The 1929 transit strike in New Orleans snarled downtown traffic for over four months.
1929 Transit Strike
Photo of Canal Street, looking towards the river, July, 1929. The photographer stands at Canal and Rampart Streets, at the lake end of the 1000 block. The Audubon Building and Maison Blanche Department Store loom over the 901 block, on the left. A jitney bus, the light-colored vehicle in traffic on the right, offers what little service New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) could offer, with all the streetcars locked up in their barns. The antenna tower above MB is the transmitter for WSMB Radio.
Empty neutral ground
Streetcars remained off the streets from July 1 to July 4th, 1929. NOPSI tried to run streetcars using strikebreakers on Saturday, July 5th, but picketers and their supporters wouldn’t allow the cars to exit the barns, after the first streetcar departed Canal Station. That streetcar rolled this route, down Canal Street, followed by a massive crowd. The strikers burned that streetcar when it reached the ferry terminal.
Maison Blanche 1929
The MB building was twenty-one years old at the time of the 1929 transit strike. This photographer captured two signs on the building. The store’s name runs vertically on the lake side of the building. The roof displays the store’s name and its tagline, “Greatest Store South” on the roof.
The MB building is about ten years old in this photo. Doctors, dentists, and other professionals occupied the office building. The transit strike created problems for those tenants. Without public transit, it was difficult to get to the doctor. While grandma would hop on the Desire line or the St. Charles-Tulane belt, no streetcars meant someone had to drive her to Maison Blanche. Look at that traffic on either side of the “Canal Street Zone.”
On the retail side, the lack of public transit put the hurt on the Canal Street stores. Marks Isaacs, D. H. Holmes, Maison Blanche, all the way up to Krauss Department Store. Again, look at that traffic. In that first week of July, 1929, the retailers were furious. That the strike continued for four months did permanent damage to NOPSI and public transit in New Orleans.
Shop Talk was the employee monthly magazine for Maison Blanche Department Stores.
The June, 1970, edition of “Shop Talk,” the Maison Blanche employee magazine, featured a page of new fashions for the Fall and Winter. The idea was to offer some advance looks at the styles coming in. The buyers planned out merchandise a year in advance. So, by Summer, they presented new styles to employees. Then, folks working in all departments talked up the new stuff.
Shop Talk was more than just a marketing tool. The newsletter/magazine updated the MB community on many comings and goings. While much of the news and features were what one would expect from a company communication, there were personal stories and other items.
The newsletter described the Fall/Winter fashions for women as, “Do your own thing” —
Many new looks are seen for fashion this fall. At upper left, note the mixed length being used in skirts. Lower left is the gaucho pants outfit to be worn with boots. At right, note the new wide-brim hat and slit skirt. The wide belt with big buckle is important, too, this year.
This page offers sales associates talking points that even a college student like your humble NOLA History Guy could work with. And I did, when I worked at MB Clearview a few years later. Skirt lengths were all over the place in the late-60s/early 70s. The store, like the wider world, didn’t have a definitive statement on skirts:
No subject has come in for more discussion in years. Every woman (and man) keeps asking: Are they going down or staying up? The answer is yes. Misses hemlines will be mid-knee, one or two inches below the knee, or slightly longer than mid-calf. Juniors may be up to three inches above the knee to three inches below. That should be something to suit everybody. The real mini seems to be out, but legs are still very much alive. They will be seen in still-short skirts, in mixed lengths — garments combining medium and long hems — and in the new slit skirts, sometimes slit clear to the hip.
Fall/Winter 1970 promised to be exciting at MB!
1201 Canal Street viewed from the Elks Building.
1201 Canal Street
John Tibule Mendes took this photo of Krauss Department Store and the train station on 30-March-1919. Mendes stood on the roof of the Elk’s Home, just across Canal Street, at 127 Elks Place. Leon Fellman built the store’s first two floors in 1903. The five-story addition behind that first building dates to 1911.
To the left of the store stands the offices of the Texas Company, better known as Texaco. The billboard on the roof displays the company’s familiar star logo. That site is now a rental car parking lot. Texaco would later acquire the block at Canal and Marais Street. They built the “green building” there, as their headquarters, in the 1960s.
To the right of Krauss is Terminal Station. The Frisco Railroad formed the New Orleans Terminal Company in 1907 to build the station, which was completed in 1908. While there isn’t any documentation to this effect, I’m certain that Fellman either knew about the railroad’s plans, or speculated correctly, when he purchased the properties in the 1201 block of Canal in 1899. A small station for the Spanish Fort train stood in the Basin Street neutral ground. The right-of-way established, it was easy for the railroad to build out from there. The station bears the name of Southern Railway in this photo. Southern acquired the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, along with New Orleans Terminal Company, in 1916.
The smokestack, background right, marks the location of the Consumers Electric Company. The company leased the smokestack for advertising. It features Regent Shoes at this time. Regent Shoes aggressively placed ads on large outdoor fixtures and mis-matched wall space around the city.
While the Storyville District officially closed in 1917, many of the houses just to the left of Krauss remained in business, two years later. Anderson’s Saloon and the higher-end “sporting clubs” stood behind Krauss.
The Godchaux Building stood in the 501 block of Canal Street.
Postcard of Canal Street, 1916. The Godchaux Building, at 527 Canal, rises in the foreground, right. The 501 block numbering begins with the building across the Dorsiere Street from the Godchaux Building. The Maison Blanche Building, 901 Canal Street, stands to the left. The streetcars operating in the “Canal Street Zone” are single-truck Brills and Ford, Bacon, and Davis.
Godchaux, an Alsatian Jew, came to the United States in 1837. He opened a dry goods store on Canal Street in 1845. Leon leveraged the profitable store to buy the town of Bonnet Carre, in St. John the Baptist Parish. Changing the town’s name to Reserve, he acquired a number of sugar cane plantations in the area. Eventually, his sugar cane holdings totaled twelve plantations. To process that raw sugar cane, Godchaux built what would become the largest sugar refinery in the country.
While Godchaux operated his store on Canal corner Chartres, his company erected this building in 1892. It housed both the retail store and offices for the sugar businesses. The building stood just a few blocks away from the Louisiana Sugar Exchange, which opened in 1883. The Sugar Exchange was a co-operative filtering tower and molasses warehouse, at Iberville Street and the river.
Godchaux’s the store re-located to the Macheca Building, at 828 Canal Street, in 1926. The store expanded, acquiring an annex whose entrance faced Baronne Street, in the 100 block. The store expanded to the suburbs in 1960. They opened a Godchaux’s in Lakeside Shopping Center, at Causeway and Veterans, in Metairie.
Leon Godchaux’s daughter, Blanche, married Leon Fellman. Fellman, another New Orleans retailer, started out with his brother, Bernard, later opening his own store, first in the 901 block of Canal, then moving it to 800 Canal. Fellman also built the first storefront of Krauss Department Store, at 1201 Canal Street.
The Godchaux Building was demolished in 1972. The Marriott Hotel Canal Street stands in the 501 block now.
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.
Krauss 1938 shows the badge of the Eighth National Eucharistic Congress.
The Catholic Church in the United States held its Eighth National Eucharistic Congress in New Orleans. The Congress ran from 17-October to 20-October, 1938. Since Krauss Department Store stood next to the Southern Railway passenger terminal on Canal Street, the store put up the logo for the Congress. Yes, the Krauss brothers were Jewish. Yes, they turned the store over in 1920 to their Jewish brother-in-law, Leon Heymann. No, that didn’t matter, when all those Catholics got off trains, emerging into the Canal Street sunlight, next to their store.
The Catholic Church holds large events called Eucharistic Congresses. While synods and such are political/business events, a Eucharistic Congress is for the faithful. These events included meetings, seminars, lectures, and, naturally, Mass. The ultimate event for a Congress was usually a big, outdoor Mass for hundreds, even thousands of attendees.
Shopping and Trains
Krauss 1938 promoted the Eucharistic Congress that year. The Southern Railway ran a special train, from Washington, DC, to New Orleans, prior to the opening of the Congress. That special run transported Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and others from the Northeast to New Orleans for the event. Other trains brought clergy and lay attendees to the city from across the country.
While trains converged upon all five passenger stations, Terminal Station at Canal and Basin Streets concerned Krauss 1938 the most. This passenger terminal serviced trains from Southern Railway and Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio. So, Catholics from all destinations in those systems ended their journey to the Congress on Canal Street. Right next to Krauss.
As attendees got off the trains, many naturally realized they forget this or that from home. A full-service department store right next to the station attracted these folks. Guests at nearby hotels like the Roosevelt walked over to Krauss for shopping and souveniers. That huge logo welcomed them with open arms.