.
- Lakeshore (via Pontchartrain Blvd), which went up West End Blvd outbound, returning via Pontchartrain Blvd, inbound.
We chose any of the three, since they all passed the connecting corners.
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Royal Street Photo Breakdown on this week’s podcast!
100-200 Blocks of Royal Street, 1916.
Royal Street Photo Breakdown
Derby Gisclair shared a neat photo from 1916 earlier this week on social media. The photographer stands in the middle of the 100 block of Royal Street, looking down into the 200 block. As I was looking through some other photos, I came across a 1956 photo of Royal, where that photographer stood almost in the same place. Time for a Royal Street Photo Breakdown!
At the top of the page is the 1916 photo, with Solari’s on the left, an electric sign for Fabacher’s Restaurant hanging over the street, then the Commercial Hotel and Union Bank on the right.
Franck-Bertacci Studios photo of the 100-200 blocks of Royal Street, 1956.
Fast forward to 1956. Solari’s is still on the left. The Commercial Hotel is now the Monteleone Hotel. Fabacher’s Restaurant, which was the hotel restaurant for the Commercial, is long closed. Walgreen’s drug store replaced the bank building in the late 1940s. That drug store remains today.
In the 1916 photo, streetcar tracks and the overhead wiring are visible. The Desire streetcar line ran inbound on Royal Street. The streetcars turned right onto Canal Street. They ran up one block, then turned right again. They ran down Bourbon Street for the French Quarter portion of the outbound run. We’ve talked about the Desire line before, and how it was the main connector for the Quarter.
Buses replaced streetcars on Desire in 1948. So, by the 1956 photo, the tracks and wires are long gone. The maroon-and-cream NOPSI buses serviced Desire.
NewOrleansPast.com – January 15th
NOPSI 817, operating in Belt Service in the 1940s.
Our pick of the week from NewOrleansPast.com (Facebook page, Today in New Orleans History) is Ms. Campanella’s entry for January 15th. The Tulane streetcar line rolled for the first time on 15-January-1871. Mules pulled the streetcars then. The line switched to electric streetcars in the 1890s. Tulane operated in “belt service” with the St. Charles line from 1900 to 1951. Listen to our podcast episode on “Riding the Belt” for more details on that.
NOPSI converted the West End streetcar line to diesel buses on 15-January, 1950, as part of the trend away from electric street rail operations. West End operated as steam train service until the 1890s. After that, electric streetcars ran out to the lakefront, along the east bank of the New Basin Canal. NOPSI retired streetcars on West End in 1950. The line ran until the 1960s, when it became the Canal-Lakeshore line.
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Streetcar Ticket for the St. Charles Line
New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Company streetcar ticket, 1868. (public domain image)
Streetcar Ticket from 1868
Riders paid for their fare in the 1860s by purchasing a streetcar ticket. This was the style of the ticket for the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company (NO&CRR) in 1868. While the NO&CRR continued operations through the Southern Rebellion, only one new company the New Orleans City RR Company (NOCRR) operated streetcars during the rebellion years. Streetcar expansion took off in 1866.
The company operated the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, from 1835 to 1902. In addition to St. Charles, the company operated the Poydras-Magazine, Jackson, and Napoleon lines. The NO&CRR absorbed other operating companies throughout the 1870s to the end of the 19th Century.
Streetcar electrification in New Orleans began in the 1890s. The NO&CRR survived until 1902. The remaining operating companies merged into the New Orleans Railway Company at that time. That company re-organized into the New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) in 1905. That consolidated entity became New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) in 1922.
Mule car operation
When the NO&CRR began operations in 1835, St. Charles used steam engines. The smoke and noise generated complaints up and down the line. So, the line was converted to mule-driven operation in the 1850s. The company followed the NOCRR in the 1860s, operating “bobtail” cars from the Johnson Car Company, up to electrification.
Streetcar protests 1862-1867
Streetcars in New Orleans were segregated until 1958. When Louisiana seceded from the union in 1861, many of the white men went off to war. Their jobs around town still had to be done. So, employers hired free men of color. The lines ran “star” cars, which permitted African-Americans to ride, but all other cars were whites-only. Black men experienced difficulty in getting to work. While employers complained to the transit companies, the operators weren’t very responsive. More “star” cars were needed.
The dynamics changed when the Union Army occupied New Orleans in May, 1862. African-Americans protested segregated operation from then until 1867. Hilary McLaughlin-Stonham details those protests in her article, Race and Protest in New Orleans: Streetcar Integration in the Nineteenth Century. It’s worth a read.
During World War II, NOPSI Patriotic Support traveled the street rails.
NOPSI 832 running on the Desire line, 1942. (New Orleans Public Library)
NOPSI Patriotic Support
When America went to war in Europe, New Orleans stepped up and did her part to support the cause. In World War I, the retailers on Canal Street regularly used their advertising space to promote the sale of war bonds and war stamps. Those bonds and stamps paid for the war. Americans bought bonds. The government paid troops, and contractors with that money. After the war, the government paid bond holders back.
Streetcars carried advertising regularly. The mule-drawn “bobtails” of the 1870s and 1880s displayed advertisements for opera productions, musicals, and other events. Electric streetcars carried ad placards advertising anything from soft drinks to Scotch whiskey. During the two world wars, those standard advertising frames included appeals for buying war bonds.
NOPSI patriotic support rose to a new level in 1942. The transit operator and utility company turned an entire streetcar into a war bonds ad. NOPSI 832 was an arch roof streetcar. NOPSI ordered the 800-series cars in 1923. The Perley A. Thomas Company of High Point, NC, built most of them. (Some were outsourced to other streetcar makers.) By the 1940s, the 800- and 900-series arch roofs replaced early streetcars running on the street rails of the city. While earlier streetcars sported colorful liveries, NOPSI standardized the look, using the familiar green we still see today.
Life after New Orleans
NOPSI 832 at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum (Mike Huhn photo)
NOPSI discontinued use of the 800-series in 1964. The company converted the Canal Street line to bus service that year. They retained of the 900-series streetcars. While some of the 800s were sold/donated to museums, most were demolished.
NOPSI 832 was one of the lucky 800s. The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum acquired the car in 1964. The museum placed the car into service immediately, since their tracks are the same gauge as New Orleans. NOPSI 832 continues to delight visitors to the museum.
Color photo: New Orleans Public Library
NOPSI 832 in Pennsylvania: Michael Huhn
Early Baseball in New Orleans by S. Derby Gisclair
This week’s NOLA History Guy Podcast goes long-form! Listen to our conversation with S. Derby Gisclair about his book, Early Baseball in New Orleans: A History of 19th Century Play. Derby will be talking baseball and signing his books tomorrow night at Octavia Books at 6pm.