1952 was the year of peak Krauss growth, as the store expanded fully.
Peak Krauss Growth
Photo of Krauss Department Store, taken in 1953, for the 50th Anniversary of the store. The photo, courtesy the Times-Picayune newspaper, The photo appears to have been shot from either the Roosevelt Hotel across the street, or possibly from the MB building in the 901 block. The dates indicate the years each segment of the store joined the existing building. From the first two-story construction in 1903 to the completed five-story complex going back to Iberville Street Krauss continued to grow until it filled out the block.
Leon Fellman purchased the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal Street in 1899. He demolished them, and built the original two-floor storefront in 1903. By this time, Fellman operated his own department store at 800 Canal. So, 1201 was essentially investment property for Fellman. He encouraged the Krauss Brothers to run with his new building. While the “Krausz Brothers” store in the 801 block closed in 1901, they jumped on the proposal. They opened, as the T-P described it, “a veritable trade palace.”
The Krauss Company quickly expanded Fellman’s original plans. The brothers installed the first escalator in New Orleans. It connected the first and second floors of the 1903 building. As the store grew, that second floor space became known as the “Mezzanine.” It contained the original luncheonette, as well as other service departments, such as optical and the camera department. The better-known wooden, five-story escalator enters the story in 1940.
The four Krauss Brothers (Leon Heymann doesn’t enter the Krauss story until 1920) recognized the need for more retail space almost immediately. They expanded the store’s footprint in 1911. They built a five-story extension behind the storefront. While the escalator connected the first and second stories, shoppers accessed the 1911 expansion via elevators.
The brothers stopped at the 1911 point because that’s all of the property they owned. Fellman only purchased the buildings fronting Canal Street. The brothers purchased the portion of the block behind it for the 1911 expansion. That was all they could afford at the time. The store did well, though, enabling them to continue real estate purchases.
We’ll come back to this photo periodically, as we discuss the store’s journey.
The story of Krauss Department Store has its roots in Leon Fellman’s origin story.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment in a series on Leon Fellman, and his business operations in New Orleans. Fellman’s story directly ties to both his store, Sears, Roebuck in New Orleans, as well as Krauss and Maison Blanche Department Stores. Additional installments in this series will be patron-only.
The Touro Buildings, 1880, by George Francois Mugnier, via LSU Special Collections.
Leon Fellman’s Origin Story
Lippman Feibelman was born in 1846, in Rülzheim,Germany. Rülzheim stands near the western border of the modern German Republic, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Feibelman emigrated to the United States in 1864, following his older brother Bernard, to New Orleans. Like his brother, he anglicized his name, becoming Leon Fellman. Bernard, who came to New Orleans a couple of years earlier, helped his brother make business connections through their synagogue. They worked for a couple of Jewish-owned businesses in the city. It’s likely they worked for the Kaufman’s at some point. So many local Jewish merchants got their start there.
By 1873, the brothers saved enough money to open their own shop. They leased space in the Touro Buildings, in the 701 block of Canal Street. These buildings, built by businessman Judah Touro, were popular storefronts for a number of businesses. Bernard and Leon leased 133 Canal Street. Their shop was in the 701 block, but the city numbered addresses by house/business, rather than block. So, Fellman Brothers, was the one hundred thirty-third address on Canal Street, when starting from the river.
Ad for Fellman Brothers, 5-March-1833, in The Daily Picayune
Fellman Brothers were dry goods merchants, In an ad in the Daily Picayune newspaper on March 5, 1878, they declared, “We hereby tender a special invitation to strangers in our city, and the public in general, only to inspect the many novelties we are displaying, and that prices that will please the most economical buyer.”
By 1881, the brothers opened a second store in the Touro Buildings, at 129 Canal. Additionally, they retained 133 Canal, stocking it with ladies’ clothing. The store established a relationship with Red Star Shoes, which was just down Canal Street, at Exchange Alley. The Fellmans continued to regularly discount merchandise and slash prices. So, many considered their business practices ruthless. They continued in this manner, creating tension between the brothers and the larger Jewish community in the city. While the store enjoyed financial success, their standing in the community diminished.
In 1888, Leon tried to convince Bernard to move Fellman Brothers to the Mercier Building, in the 901 block of Canal Street, corner Dauphine. While the Touro Buildings were solid, the Mercier Building was newer. It stood on the location of Christ Episcopal Church. The church’s chapter auctioned off the corner in 1884. The Merciers bought it, demolished the church, and built a large retail building. The Fellmans split up. They dissolved Fellman Brothers and closed the original store at 133 Canal. Bernard continued at 129 (now 727) Canal as B. Fellman Dry Goods. Leon opened Leon Fellman and Company at 901 Canal Street.
The Touro Buildings photo
This is a 1880 photo taken by George Francois Mungier. He worked for S. T. Blessing at the time. Blessing operated a portrait studio at 87 Canal. So, Blessing also sold stereo photo cards. This photo was No. 549 in Blessing’s New Orleans series.
This 1909 Maison Blanche Postcard pre-dates the Kress building.
Maison Blanche Postcard
Maison Blanche Postcard from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1909. This photo shows a relatively specific point in time for MB and the 901 block of Canal Street. On the right, corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets, is the thirteen-story “second” MB building, now the Ritz-Carlton Hotel New Orleans. At the other end of the block stands the Audubon Building, a ten-story office building. The Grand Opera House stood in between these two buildings, but it Ain’t There No More! The property owners demolished the theater/opera venue right after MB completed construction of their store. So, that hole stood for just a few months. S. H. Kress came to New Orleans and built a store next to MB.
The 901 block
This postcard marks the last changes in the 901 block of Canal Street to this day. The Grand Opera House had a narrow frontage on Canal. The theater widened after the length of the Audubon Building, going back to Iberville Street. S. H. Kress did not build out as wide as the theater. So, the back part of the block filled in with buildings that fronted Iberville.
The Maison Blanche postcard shows four vehicles in the 901 block. One is a small automobile (at least I think it’s motorized rather than horse-drawn), passing in front of the Audubon Building. Another automobile rests in front of the entrance to the “Maison Blanche Office Building, next to the empty hole in the block. That large doorway led to a set of elevators which carried folks up to the sixth through thirteenth floors. Those elevators bypassed the retail space in the first five floors.
The other vehicle in the street appears to be a wagon, pulled by two horses. That leaves the streetcar, traveling outbound on the center, main line track. Streetcars operated on four tracks on Canal Street, until the neutral ground was renovated in 1957. The city cut back to just the two center tracks at that time.
The streetcar is a “Palace” car, built by the American Car Company. They first operated in St. Louis, for that city’s 1904 World’s Fair. New Orleans Railway and Light liked the design. So, they bought them for the Canal/Esplanade belts, and for the Napoleon line.
Detroit Publishing Company printed a number of postcards of Canal Street, from the 1900s to the 1920s. The cover of my book is another Detroit Publishing photo.
Here’s an ad from this date in 1952, in the Times-Picayune newspaper. “Pineapple butter cream gold layer cake. The tangy taste of this pineapple butter cream icing will be enjoyed by your entire family. Just like home made . . . a super treat.” Just $1.05, from the Cake Department on the first floor.
Greatest Store South!
Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche – The first store away from Canal Street.
Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche
Two photos of the corner of Tulane and S. Carrollton, one prior to the opening of Maison Blanche Carrollton and the other as the store’s life was winding down. The strip shopping center at this corner dates back before World War II. After the war, it becomes Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche, as the department store expanded past 901 Canal Street. As the chain grew, the original Carrollton store moved to up Airline Highway. That store later re-located to Clearview Mall, where it remained until Dillard’s acquired the chain.
Tulane and Carrollton before MB
The earlier photo here shows the strip center with an A&P grocery store. While this photo, from Franck Studios (via HNOC), is undated, the A&P puts it between the construction of the center in 1940 and the closure of the grocery in 1946. Mid City Lanes opened in 1941. The bowling alley operated on the second floor of the lake side of the center. The ground floor contained a Morgan and Lindsey “dime store.” The ground floor, lake side appears to be unoccupied.
Even though the venerable drugstore chain Katz and Besthoff continues to own the hearts of locals, Walgreens opened its first store in the city in 1938. From that first location at 900 Canal Street, the chain branched out into other neighborhoods. Walgreens opened their Mid-City store here at Tulane Carrollton Maison Blanche, in 1941.
Regal Beer leased the roof space above the Walgreens. Their sign, which included a clock, towers over the intersection. The city’s minor-league baseball team, the Pelicans, played in their ballpark across the street. The St. Charles/Tulane Belt streetcar lines turned here, heading up and down Tulane Avenue. Behind the strip center, to the west, Tulane Avenue morphed into Airline Highway (US 61). Airline Highway connected New Orleans with Baton Rouge and other points west.
Maison Blanche on the corner
After World War II, various retail chains in the city were free to implement expansion plans long held in check because of the war. Maison Blanche opened two “suburban” stores in 1947, in Gentilly and here in Mid-City. The store raised the height of the roof on the the A&P section of the strip. They offered shoppers the ground floor as retail space and stored stock on the new second floor.
This newer photo dates to the 1960s. While the changes to the corner around the strip center aren’t visible, they were significant. Pelican Park had been demolished. In its place rose the Fountainbleau Motor Hotel. Streetcar service on the Tulane line ended in 1951. The city ripped up the streetcar tracks and operated buses. With the New Canal now filled in, the Pontchartrain Expressway rose over the corner, leading auto traffic into town and to the Mississippi River Bridge.
MB Carrollton morphed into a “Budget Store” with the opening of MB Airline. The store sold discontinued items, markdowns, returns, etc., at its “Budget Annex,” located behind the main store, at Iberville and Dauphine Streets. When Airline opened, MB expanded its “budget” offerings to Carrollton. In Gentilly, they converted their first store in that neighborhood to a budget location, when the primary store moved to Gentilly Woods Shooping Center.
Unpacking Homer E. Turner’s Canal Street at Night painting offers interesting details.
Turner’s Canal Street at Night
Painting, “Canal Street at Night” by Homer E. Turner, 1950. The artists stands in the neutral ground of Canal Street at N. Rampart. Turner looks up Canal, towards the lake. Released from the restrictions of the war, neon signs dominate the street. While there are numerous color photos from the period, this painting is so detailed, it’s not surprising that casual viewers take it for a photograph, maybe on a rainy evening where the camera lens was a bit misty.
Homer E. Turner
Born in 1898, Turner painted New Orleans scenes from 1938 to 1950. The landmarks captured in this painting place it at the end of that period. He died in 1981. The New Orleans Art League, an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans. took notice of Turner’s work and exhibited his paintings. The League featured visiting artists in shows at their gallery 630 Toulouse Street. They also held annual exhibitions at the Delgado Museum of Art (now the New Orleans Museum of Art).
Canal Street, 1950
Turner captures Canal Street, above Rampart. The established retail stores in the city stood in blocks closer to the river. Starting with Godchaux’s in the 501 block, shopping came to an end in with Maison Blanche in the 901. j
That changed in the first half of the 20th Century. Leon Fellman, bought the houses in the 1201 block of Canal in the late 1890s. He built a new store building there and leased it to the Krauss Brothers. By 1908, Southern Railway moved their passenger terminal to Canal and Basin Streets, next to Krauss. Move theaters, such as the Saenger, Loews, and Joy, popped up. While not physically on Canal Street, the Roosevelt Hotel, (originally the Grunewald) towered over Canal.
Turn on the lights
Nighttime changed the vibe of Canal Street. The stores closed around 6pm daily. So, nobody ran downtown to pick up something in the evening. Streetcars carried workers and shoppers alike to the residential sections of the city. By dusk, signs on Canal Street enticed riders and drivers with things other than shopping. Some signs were practical in nature, such as The Roosevelt’s, directing drivers to turn onto Baronne Street and the hotel’s entrance.Other hotels, such as the Hotel New Orleans (now the Vinache) and the Jung, made sure visitors and taxi drivers knew where they were going. So, advertisers presented large neon clocks to those on the street. They kept people looking up. Additionally, the marquees of the theaters proclaimed what was playing that evening, and you didn’t want to be late.
Food and beverage products used neon, enticing passersby to eat Blue Plate products, such as mayonnaise and coffee. Then there was Three Feathers, a popular blended American whiskey. You might
It was not uncommon for stores to light up the night in front of their main entrances. The one prominent exception to this on Canal Street was Maison Blanche. So, its thirteen-story building (behind the artist in this painting) stood large without illumination.
After the rain
Turner shows the streetcar tracks in the center of Canal Street as if it’s just rained. The neon reflects on the concrete. the rows of fleur-de-lis lamposts reflect as well. That rain was likely welcomed by diners and moviegoers waling the street in its aftermath.
Carrollton Shopping Center took advantage of the Pontchartrain Expressway.
“Keep cool, in sleeveless dresses, deftly shaped…” Summer dresses in dacron-polyester from Gus Mayer. This ad, from the Times-Picayune on 4-June-1964. The store sold these dresses in the “Career Shop-Young Moderns” at the Canal Street location, on the third floor. By 1964, Gus Mayer operated three stores in the city. The venerable main store was at 800 Canal, corner Carondelet. They moved to that location from across the street in 1948. The old Pickwick Hotel building, built in 1895, came up for sale after World War II. Gus Mayer bought the property and demolished the building. They erected the building that is now the CVS Drugstore. So, the new location doubled the size of the original store.
Carrollton Shopping Center
Gus Mayer later expanded, sort-of following Maison Blanche’s strategy. MB opened two “suburban” stores in 1947, at Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues, and Frenchmen Avenue and Gentilly Blvd. Gus Mayer opened on the other side of the now-closed New Canal. When the city filled in the canal in 1949, the state built the “Pontchartrain Expressway.” The expressway originally began at Pontchartrain Blvd. near Lake Lawn Cemetery. It extended into downtown, connecting with the original bridge of the Crescent City Connection.
To get over the Illinois Central train tracks and S. Carrollton Avenue, the state built the “Carrollton Interchange,” visible in the rear of the shopping center photo. Developers constructed the shopping center on land now left unused because of the canal closure.
Carrollton grew in popularity as Metairie grew in population. Airline Highway (US 61) made it easy for suburban shoppers to get to S. Carrollton Avenue. A number of stores recognized this potential. JC Penney anchored Carrollton in the west. Smaller stores, such as Labiche’s, Mayfair, and Baker’s Shoes. The center included an A&G Cafeteria, Winn-Dixie supermarket, and a Western Auto store.
Gus Mayer anchored the center on its eastern side. While not as large as the two-floor Penney’s, the women’s store stood off from the strip-mall design, with its own parking area.
Gus Mayer once again followed the lead of Maison Blanche in the 1970s. As Metairie development continued in the west, Clearview Shopping Center opened at Clearview Parkway and I-10. MB had already moved their Carrollton Store to Airline Village, further out. (The Carrollton store became a Budget Store.) The department store then moved to the new mall in Metairie. Gus Mayer picked up on that trend. They closed their Carrollton Store, moving to Clearview.
All of the Gus Mayer Stores in New Orleans closed in the 1990s. The company operates two stores in Birmingham, Alabama.