Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche Canal
Santa and Mr. Bingle on the front of MB Canal, 1952 (Franck Studios photo courtesy HNOC)
Maison Blanche regularly put up big displays on the front of the store. The second floor was mostly stockrooms and warehouse space. The view in windows on that floor left much to be desired. So, the store closed in the front of that floor. The display department placed large displays in that front space.
The first Mr. Bingle on the second floor appeared in the 1940s. By the 1950s, Santa joined the snow elf.
Second floor displays
Maison Blanche Canal second floor display, late 1960s (Tess Conrad photo)
The store set up other displays in the second floor space. Mr. Bingle stepped aside for different Christmas decorations. The store saluted teams playing in the Sugar Bowl. In 1976, Maison Blanche promoted Bicentennial celebrations (and sales) with red-white-and-blue on the second floor front. Mr. Bingle took a back seat to these varied displays in the 1960s through the 1980s.
Return of Mr. Bingle
Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche Canal, 1985. (Edward Branley photo)
While large Bingle displays vanished, he never really left Canal Street. He appeared in the front windows of the store. He was the main attraction of the store’s third floor Christmas section. Kids posed for pictures with Santa, but Mr. Bingle calmed them down.
The little guy re-appeared on the front of the store in a big way in the 1980s. So, the store commissioned a huge fiberglass Bingle. They put it out on the front of the store, along with a storyboard. The sign told the story of how Mr. Bingle came to be. Well, not how Emile Alline got the idea to hire Oscar Isentrout from a Bourbon Street strip club to work the Bingle puppet. This was the proper kids’ story!
Christmas Eve at MB
I worked at Maison Blanche at Clearview Mall when I was an undergrad at UNO. The Men’s Department assigned me to sportswear. Eventually, I moved to suits. I enjoyed working at MB, particularly since we were on commission! Christmas Eve was always a crazy day. So, there wasn’t much selling happening. We parked in front of the cash registers and rang stuff up. It made all the slow, boring nights in January welcome!
Happy Holidays, everyone!
Mr. Bingle 1952 – Jingle, Jangle Jingle
Maison Blanche Canal Street, December, 1952
Mr. Bingle 1952
In 1947, Emile Alline was the display-window manager for Maison Blanche. He took his family up to Chicago that fall, for a family trip. While up there, he applied a professional eye to Christmas displays along the “Miracle Mile.” Alline decided his store needed a Christmas character. He sketched a short snowman. Snowman? Not quite right. How about holly wings, and an inverted ice cream cone for a hat? Now Alline had a snow elf!
Mr. Alline brought the concept to MB management. The little guy captivated everyone. The store featured Mr. Bingle all over its print advertising for Christmas, 1958.
Mr. Bingle hooked New Orleans. While the other Canal Street stores did Christmas displays, they didn’t have a character. So, Maison Blanche presented Mr. Bingle. Kids loved him. By 1952, the store displayed Mr. Bingle right up front!
Maison Blanche grew from the single store on Canal Street in the post-war 1940s. They opened stores on S. Carrollton Avenue in Mid City and Frenchmen Street in Gentilly. Mr. Bingle flew out to those locations! So, when Alline commissioned the Mr. Bingle puppets, they visited all the stores.
Canal Street in 1952
Maison Blanche anchored the 900 block of Canal Street for almost a century. S. J. Shwartz built the “MB Building” in 1908. So, by 1952, it stood for over forty years. Shoppers entered on the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The entrance on the left of the photo (behind the bus) led to the office building. The first five floors of the building were retail space. The next seven housed a number of businesses. Many doctors set up shop in the MB building.
Santa and Mr. Bingle look down here from the second floor. So, that area was stockrooms. Eventually, the store covered up the second floor windows with year-round displays.
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
Mr. Bingle tells his story in Chapter 3! Buy the book here!
Single-truck Streetcars were the first electrics in New Orleans
Single-truck streetcars on Canal Street. Teunisson photo, ~1905
Streetcar operating companies phased out mule power in the mid-1890s. So, the single-truck streetcars replaced the “bobtails”, as the first electric cars in the city. “Single-truck” means one set of four wheels. The cars were relatively small. Companies like NO&CRR and NOCRR initially purchased Brill streetcars. They switched to Ford, Bacon, and Davis single-trucks in 1894. The car on the left, running on Prytania, is a Brill. The car running on Annunciation is a FB&D. .
The Prytania Line
The New Orleans City Railroad Company opened the Prytania line on June 8, 1861. The line started at the Clay Monument, Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue. Cars ran initially from Canal, up Camp, to Prytania, to Toledano. NOCRR expanded the line in 1883. Prytania ran up to Exposition Boulevard at Audubon Park. Therefore, it dropped off riders at the Cotton Exposition. So, mule-drawn streetcars operated on Prytania at this time.
While the New Orleans and Carrollton RR operated on St. Charles Line, Prytania became popular, because of Touro Infirmary and the Garden District. The streetcars dropped folks off right at the hospital. Many people living in the Garden District took Prytania in for Canal Street shopping. They avoided the crowds on St. Charles. People called Prytania the “Silk Stocking Line” because of the privileged riders.
Prytania’s first electrics were Brills. until the 1920s. The line switched to Jackson and Sharp single-truck streetcars. In 1915, New Orleans Railway and Light ran double-truck “Palace” cars on Prytania. The arch roofs eventually replaced those streetcars in the 1920s. NOPSI discontinued the Prytania line in 1932.
Annunciation serviced the uptown riverfront area and the Irish Channel. The Crescent City Railroad Company opened the line in 1863. New Orleans Traction Company electrified Annunciation in 1895. The line started at Canal and Camp, then up Tchoupitoulas, then Annunciation. At Louisiana, the line turned back towards the river and terminated at Tchoupitoulas. The return was different, because of one-way streets. From Louisiana, it ran down Chippewa, then Race, then Annunciation, Erato, Race, Camp, Calliope, then St. Charles to Canal.
The first electrics on Annunciation were Brills painted yellow with brown trim. FB&Ds replaced the brills in the late 1890s. Palace double-trucks operated on Annunciation around 1910. The line merged with Laurel in 1917.
The Mercier Building
The coupla visible in the top right of the photograph is the top of the Mercier Building. Simon J. Shwartz operated his Maison Blanche Department Store in that building. He tore down the building in 1908. The building we know as the Maison Blanche Building (Now the Ritz-Carlton Hotel New Orleans) dates from that time.
Retail Giants at the Tennessee Williams Festival!
The Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival is a fantastic annual event. It’s in the French Quarter. I’ve been asked to be part of a panel titled Retail Giants. The panel will be on Friday, March 23, at 10am. It will be in the Queen Anne Ballroom of the Hotel Monteleone.
The Festival runs from Wednesday, March 21 to Sunday, March 25. Festival HQ is open on the Mezzanine level of the Hotel Monteleone. The hotel is at 214 Royal Street. HQ operates from Thursday-Sunday, from 9am to 4pm. There’s lots of interesting talks, discussion panels, and other events. Check out the full festival schedule.
Retail Giants – The Panel
Here’s the blurb on the panel:
New Orleans is a nostalgic town that cherishes its diehard institutions, particularly the retailers who became household names over multiple generations. David Johnson of the New Orleans Museum of Art moderates a panel of authors whose work chronicles where New Orleanians made groceries, furnished homes, and browsed for bric-a-brac. David Cappello is the biographer of John G. Schwegmann; Ed Branley writes about Krauss Department Store, and John Magill is the author of a recent book about that popular commercial and social thoroughfare, The Incomparable Magazine Street.
I’m looking forward to this. The authors know their stuff! So, I’ll be the lightweight in this group.
Krauss, Maison Blanche, and Streetcars!
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
I was invited to participate on this panel because of the latest book, Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store, but my earlier book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, fits the subject wonderfully. I’ll be talking both Krauss and MB, and how retail evolved on Canal Street. There’s lots of New Orleans history here, as Canal Street was the nexus of many separate communities, as folks came downtown to shop. Therefore, we’ll talk a bit about streetcars as well, since they were an integral part of shopping on Canal and Magazine Streets.
There will be a lot of stories and fun on Friday. I’m looking forward to seeing y’all there.