Zoom Talk 2020-03-19
I’ve presented this talk to several groups in the last year or so. With everyone holed up because of Covid-19, I did the talk yesterday (19-March) via Zoom. It’s a bit long, because I was sorting out the use of Zoom, so you’ll need to fast-forward through the first 20 minutes of the talk to get to its actual beginning.
Also, TIL: it’s too long for YouTube. I’ll edit out that first portion and get it up there over the weekend. If you’d like to view it now, the link will let you download the MP4 version.
Canal Street Shopping 1895 – before the department stores
Mercier Buildings, 1892. Leon Fellman’s store on the left, A. Shwartz and Son right, on the corner.
Canal Street Shopping 1895
1895 was part of an interesting transitional time for Canal Street. Christ Episcopal sold their third church, at Dauphine and Canal, in 1884. The Mercier family bought the property. So, they demolished the church and built a series of commercial buildings. Retail space in the 900 block attracted merchants for a number of reasons. While Canal Street evolved, Christ Episcopal moved to St. Charles Avenue and Sixth Street.
Ad in the New Orleans Times-Democrat, 8-Dec-1895, for S.J. Shwartz & Co.
Simon Shwartz was the youngest son of merchant Abraham Shwartz. Abraham was a wholesale merchant for most of his career. He opened a retail store on Decatur Street in the late 1880s. Abraham moved the business to the Touro Buildings in 1890. That location, in the 701 block, suffered a devastating fire in 1892. Therefore Simon moved the store to Canal and Dauphine Streets. So, Shwartz kept the name of the store, A. Shwartz and Sons when he moved. His brothers dropped out of the business, however. So, Simon changed the name to S.J. Shwartz in 1894. Shwartz aggressively advertised and competed with other Canal Street merchants. In 1897, he acquired the entire Mercier complex. He merged it into a single store he named Maison Blanche.
Note at the bottom of the ad, there is a reference to “the Picayune.” That’s The Daily Picayune newspaper. The Daily Picayune and the Times-Democrat would later merge, becoming The Times-Picayune.
The Fellman Brothers
Ad for L. Fellman & Co. in the Times-Democrat, 8-Dec-1895.
Leon Fellman wanted to move the family store from the 701 block to the Mercier Buildings. His brother Bernard objected. The Fellmans split their company. So, Leon moved up the street. While SJ Shwartz occupied the building at the corner of Canal and Dauphine, L. Fellman & Co. was located at the end towards the middle of the block. The Grand Opera House was right next to his store. The Grand Opera House was later demolished and became the S. H. Kress store, in 1910.
Ad for B. Fellman, 727 Canal Street, in the New Orleans Times-Democrat, 8-Dec-1895
Bernard Fellman continued to run the original Fellman Brothers store in his name. Like Abraham Shwartz, B. Fellman’s suffered severe damage in the 1892 fire. So, Bernard rebuilt and continued the business. After his death, his widow and son operated for a few years, eventually closing the company.
The landscape of Canal Street retail changed dramatically in 1897. Simon Shwartz acquired the entire Mercier property. He evicted the other tenants, including Leon Fellman. Fellman re-located his store to the old Pickwick Hotel at 800 Canal (corner Caroldelet St.) Leon Fellman’s operated on that corner until Leon’s death in 1920. While Fellman operated his store at 800 Canal, he also purchased the property in the 1201 block of Canal in 1899. He later built the building that became Krauss Department Store. So, in 1903, he invited the Krauss brothers to lease his building.
The family changed the clan name from Fellman back to Leon’s original German surname, Feibelman, at that time. They operated the store at Feibelman’s, moving from 800 Canal to Baronne and Common in 1931. They sold the store to Sears, Roebuck in 1936.
S.J. Shwartz combined the separate Mercier properties into a single building. He opened Maison Blanche Department Store in the Fall of 1897. “Greatest Store South!”
Buy NOLA History Guy’s Books!
Canal Street – Streetcars, Maison Blanche, and Krauss!
Riders wait for the Broad line at a bus stop Iroquois Street Gentilly
Broad line bus stop Iroquois Street at Gentilly Boulevard
Bus Stop Iroquois Street Gentilly
Bus stop at Gentilly Blvd. and Iroquois Street, 10-Jun-1946. This Franck Studios photo has a court docket number in the corner. I haven’t looked up why NOPSI lawyers hired their go-to photographers to shoot this location yet.
There wasn’t much in Gentilly, below Franklin Avenue, at this time. In May of 1946, the Southern Baptist Convention upgraded the New Orleans Bible College to a seminary. The increased interest in the school motivated the SBC. They moved the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to its present location, directly across the street from this bus stop, in the 1950s.
The Broad Street line ran across town, from out here in Gentilly to Lowerline Street, uptown. Folks studying at NOBTS and their families at this time took the Broad bus to Franklin Avenue. They transferred to the Gentilly streetcar line, heading inbound, to get downtown. NOPSI discontinued the Gentilly streetcar line in 1957. The Franklin Avenue bus line replaced the streetcars.
The Broad line offered a lot of options to the rider. I used Broad to get from Brother Martin High School back to #themetrys in my high school years.
Times-Picayune ad announcing the opening of Maison Blanche Gentilly, September 12, 1947
In 1946, Maison Blanche was still a year from opening their store in Gentilly. The store opened its second location, closer to Elysian Fields, in September, 1947. The store at Tulane and S. Carrollton Avenues followed a few months later. By the 1950s, the Gentilly Woods subdivision grew rapidly. Maison Blanche recognized this. They moved their Gentilly store, from Frenchmen and Gentilly Blvd., to just down the street from NOBTS. MB rode that boom, then moved on to the next boom, New Orleans east. They moved the store to The Plaza at Lake Forest mall in 1974.
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
Lots of photos of those stores in my book, “Maison Blanche Department Stores” – check it out!
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.