The 901 block Canal Street in 1910 looks almost the same today.
901 block Canal Street
Detroit Publishing Company postcard of the 901 block Canal Street, in 1910, possibly as late as 1915. While much of the Detroit Publishing collection dates to 1900-1905, the earliest date possible for this photograph is 1910. That’s because all three buildings in the block are completed. The Maison Blanche Building fully opened in 1908. The Audubon Building (at the corner of Canal and Burgundy) in 1909. While S. J. Shwartz built the MB building, the owners of the Grand Opera House next door demolished the theater and sold the property to S. H. Kress Company. The five-and-dime store chain built the Kress Building in 1910. Don’t let the automobiles fool you–the Model T began production in 1908.
The MB Building included two entrances on Canal Street. The elegant doorway on the left side in the photo, closest to Kress, led into the Maison Blanche Office Building. That lobby contained the elevators which lifted you to the sixth to twelfth floors of the building, where many professional firms, doctors, dentists, and attorneys operated. From the twelfth floor, there was a one-floor connector elevator that brought visitors and employees of WSMB radio to the thirteenth-floor studio. The entrance to the department store in the 901 block Canal Street was on the Dauphine Street corner, under those green awnings.
The Audubon Building
Originally intended to be a hotel, the Audubon Building evolved into office space. In 1929, Leon Heymann purchased the building. He did so as a fall-back in case he ran into lease renewal issues at 1201 Canal Street. Those issues never materialized. So, Heymann later sold the building. It continued to operate as office space, until it was converted into The Saint Hotel.
Streetcars on Burgundy
This postcard shows two-track streetcar operation on Burgundy Street. Streetcars on a couple of lines came up to the 901 block Canal Street on Dauphine. They turned right, in front of Maison Blanche, then right again, heading outbound on Burgundy. Additionally, streetcars came up Burgundy, turned right onto the 1000 block of Canal, then right again on N. Rampart Street.
Maison Blanche tire store on Airline Highway in Metairie.
Maison Blanche tire store
The “Greatest Store South,” Maison Blanche operated a Tire Store at 1920 Airline Highway, in Metairie, from the late 1950s to the 1970s. The store was in between the store at S. Carrollton and Tulane (where Airline Highway began) and the Airline Village store, a couple of blocks further up the road. The photo is from Franck Studios, via the HNOC. It was shot on 17-October-1960.
The big-name department stores included auto service and tire sales in their portfolios. In addition to Maison Blanche, D. H. Holmes, Krauss, and Sears all offered auto service. While the draw to downtown customers was get the car serviced while shopping, the stores offered local convenience to suburban New Orleans.
What attracted customers to the department stores for auto service was credit. Your MB tire purchases could be charged to your MB account. Same for the other stores. At a time where there were no bank cards like VISA and MasterCard, this was important. Tires weren’t cheap, and the department stores set up payment plans for their customers. This built loyalty to the store.
The department store-owned auto service stores began to fade out in the 1980s. By the 1990s, only Sears operated an auto center, next to their store in Clearview Mall in Metairie. Goodyear and Firestone expanded their chains, and Walmart entered the market. The Sears auto center at Clearview remained until 2019. Sears closed both the department store in the mall, as well as the auto center. The mall demolished the auto center. A branch of Regions bank now stands in its place.
1960s Airline Highway
Airline Highway is US 61, which connects New Orleans to Baton Rouge and points west. Prior to the construction of I-10, Airline Highway was the main route to the state’s capital city. As Metairie grew, so did retail outlets like MB and the tire store. A billboard for Brennan’s Restaurant stands behind a Mobil Oil gas station, with the company’s well-known red Pegasus sign.
Maison Blanche 1909, just after the “new” store was completed.
Maison Blanche 1909
Detroit Publishing Company photo of the tallest building on Canal Street, the Maison Blanche Building. The department store demolished the old (1884) Mercier Building at 901 Canal Street the year before. In its place, they built this building. The first five floors were retail space. The upper floors housed offices for all sorts of professionals and businesses.
Greatest Store South
Simon J. Shwartz acquired the Mercier Building in 1897. He re-modeled the four-story structure, opening Maison Blanche that October. While New Orleans had a number of “dry goods” stores, MB was the first “department store” in town. Shwartz knew from the outset that the store would outgrow the location. So, he planned for a new structure. In 1907, MB moved merchandise from the back of the old store to its front. They demolished the back half and built the rear tower of the new building. They then moved the merch to the new building, and demolished the front of the old store. Upon completion, the store held a grand opening.
Shwartz accomplished two important goals with the new building. First, he expanded retail space for MB by a full floor. Second, the offices above the store attracted new shoppers. You take your mom to the eye doctor on the ninth floor. To pass the time, you shop in the store, then head back upstairs in an hour or so. In a few years, MB even opened a pharmacy in the office tower, to keep it all in the building.
This 1909 photo presents the 901 block of Canal Street as a work in progress. Look up the street from the MB building, to the corner of Canal and Burgundy. There’s nothing there! Within the year, construction began on the Audubon Building. The Grand Opera House (not to be confused with the more-famous French Opera House on Bourbon Street) stood in the middle of the block since the 1840s. New owners demolished the theater in 1908. The S.H. Kress store replaced the opera house in 1910.
Ad snapshot 23-April focuses on 23-April-1946 and 1947.
Ad snapshot 23-April
I love posting ads that are twenty-plus years old. Every day offers new thoughts. While the advertisers are quite predictable, the ads themselves provide perspective on the day, the time, and the store.
I found a number of ads this morning, more than I want to tweet out to the world. Here’s some for my wonderful patrons.
Ad in the Times-Picayune, 23-April-1946 for Maison Blanche Department Store (top). The store touts infant/toddler items in their “Young New Orleans Center.” I take away three things in particular about this ad. First, that wicker wardrobe is an item seen in so many New Orleans homes. Those things persevered into the 1960s and 1970s. Second, christening gowns. Maison Blanche sold those in 1946. It’s quite possible that a family considers that gown an heirloom now. Maw-maw wore it!
The MB art department created a stunning mom! That hat! Families gather for christenings to this day, but the fashions changed. Mom went formal in 1946.
Maison Blanche artists drew the store’s name in many different ways in the 1940s. The formal logos appear later. Additionally, MB sells to customers only from Canal Street. The “suburban” stores (Carrollton and Gentilly) appear the following year.
Ad for Hunter Fine Blended Whiskey, 23-April-1946. The Hunter-Wilson Distillery Company produced this blend. They operated in Louisville, Kentucky. While Bourbon stands as the most popular Kentucky whiskey, a number of distillers created blended styles.
This ad originated from the distillery itself, rather than from a local retailer. Many retailers shied away from favoring one brand of booze. So, distilleries placed their own ads. They often said, “available at your favorite store.” The distillery’s marketing department placed the ad on page two or page three of section one. Literally the second or third page of the newspaper meant higher ad prices. This helped reach the men, skimming the headlines and top news.
More to come!
Maison Blanche 1906 shows the Mercier Building lit up at night.
Maison Blanche 1906
Photo of Maison Blanche by John Norris Teunisson. He shot the store on the evening of Monday, February 26, 1906. This was Lundi Gras that year. New Orleans Railway and Light Company, both the transit company and electric utility company, strung lights along Canal Street. The reflecting light on the street indicates a bit of rain came down. Hopefully the Krewe of Proteus didn’t get wet. Note the bunting spread out over Maison Blanche, celebrating the season.
The Mercier Building
Maison Blanche 1906 operated from the Mercier Building. The chapter of Christ Episcopal auctioned their property at 901 Canal Street in 1884. The Mercier family owned a dry goods store and a number of French Quarter properties. They acquired the church, demolished it, and built the building in the photo. Several dry goods retailers, including Leon Fellman and Simon J. Shwartz, leased space at 901 Canal.
In 1897, with backing from his father-in-law, Isidore Newman, S. J. Shwartz purchased the entire Mercier property. He evicted the other retailers. Shwartz converted the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets into the first “department store” in town, Maison Blanche.
Two advertisements hang over the 900 block of Canal Street in Maison Blanche 1906. The first says WEST END. The transit company promotes day trips out to the lakefront entertainment district. While the iconic 1923 arch roof streetcars are still years away, NORwy&Lt still offered streetcar service to the hotels, restaurants, and clubs at the end of the New Canal.
The second electric advertisement says GREENWALL THEATER. The Greenwall Theater was a production company. They presented shows at the Grand Opera House. The venue stood next to the Mercier Building. So, this advertisement was perfectly placed.
Maison Blanche 1906 vanished in 1908. Shwartz planned a new building. He demolished the rear of the Mercier building and built the back section of the new store and office tower. When that section opened, Maison Blanche moved the entire store to it. They demolished the front of the old building and built the rest of the retail store and “front” office tower.
In 1910, S. H. Kress purchased the Grand Opera House. They demolished the theater and built their Canal Street store next to MB. Now, the Maison Blanche Building is the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. The Kress building is the parking garage for the hotel.
Terry in a Tender Mood – T-P Leisure section ad, 28-Jan-1979.
Terry in a Tender Mood
Maison Blanche’s ad on the front page of the Metro Section of the Times-Picayune on 28-January-1979 promotes “Terry in a Tender Mood.” While ads from earlier decades featured drawings from the store’s Art Department, MB used photographs by 1979. I don’t know when this change happened, so if you do, let me know in comments!
Maison Blanche in 1979
Late January often brings chilly weather to New Orleans. This ad presents the feelings we find when marking Imbolc/Canndlemas. We look to warmer weather in many places. Retail therapy brings the promise of fewer layers of clothing! From the ad:
Revealing an unexpected taste for the romantic in dresses, softly subtly feminine. Today’s supple fashion terry takes beautifully to full-blown sleeves, slightly wider tops, gracefully moving skirts, goes to dinner, informal parties, remains cool, calm, collected, all summer. From Melissa Lane, off-white, accented in a new manner with camel, underscores new sleeve interest; sizes 8 to 18. 40.00. Miss MB, all stores. Penny Young uses terry with slenderizing fullness–both top and bottom–refreshing colors: celery or mauve. Sizes 14 1/2 to 24 1/2. 45.00. Better half-sizes, all stores.
You can tell this copy hit the public long before Twitter!
MB Stores in 1979
Maison Blanche operated five stores in 1979. Canal Street remained the flagship. Two stores served Metairie/Jefferson, Airline Village and Clearview Shopping Center. Westside in Gretna enabled west bankers to avoid the bridge, and The Plaza in Lake Forest served Da East.
MB offered parking validation for Canal Street shoppers. While the malls appealed to suburban residents, Canal Street presented a number of shopping opportunities. The store’s buyers placed new merchandise and product lines at Canal. So, they walked out of their offices to the retail floor and watched how those products performed. if a line worked at Canal, move it out to the other stores. I’m sure “Terry in a Tender Mood” didn’t stay at Canal Street only for long.