Maison Blanche Halloween wasn’t a big deal. Christmas was the big deal.
Atrium at Maison Blanche, Lake Forest, mid-1970s. T-P photo.
Maison Blanche Halloween
Interior shot of the Maison Blanche store in The Plaza at Lake Forest. The store opened in 1974. The store incorporated many of the design features of the one in Clearview Shopping Center in Metairie. This photo features the open-air center atrium. The escalators stood on either side, with the Fine Jewelry department on the ground floor. The mall-side entrance to the store stood to the photographer’s left. First floor departments included cosmetics, jewelry, candy, juniors and menswear. Retailers always believed menswear should be easily accessible, on the ground floor.
“You’ll be a sleeping beauty in dreamy sleepwear by Gilead…short waltz length nylon tricot gowns with matching coats…” – women’s sleepwear, items a husband or boyfriend find difficult to buy as gifts. So, appeal to the ladies directly, before the Christmas ad onslaught.
This ad, from the Times-Picayune, on 31-October-1978, is a great example of how seriously Halloween was a part of the chain’s Fall marketing. Yes, there’s nothing in the ad for spooky season. That’s because Halloween is merely a blip on the radar. The focus for department stores like MB was always the post-Thanksgiving shopping season. While stores like Spirit Halloween, Party City, discounters like K-Mart, and the old five-and-dimes offered what you needed for Halloween, MB and its competitors didn’t bother. Setting up for Halloween required taking space from multiple departments. The managers of those departments and the buyers they worked for balked at disrupting the holiday mojo. September heralded the “Pre-Christmas” promotions. Those sales carried on through November. The day after Thanksgiving marked the formal start of the Christmas season. To set up displays for special merchandise at the end of October, only to break them down days later made no sense.
Halloween in Men’s Suits
So, Maison Blanche Halloween wasn’t a thing. In fact, I took the day off when this ad ran in 1978. The “Haunted House” we held at the Lambda Chi Alpha (University of New Orleans) house in Gentilly needed more help than the Men’s department at MB Clearview. Since we worked on commission, my colleagues certainly didn’t miss me on a slow night.
Hope your Halloween was a good one! This post goes up a day late, but that’s OK, because we’re still in the middle of All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls.
Maison Blanche Gentilly was the second store off of Canal Street.
MB Gentilly, 1948. Franck Studios via THNOC
Maison Blanche Gentilly
Franck Studios photo of Maison Blanche Gentilly in 1948. The department store opened its third store just off Gentilly Boulevard, at Frenchmen Street. This strip mall anchored a large commercial development near the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard. Other stores in the strip at this time include Walgreens, Morgan and Lindsey (a five-and-dime store) and Capital Stores Supermarket. A huge billboard for JAX Beer stands above the Walgreens. The MB is the only two-story store.
The intersection of Elysian Fields and Gentilly Blvd grew into an important commercial area towards the end of the 19th century. The Pontchartrain Railroad operated along the length of Elysian Fields, from Chartres Street to Milneburg at the lake. The railroad marked the road along the Gentilly Ridge, Gentilly Road, the half-way point of the route. The train stopped there if a passenger notified the conductor. The train also stopped for pick-up if it was flagged down. The rail stop evolved into a local hub. The Zuppardo’s parked their produce truck there. That evolved into a brick-and-mortar store. Several Jewish congregations purchased the high ground on the ridge. They built cemeteries there, so they could bury their loved ones in-ground.
World War II
After the war, men and women came home, ready to start families of their own. Developers created subdivisions around the commercial hub. While housing remained segregated, Pontchartrain Park opened as a subdivision for Black families. So, more businesses opened. The Frenchmen strip mall reflected that demand. Residents of Gentilly appreciated the convenience. Instead of taking the Gentilly streetcar (on Franklin) or the Elysian Fields bus into the CBD, they shopped at Maison Blanche Gentilly.
T-P ad, 24-October-1953
“The Woman who works shops at MB for smart, thrift-wise wearables” in this ad in the Times-Picayune, 24-October-1953. MB enticed the working woman with nylon blousettes, wool suits and dresses, and butter calf handbags. With the Gentilly Store, woman shopped without having to schlep back downtown!
Westside Shopping Center was anchored by MB’s fourth location.
Architectural rendering of the re-vamped MB Westside, 1970.
Westside Shopping Center
A re-vamped Maison Blanche Westside was featured in the store’s employee magazine, “Shop Talk,” on 1-February-1970. The store, opened in 1958, as the shopping center’s anchor. After ten years of operation, MB upgraded the two-story location, bringing it into the 1970s. Westside was MB’s only location on the West Bank. The shopping center stood at the corner of Stumpf Boulevard and West Bank Expressway. The open-air strip mall extended out on either side of MB.
The Stumpf family acquired an extensive parcel of land in Gretna in 1901. It stood undeveloped for the first half of the 20th Century. In the 1950s, Dr. John F. Stumpf, a dentist planned a shopping center development. The center would front the new West Bank Expressway. The expressway was built to connect Gretna with the anticipated “new” bridge crossing the Mississippi River.
Unfortunately, Dr. Stumpf passed away before Westside’s completion. Other family members, notably his father, Archie C. Stumpf and uncle, State Senator Alvin T. Stumpf.
Full-page ad for the grand opening of “West Side Shopping Center,” 31-January-1958. Times-Picayune.
Westside Shopping Center opened on January 31, 1958. Dr. Stumpf’s daughter, Susan, dedicated the center. Governor Earl K. Long and Gretna Mayor William J. White spoke. After a flyover of jets from Naval Air Station New Orleans in Belle Chasse, shoppers filled the new stores.
Maison Blanche ad for Westside in the Times-Picayune, 31-Jan-1958.
Maison Blanche welcomed old and new patrons. Additionally, three shoe stores, Rexall Drugs, F. W. Woolworth, Labiche’s Lerner’s, Stein’s, and Western Auto, among others, opened for business. A&G Cafeteria, McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppe, and National Food Store offered various foods, and a Gulf Oil Service Station stood ready to gas up the packed parking lot.
Westside versus Oakwood
The Record Department at MB Westside, 1970
The Greater New Orleans Mississippi River Bridge opened on April 15, 1958. As the west bank grew, a second shopping center opened in Gretna. Oakwood Shopping Center, anchored by D. H. Holmes, offered indoor, air-conditioned connections to its stores in 1966.
Sign for Maison Blanche in the parking lot of Westside, August, 1958. Sonny Randon Photography via the West Bank Beacon.
In many ways, Westside and Oakwood operated similarly to Lakeside and Clearview in Metairie. It wasn’t difficult for shoppers to hop from MB in one to Holmes in the other. After ten years of operation, MB decided Westside needed a facelift. Oakwood presented a newer, more modern location. So, Maison Blanche upgraded Westside. The company touted those upgrades to employees, generating pride and excitement.
Thanks to the Gretna Historical Society for their article on Westside and the Stumpfs.
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.
The Maison Blanche Snack Shop was a wonderful bakery.
Maison Blanche Snack Store on Iberville
Franck Studios photo of the corner of Dauphine and Iberville Streets in the French Quarter in 1951. Maison Blanche opened a Bakery department in 1934. That concept extended into the “Snack Store” in 1945. The original snack store opened in the rear of the ground floor of 901 Canal Street. The company acquired the building at the corner in the mid-1940s. They renovated the interior and moved the Snack Store into it in 1946. The Snack Store closed in 1957 and the building was demolished.
Times-Picayune ad for the 2nd anniversery of the MB Bakery, 7-August-1936
MB entered the bakery business on August 7, 1934. In two years, as this ad shows, the bakery offered “Strawberry preserve silver layer cakes” and Lady Baltimore cakes as anniversery specials.
Times Picayune ad for the MB Bakery, 8-May-1935
The Angel Food Cake was so memorable, Judy Walker, the Times-Picayune’s food editor/columnist, got requests for its recipe as recently as 2007.
The Bakery stood on the ground floor of the store, in the section that joined the two MB office towers. It had a separate entrance at 135 Dauphine Street.
Bakery to Snack Store
Ad in the Times-Picayune, 28-January-1949, featuring imported soups, frozen strawberries, and Danish cherry wine
MB expanded the square feet of the Bakery Department in March of 1945. They added liquor, wine and liqueurs, along with a selection of “gourmet” canned foods, such as whole ducks, chickens, and guinea fowl. After the war, as rationing policies lifted, the Snack Store offered more fresh-cooked food, such as holiday turkeys. By 1949, they even sold live lobster, acting as a retail outlet for Seafood Delivery Services.
Expanding the building
Google Maps photo of the present-day Courtyard by Marriott, Iberville and Dauphine.
The two photos of the corner of Dauphine and Iberville show how the store did not extend all the way back into the block from Canal Street. When the Merciers acquired Christ Episcopal in 1884, the property extended about two-thirds of the way back to Customhouse Street (Iberville’s name at the time). They demolished the church (which re-located to St. Charles Avenue), building the Mercier Building. Shwartz converted that building into Maison Blanche in 1897. He demolished it in 1908, building out the retail and office space that stands at 901 Canal now.
So, that left the other third of the block, with its three-story building. Like several of the other big Canal Street stores, it took MB some time to acquire all of the space. They accomplished this by the 1940s. The Snack Store (along with the Bakery) was a good candidate to outright move into the new space. The corner building offered a separate entrance. Additionally, the move freed up retail space in the main store.
The company’s ultimate goal, however, was to expand the main store. They did so by demolishing the Snack Store building in 1957. MB extended the five-story retail space all the way to the corner. So, the store finally ran the length of the block. (By comparison, it took Krauss until 1952 to grow their store all the way to Iberville in the 1201 block.)
When new ownership converted the store into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, they planned to open the section facing Iberville as a separate concept. They planned to make the 1950s back section into luxury condos/short-term rentals. The market rejected that concept. The owners re-modeled those units into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
If you like the story of Maison Blanche, you’ll want to get my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, available at all the usual suspects.
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!