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.
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!
NOPSI bus roll signs remind me of my high school years
Roll sign used by NOPSI buses
NOPSI bus roll signs
A different story today for #StreetCarMonday. Aaron Handy shared several “roll signs” from NOPSI buses to the Vintage New Orleans Transit group a while back. Through some Facebook strangeness, the images came across my phone, while reading another post in that group. I time-traveled immediately back to my peak bus-riding days, the mid-1970s.
Elysian Fields lines
The first (top) image shows a roll sign for several of the lines in the eastern part of town. They operated out of Canal Station I’m not sure why “ST. CHARLES” is there, since that line was (and still is) street rail. I rode the “Elysian Fields Pont. Beach – U.N.O.” line regularly. The other Elysian Fields line ended at Gentilly Blvd. Most of my rides covered Gentilly to the lake. On days when I wanted t go all the way downtown, I’d walk down to Gentily Blvd. and catch the first bus available. The UNO bus came from up the street. Te Gentilly Blvd. bus would be in the turnaround on the river side of the intersection. So, it was easy to see which line to take.
In the other direction, I rode the Elysian Fields line up to UNO, to hitch a ride with my dad. He worked at the university for over thirty years. I rode in from #themetrys with him. He dropped me off a Brother Martin, and then it was up to me how I got home. Some days, we’d hop the Elysian Fields bus, then jump off at Mirabeau, to catch the Cartier line. Other days, we’d go all the way up to Robert E. Lee Blvd., to stop at he comic book store, before catching the Lake line to Spanish Fort.
The Esplanade line opened in June, 1861. It ran mule-drawn “bobtail” streetcars, before electrification in the 1890s. Esplanade and Canal ran in “belt” service for a time in the early 20th Century. NOPSI discontinued that belt service in the 1930s. Esplanade converted to bus service.
In the mid-1970s, the Esplanade line ran from Canal Street, down N. Rampart Street, then up Esplanade to Bayou St. John. From there, the line turned onto Wisner Blvd., then up City Park Avenue, to Canal Blvd. The Carrollton line started its inbound run at Elysian Fields and Gentilly Blvd, at the same turnaround used by the Elysian Fields-Gentilly Blvd. line. From there, Carrollton ran up Gentilly Blvd., to De Saix Street. It crossed the bayou there, then down Wisner Blvd. From there, it ran up Carrollton, to S. Claiborne Avenue. One of the options to get to the Veterans line was Carrollton to Esplanade.
NOPSI roll signs
The lines with numbers operated in “express” service. For an extra nickel (when the regular fare was a quarter), riders bypassed a significant number of stops, on the way toward the end of the line. For example, the Canal express lines, 80 and 81, made no stops on Canal Street from City Park Avenue to Claiborne. Express 91 and 92 made no stops on their respective streets from Gentilly Blvd to St. Claude.
Express 80 and 81 occasionally fit into the going-home calculus. In addition to he NOPSI bus roll signs, expres buses used amber flashing lights. The rider saw the lights and knew whether to get aboard. We’d take the Cartier or Lake lines from Elysian Fields to Spanish Fort. Usually, the next leg was Canal – Lake Vista via Canal Blvd. If the only bus at Spanish Fort was express, you had to decide if it was worth the extra nickel. Most of the drivers did let us slide. They knew we planned to get off at Robert E. Lee and Canal Blvd., or at the Cemeteries.
Then the process repeated itself. At Canal Blvd., we transferred to Canal – Lakeshore via Pontchartrain Blvd. We rode that line to Veterans, by the old State Police station.
Modern bus routes
As time went on, NOPSI bus roll signs went digital, in the NORTA era. NORTA changed the route map dramatically in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While these same trips require fewer transfers, there are fewer buses, too. It’s much more of a challenge.
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Bus and streetcar routes in New Orleans were laid out in NOPSI Maps.
1928 NOPSI transit map
Maps of the local transit system are essential for riders. While those maps are most often found online these days, proper paper maps existed for generations before handheld devices with Everything.
Lots of interesting things here, on this 1928 map. This is a year before the 1929 Transit Strike (the origin of the po-boy, etc.). In terms of total miles of track, this is the zenith of streetcar operations. The 1929 strike changed how New Orleans commuted. NOPSI worked to get riders back, but it was not an overnight process.
Some things here that caught my eye:
- The Napoleon line went all the way out to Shrewsbury Road in Metairie. Streetcar service in Metairie ended in 1934.
- The Canal and Esplanade lines ran in “belt service” at this time. NOPSI provided “Cemeteries” service that ran to the end of Canal Street.
- The “Canal Bus” ran on Canal Blvd, out to Fillmore Ave.
- NOPSI offered no service on North Carrollton Avenue. Mid-City, between Canal Street and Bayou St. John contained the Bernadotte Street railroad yard and extensive industry. NOPSI services the neighborhood with the City Park line.
- West End ran out to the lake, along the New Canal. While the regular Spanish Fort line no longer operated, NOPSI maps indicate the seasonal shuttle line.
The Canal/Esplanade belts defined service in Mid-City at the time. While there were shorter, “support” lines, the neighborhood relied primarily on the Canal line.
NOPSI provided extensive streetcar and bus service Uptown. So, NOPSI maps show the St. Charles and Tulane lines running in “belt” service. While the original operators consolidated years before this map, the older lines continued on. Prytania, Laurel, and Tchoupitoulas operated at this time. So, Claiborne, Freret, St. Charles, and Magazine lines operated as the main cross-Uptown lines. Those lines operate today.
The Gentilly line ran from downtown out to Dreux Avenue on Franklin Avenue. Bus service on Elysian Fields only operated to Florida. The Pontchartrain Railroad still ran out to Milneburg at this time.
Vintage New Orleans Transit is a fun group on Facebook, if you’re active on that platform.
Finally, check out NOLA History Guy Podcast!
Race Screens on NOPSI 930 were typical on the 800 and 900 streetcars.
Movable race screens on NOPSI 930 streetcar. (Franck Studios photo in the public domain)
Jim Crow segregation began in the 1890s. They started in the wake of the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision. It comes as no surprise that the city where Homer Plessy and the Citizens Committee did their work embraced Jim Crow. White families of the area asserted their supremacy over the former enslaved and their families. We often look at New Orleans society as something more than white versus black. Creoles of color had extensive influence in the city. The White League saw them as “colored,” however. Because they weren’t “white”, the Creoles of Color were no better than the former enslaved to white people.
The Jim Crow laws, and the overall attitude of racial segregation helped foster the Great Migration of the early 20th Century. The most visible impact of this movement of African-Americans to the north and west was with musicians. Jazz started out as a musical style in the various black communities of New Orleans. Musicians tired of having to enter/exit venues via the back door got on the train for New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. The music spread. It stayed home, too, as many African-Americans didn’t leave the South.
Back of the bus
Separate but equal was problematic on public transit. While the Canal and West End lines looped around Liberty Place, many of the lines operated “point to loop.” When the streetcar reached the outbound end of the line, the crew changed the direction of the electric poles on the roof. They also changed the direction of the seats. With the seats flipped, the race screens were at the front of the car. Black folks would get in and sit, but had to keep going to the back as white riders boarded. On crowded runs, it got to the point where black riders stood in the aisle. White riders kept moving the screens back.
Naturally, black riders got fed up. In Montgomery, Alabama, that came to a head when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in 1955. New Orleans was spared a Montgomery-style bus boycott. A federal judge ordered the race screens on NOPSI streetcars and buses be removed in 1958.