Maison Blanche Clearview was a huge department store.
Architectural rendering of Maison Blanche’s store at Clearview Shopping Center, 1968
Maison Blanche Clearview
Architectural rendering of Maison Blanche Clearview, 1968. This is essentially what the store looked like when it opened a year later. This perspective is what you saw as you exited I-10 at Clearview Parkway (North), and drove towards Veterans Blvd. So, this is the western edge of Clearview Shopping Center. Sears, the mall’s other anchor, was on the opposite end. The three-story location had north and south entrances to the parking lots. The entrance on the east opened up into the mall. Clearview was Maison Blanche’s second store in Metairie, the first being at Airline Village.
In 1947, MB expanded beyond 901 Canal Street. The store opened a location in Gentilly, at Frenchmen and Gentilly Boulevard. They also opened a store in a new strip mall located at S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues. This point was the Southern terminus of US Highway 61, known as Airline Highway here. That highway originated in Wyoming, Mississippi. Before the construction of I-10, East Jefferson residents used Airline Highway to get into town. As Metairie developed after WWII, MB moved west. The store opened a location at Airline Village. By 1969, with I-10 nearing completion in Metairie, MB moved further west, to the corner of Clearview Parkway and Veterans Blvd.
While Clearview Shopping Center fronted Veterans, the mall, extended back to the interstate’s service road. MB recognized the incredible growth in the “Above Causeway” real estate market. The Clearview store would be three-stories, larger than any of the existing suburban stores.
Into the Mall
Shot of the mall entrance to Maison Blanche Clearview, 1971. via the Times-Picayune.
This photo shows the mall-side entrance of Maison Blanche Clearview. As the shopper walked west from Sears, they crossed a central atrium, then walked up to the MB entrance. They encountered the cosmetics counters, as was typical of many suburban department stores. After cosmetics was a central rotunda, with the escalators climbing to the second and third floors on either side. Fine Jewelery operated in the rotunda. Continue the walk west, and the Candy Department tempted you. Then came Men’s Sportswear on the right and Junior dresses on the left.
The store’s angle put the exit from the Men’s department in the back, leading to the parking lot behind the mall. There was a four-story office building separating the mall from the interstate’s service road by the early 1970s. That building housed WRNO-FM radio. Remind me to tell you some stories about that another time.
Early architectural rendering of Maison Blanche Clearview
This rendering was an earlier concept for Clearview. The dark panels on the exterior were similar to the Gentilly Woods store. MB dropped that idea, giving us the look at the top.
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.
Mister Bingle 2020 still goes “jingle jangle jingle!
The “Big Bingle” on the front of Maison Blanche on Canal Street. (Edward Branley photo)
Mister Bingle 2020
We’ve done a lot of things on Mr. Bingle, the most visible icon of Christmas in New Orleans, but not a podcast ep! Mister Bingle-2020 looks to change that, as we talk about the little snow elf.
Emile Alline, MB Display Director, received awards for his work, as described in this 1953 newspaper article.
The idea of Mister Bingle began with a trip to Chicago. In 1947, Mr. Emile Alline managed the display department at Maison Blanche Department Store on Canal Street. The “Greatest Store South” opened at 901 Canal Street in 1897. Fifty years later, the store survived two World Wars. Alline was an important part of advertising and promoting the store in the post-WWII boom. Alline took the train up to Chicago to see what stores along that city’s famed “Miracle Mile” were up to for the Christmas season. He took note of many things, particularly the signature character, “Uncle Mistletoe,” at Marshall Fields.
Alline decided Maison Blanche needed a Christmas character. He came home from that Chicago run and got to work. Rather than a paternal, big, Santa-like character, Alline sketched a more child-like figure. His concept began with a small snowman. The snowman received wings of holly and a big red nose. An upside-down ice cream cone became his hat.
While it would be Alline’s job to bring his preliminary concept to life, it wasn’t his decision to go forward. He pitched the character to Herbert Shwartz, the President of Maison Blanche. Shwartz liked the concept, naming the snow-elf, “Mister Bingle.” His initials became “MB.”
Sketches and Ad Campaigns
1947 newspaper ad introducing Mr. Bingle
Mister Bingle had the green light for his red nose. Alline went to work with the store’s art department to standardize the character. Bingle found his way into the daily ads in local newspapers. A back story on the snow-elf’s origin was created. New Orleans got a new Christmas story.
The artists of a department store’s Art and/or Display department were some of the most creative people in town. These are the folks that come up with ideas that make memories, like Phil Preddy’s six-foot letters, making lighted messages on the front of Krauss. A decade later, Walt Disney looked for these creatives, to be his “Imagineers.” Mister Bingle 2020 continues to inspire people with talent and drive.
Mr. Bingle goes 3-D
After the 1947 holiday season, MB desired a larger presence for their snow-elf. Alline planned to include Bingle in the store’s window displays. He commissioned a fifteen-inch Bingle doll. The prototype looked great. So, doll Bingles appeared in the windows.
While those display Bingles met different fates over the years, Mister Bingle 2020 includes the original prototype. Emile Alline’s daughters preserved the prototype doll. According to their Facebook pages, the daughters alternate Christmas “custody” of the prototype. Bingle celebrates with both branches of the family.
The Puppets and Oscar Isentrout
Oscar Isentrout, performing with Mr. Bingle at a charity event in 1984.
The folks who worked at the Canal Street store were quite familiar with businesses behind them in the French Quarter. While Bourbon Street was not as tawdry as it is for Mister Bingle 2020, the street had interesting night clubs. Several Bourbon Street clubs offered burlesque shows, interspersed with Jazz and vaudeville acts. i can just imagine Emile Alline, or one of his team mentioning a puppeteer who worked those clubs, maybe with a “or so I’m told” added to the story.
So, Alline connected with a puppeteer, Edward Harmon Isentrout. Isentrout went by “Oscar” professionally. Oscar Isentrout performed with several marionettes as an act in-between the dancers.
The creatives jumped on the idea for Bingle. Oscar referred them to a German puppet-maker, who built two Bingle puppets. Oscar became the eyes, hands, and most importantly, the voice of Mr. Bingle when those puppets took stage.
While the window displays worked on Canal Street, the “Greatest Store South” grew. Maison Blanche offered three locations for shoppers in the 1948 holiday season. The first store off Canal was at the corner of S. Carrollton Avenue, Tulane Avenue, and Airline Highway. Then came the company’s Gentilly store, on Gentilly Road, just off of Elysian Fields Avenue.
These two new stores meant Bingle hit the road. One of the puppets Oscar used stayed at the main store. The other puppet traveled to the other stores, as well as other venues for short shows.
Television audiences grew across the country in the 1950s. New Orleans was no stranger to this. Maison Blanche expanded their ad strategy to include TV ads. Oscar’s traveling puppet show went to television, specifically, WDSU (Channel 6). Oscar performed live commercials during the station’s morning cartoon/children’s programming. Oscar passed away in 1985, but Mr. Bingle lived on, particularly in animation.
Where are the puppets now?
Mr. Bingle and Oscar, Hebrew Rest Cemetery. (Dominic Massa photo)
The two Bingle puppets are still with us. One of those puppets came into the possession of Jeffery Kent after Oscar passed away. The puppet was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Bingle was a flood victim. The worst of the damage was rust-related. The puppet’s metal frame rusted, and the orange color bled out into the fabric. Kent painstakingly restored Mr. Bingle to his original condition. Since local TV weatherman Bob Breck encouraged Kent to take on the project, Mr. Breck re-introduced Mr. Bingle to New Orleans on his show.
What of the other puppet? At the time I wrote my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, a friend told me a story. He said the second puppet, the one that remained at Canal Street, was still around. According to the story, an individual took possession of the puppet when Dillard’s acquired MB. This tale is similar to the story of the “Holmes Clock.” At D. H. Holmes, a pair of customers feared that Dillard’s would not take the tradition of “meet me under the clock” seriously. So, they removed the clock, returning it to the location when the building was converted into a hotel. I’m told that the caretaker of the second puppet doesn’t want to be identified (my friend wouldn’t give up the name), but the puppet will re-appear when that individual passes away.
The Big Bingle
A large-form Mr. Bingle first appeared on the front of MB Canal Street in the 1950s. That first “big Bingle” vanished in the 1960s.
Ad in the Times-Picayune, 6-Nov-1953, for the arrival of Santa and Mr. Bingle, via American Airlines.
The store did a number of “big” promotions for Mr. Bingle in the 1950s and 1960s. MB partnered with Eastern Airlines several years, to “fly in” Santa and Bingle. They presented a motorcade/parade. One year, Mr. Bingle arrived at Canal Street, a Bingle doll “landing” on top of the building via helicopter.
By the 1980s, “big Bingle” returned to the front of Canal. The store commissioned a large, fiberglass Bingle for all to enjoy. When Dillard’s acquired MB in 1998, they also acquired Bingle. Dillard’s displayed the big Bingle on the side of their Lakeside store (the former D. H. Holmes Lakeside) in 1999. It’s unclear why the tradition failed, but Dillard’s put Big Bingle into storage.
Big Bingle made appearances in downtown Christmas parades. Carnival krewes, such as Metairie’s Krewe of Caesar, put papier mache Bingles on floats, celebrating New Orleans icons.
“Big Bingle” is a mainstay of City Park’s annual “Celebration in the Oaks” (Louis Maistros photo)
Dillard’s finally donated Big Bingle to New Orleans City Park in 2005. Now, he’s an annual feature of Celebration in the Oaks.
Ad for Clothes Horse from 14-February-1979, in the Loyola Maroon
In 1979, Clothes Horse operated four locations in New Orleans. You shopped at Clothes Horse in Uptown Square (Broadway and River Road), The Plaza at Lake Forest (in Da East), and Village Aurora. My memories of Clothes Horse are from the Metairie location at Clearview Shopping Center.
Lakeside Shopping Center was the first mall in Metairie, opening in 1960. Clearview followed in 1969. The anchor stores were Maison Blanche on the west side and Sears on the opposite end. While Gus Mayer was not as large as those two stores, the womens store at the center entrance was incredibly popular. Clearview offered a number of smaller boutiques and specialty stores, ranging from Clothes Horse to Radio Shack. Katz and Besthoff Drugstores operated a soda fountain in their Clearview store.
Selling Men’s Clothing
I worked at Maison Blanche Clearview, from 1977 to 1980. My experience at the store motivated me to write Maison Blanche Department Stores. Working at the three-story department store was so much fun, particularly since the ratio of female to male employees was so skewed. It was tough some days to get myself up off the front porch of my fraternity’s house in Gentilly and get myself out to Metairie. Once there, though, even the slow nights were enjoyable. There weren’t many food choices in the mall at that time. We would grab something at K&B, or the A&G Cafeteria. Those limited options meant the logical choice was often to eat at home.
Those slow nights offered the opportunity to walk down the mall and meet others. Clothes Horse was not one one of the stores I stopped in regularly. The store catered to young adult women. I could go in and say, I’m shopping for a present for my sister, but otherwise, it’s not like I’d ever be a regular customer. I appreciated that the store drew in the sort of clientele that interested twenty-year old me.
Come on out to Art In The Bend this Saturday, March 9th, and we can chat about MB, Krauss, Clearview, and a whole lot of other topics, as you peruse and buy my books!