The 100-200 blocks of St. Charles Street, looking up from Canal Street, 1880. This is one side of a stereoscope card from S. T. Blessing Studios on Canal. The foreground shows the 100 block of St. Charles. Meyer The Hatter and Kolb’s Restaurant open on St. Charles fifteen-ish years later. The St. Charles Hotel dominates the background of the photo. Two Stephenson “bobtail” streetcars travel up St. Charles. They run on the Great Northern Station line. The Carrollton line still came to Canal Street via Baronne. I decided to change my profile picture on Twitter (yes, I’m still on Da Twittah, as @NOLAHistoryGuy) to this image.
St. Charles Street
No, that’s not a typo. At this time, the city listed the portion of St. Charles between Canal Street and Tivoli Circle as a “street.” Above Tivoli Circle, it morphed into “Naiads Street.” The New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company named their streetcar line for its destination, the City of Carrollton. Carrollton served as the seat of Jefferson Parish. Orleans Parish later annexed the area. So, the line ran up Naiads to Carrollton Avenue. It cnnected the CBD with the eastern end of Jefferson.
The circle was named after Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. During the Southern Rebellion, it was used as an encampment for both Union and Rebel soldiers. The White League erected their monument to the traitor Lee in 1884. That statue was removed by the city in 2017, and the circle is now known as Harmony Circle, renamed by a unanimous vote of the City Council in 2021.
This photo shows the second incarnation of the St. Charles Hotel. It opened in 1853, after the first incarnation (the one with the dome and rotunda) burned down. This building burned down in 1894. The third incarnation replaced it. That hotel was demolished in 1974. The Place St. Charles office building (now the Capital One Building) replaced it in the 200 block.
Streetcar parade changes happened to keep the streets clear.
Streetcar parade changes
Ad in the Times-Picayune, 20-February-1950, outlining the “Changes in Streetcar and Bus Routes during Carnival Parades” for Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras that year.
In order to clear the streets along the routes of Carnival parades, certain temporary changes in streetcar and bus routes, principally in the Canal Street area, will be necessary. The dates and hours during which the changes will be in effect, as well as the points in the Canal Street area at which passengers may board and alight, are shown below. Service on the St. Charles-Tulane Belt lines will be interrupted during the parades along part of St. Charles Avenue as outlined below.
The timing of the changes: Lundi Gras, 6:30pm to about 9:30pm. The only parade of the evening was the Krewe of Proteus. It moved pretty quickly down the route, since they wanted to get their ball started on time at 9pm, at the Municipal Auditorium.
On Carnival Day,
Canal Street will be cleared of Traffic all day Mardi Gras from 9:45 a. m. until the night parade clears the street about 9:30 p. m. Passengers should board and alight at the points shown, below between those hours.
The parades on Mardi Gras were Rex during the day and Comus at night. Zulu had a less-formal route at this time, so it didn’t figure into the transit calculus.
Loading and unloading
The Canal line looping back at Crozat isn’t all that different from what happens now. The buses, being more flexible, essentially stop short of their usual turnarounds on Canal Street, on both the uptown and downtown sides of Canal.
NOPSI 434 on the St. Charles Belt, 1947 (courtesy George Friedman)
“In the interest of safety, the St. Charles and Tulane Belt lines will not operate along the parade route while the Carnival parades are on St. Charles Avenue.” The turn-back points for the streetcars are different than recent years. For Proteus on Lundi Gras, the streetcars ran all the way down to Washington Avenue. That’s because Proteus went up Jackson to St. Charles. It turned left on St. Charles, but only for four blocks, to stop in front of Garden District homes, then looped to head to Canal Street. At this time, Rex left their den on Claiborne Avenue, and turned left on Claiborne, going to Louisiana. They then turned right on Louisiana, and turning left again onto St. Charles. Their route later expanded to Napoleon. So, now, Rex turns right out of the den, then left onto Napoleon, then left onto St. Charles. So, now the turn-back point is further up, at Napoleon.
Since the St. Charles and Tulane lines ran in Belt service, with one circling in one direction and the other in the opposite direction, there was a second turn-back point. This was at Elk Place and Canal. So, during parades, the lines ran point-to-point, from St. Charles and Louisiana, up St. Charles, turning on S. Carrollton, then Tulane, going to Canal and Elk. The Tulane line ran the opposite direction.
A year later, in 1951, NOPSI discontinued Belt service. The Tulane line transitioned to trackless trolleys, while St. Charles remained streetcars.
NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows on Twelfth Night.
NORTA 922 and the Phunny Phorty Phellows, Twelfth Night, 2023. Kerri Becker photo.
Seeing NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows is a treat.
The Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP) announce the arrival of the Carnival season. While there are other organizations parading on Twelfth Night, PPP are the senior members of the cohort. We’ve written a bit about PPP here, but the star of this post isn’t the krewe. It’s the streetcar! NORTA 922 is one of the remaining vintage 1923-24 arch roof streetcars designed by Perley A. Thomas. They dominated the New Orleans transit landscape from their debut to the conversion of the Canal Street line to buses in 1964. There are 35 remaining 900-series cars.
A streetcar numbered 922
While any of the “green streetcars” is more than capable of transporting PPP on their run, NORTA 922 adds a bit of flair to the proceedings. It’s the streetcar from the streetcar movie. The film adaptation of Tennesee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire required a streetcar. The rail department of New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) chose car 922 to be the streetcar. The movie opens with it, and the rest is, well, less history and more legend.
So, NORTA 922 was a movie star. By the 1970s, however, an imposter took credit for 922’s starring role! NOPSI 453, a wood-frame Brill streetcar, received the appelation, “Streetcar Named Desire.” This streetcar functioned for decades as the “training car.” NOPSI installed it at their facility on Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue. They rigged the operator’s console with the same equipment as the 900-series. New-hire motormen (and the “motorettes” during WWII) trained on 453. It was set up to rock and bump. Senior motormen taught the new folks.
As streetcar service in New Orleans dwindled, so did the training needs. NOPSI 453 stood idle. The story of how this streetcar became identified with the movie is fascinating. I invite you to go read this article by Earl W. Hampton, Jr. and H. George Friedman, Jr., for details and lots of photos.
922 back at work
In the meantime, NOPSI 922 went back to work on the St. Charles line. It’s done its duty well, coming up on a century of service. One of those duties is charter rides, like the PPP. On Twelfth Night, the news folks and photographers head to Carrollton Station to see off the year’s designated driver. They file their stories and go home, as the streetcar rolls the krewe down S. Carrollton Avenue, turning onto St. Charles Avenue. They announce the start of Carnival along St. Charles. When the streetcar reaches Tivoli Circle, the streetcar circles around. It becomes an outbound car, returning to the barn.
On a side note, streetcar 922 started live as NOPSI 922, and was designated as such from when it first rolled out of the barn. In 1983, NOPSI transferred its transit division to a new entity. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority assumed control of the city’s transit routes and assets. So, those 35 green streetcars switched to the new notation.
Ride the bus or streetcar to the game, come back to the French Quarter for fine dining.
Enjoying Sugar Bowl Dining
With fans from Baylor University and the University of Tennessee in town for the Sugar Bowl game on New Year’s Day, even the established, “old line” restaurants took out ads in the Times-Picayune.
Beakfast at Brenna’s, all day.
Brennan’s French Restaurant served “Breakfast At Brennan’s,” with Eggs Hussarde or Eggs St. Denis, all day long. They also recommended Lamb Chops Mirabeau, as well as the rest of a very popular menu of French cuisine. Brennan’s, Still There More at 417 Royal Street, across from the Louisiana Supreme Court building.
“the gourmet’s choice…The House of Antoine for 117 years…National polls have placed Antoine’s top on their list of fine restaurants of America and the world. Antoine’s Restaurant, 713 St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. Roy L. Alciatore, Proprieter.
Arnaud’s Restaurant in the French Quarter.
Germaine Cazenave Wells, Owner and Manager of Restaurant Arnaud’s, and daughter of Count Arnaud, the founder, welcomed Sugar Bowl visitors. “The Paris of the South,” Arnaud’s, still at 813 Bienville Street.
Commander’s Palace in the Garden District
“a command performance for generations, the toast of Kings and Queens of Mardi Gras, Commander’s Palace where each meal is a command performance–delicious french cuisine expertly prepared and graciously served.”
Since 1880, Commander’s Palace – “Dining in the Grand Manner,” Washington Avenue at Coliseum.
Lenfant’s, Poydras and S. Claiborne and Canal Blvd.
Lenfant’s operated two locations in 1956, 537 S. Claiborne and Poydras, and 5236 Canal Blvd. The Special Turkey New Year’s Dinner served to 4 P. M., a la carte after 4pm. “Plenty of Parking Space Available at Both Locations.” Lenfant’s, particularly the Canal Blvd. location, attracted locals not looking to mingle with football visitors.
T. Pittari’s, 31-December-1956
“The Famous T. Pittari’s – Directly on your route–to and from The Sugar Bowl Game” at 4200 So. Claiborne. Pittari’s aggressive marketing via downtown hotels attracted visitors. While they came for the lobster and other exotic dishes, locals went to Pittari’s for their popular Creole-Italian dishes.
Route 47 first car of the morning heads to the Cemeteries.
Early Morning Route 47
Early morning outbound on Route 47, the Canal Streetcar to the Cemeteries Terminal. ‘Twas a foggy morning, as NORTA 2021 heads up Canal. The car’s following the standard route out of the barn down the street at Canal and N. White Streets. It’s passing through Hennessey Street here, right by Blue Dot Donuts. The Canal cars exit the barn (next to Warren Easton High), turn right, heading outbound to Cemeteries. They then start a full run to the river.
the Canal line originally operated from Canal Station at N. White Street, down to the river. After two months in the summer of 1861, the New Orleans City Railroad Company expanded the route, up to Metaire Road/City Park Avenue. This enabled riders to easily get up to the cemeteries at that end of the street. Mid-City as we know it now didn’t exist. So, the trip past the streetcar barn moved fast. People got down to Cypress Grove, Greenwood, the three St. Patrick’s cemeteries, as well as several cemeteries owned by Jewish congretations.
When the streetcars reached the CBD, they connected with other lines, such as Esplanade, St. Claude, and the Carrollton (later St. Charles) line.
Canal Streetcar branches
For years, the Canal line serviced just stops on Canal Street. The sort-of exception to this was the years of “belt” service, where Canal ran in one direction and the Esplanade line in the other. Still, the line was just a straight shot up and down the city’s high street. In 2004, the line returned with not only the streetcars operating on Canal, but also on N. Carrollton Avenue. The “Carrollton Spur” runs from the river, but then makes a right-turn onto N. Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City. NOPSI and NORTA serviced this part of Carrollton Avenue with buses, since there were so many railroad tracks crossing the street. By the time of the return of the Canal line, it was easy to run the Von Dullen cars out to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Mystic Canal Street
The fog offers such visual impressions! Fantastic writing prompts to let your imagination run wild.
AMA on streetcars! If I don’t have an answer, I’ll likely work to find it.
Bywater streetcar complications involve the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
NOPSI 1005, ca. 1935. Franck Studios via HNOC
St. Claude Line Bywater streetcars
NOPSI 1005, running on the St. Claude Avenue line, approximately 1935 (Franck Studios photo via HNOC). The car is heading outbound from N. Rampart Street. The 1000-series were the pinnacle of engineering development for the arch roof streetcars. The 1000s kept the original Perley A. Thomas design, with additions under the carriage. While the 400, 800, and 900s operated with two motors, the 1000s had four, one for each set of wheels.
Railroad versus Streetcar
Norfolk Southern train crossing the Industrial Canal, 13-Dec-2019, via Commons user Bl20gh114
St. Claude Avenue and Press Street, in the Upper Ninth Ward, is one of the few locations where streetcars and railroad equipment meet at grade. While the railroads own the Riverfront, the streetcar line operates in parallel to the New Orleans Public Belt RR tracks. The “Back Belt,” originally constructed for the NO&NE and Frisco by the New Orleans Terminal Company, includes a number of automobile underpasses. Once the Back Belt hits Orleans Parish, there are no grade crossings until Slidell.
After the consolidation of passenger rail into Union Passenger Terminal, those trains operated away from automobiles. The tracks run more-or-less parallel to the Pontchartrain Expressway. They merge into the Back Belt just past Greenwood Cemetery.
NOPSI 1371, a trackless trolley, inbound over the Industrial Canal at St. Claude Avenue, approaching Press Street, ca. 1950. City photo.
So, the most significant point of contention between railroad and streetcar was St. Claude and Press. NO&NE/Southern connected to the Public Belt from their Gentilly yard via tracks at Press Street. NOPSI streetcars crossed the train tracks there with few problems for decades. The overhead catenary presented no issues for the railroad. This continued after NOPSI discontinued the 1000-series streetcars in 1949. They scrapped those beauties, replacing them with trackless trolleys. The electric buses received power through the catenary, like the streetcars. They ran across Press, across the Industrial Canal, all the way down to the sugar refinery.NOPSI converted St. Claude from trackless trolleys to diesel buses in 1964. They cut down the overhead wires.
TTGX “tri-level” auto carrier, on the Norfolk Southern Back Belt, 22-Sep-2022.
While streetcars never left New Orleans, NOPSI reduced operations down to the St. Charles line in 1964. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority expanded streetcar service, introducing the Riverfront line in 1988. The success of Riverfront led to returning streetcars to the Canal line in 2004. Economic stimulus money from the federal government offered an opportunity to further expand streetcars in 2010. NORTA constructed a partial return of the St. Claude line. The line operates from Canal Street, along N. Rampart, then St. Claude, to Elysian Fields.
The line stops at Elysian Fields because NORTA and Norfolk Southern can’t come to terms on running the overhead wires over Press and St. Claude. Since the overhead departed almost sixty years ago, it’s on NORTA to change the status quo. The railroad argues that modern rolling stock, such as tri-level auto carriers, are too high for streetcar wires. NORTA disputes this, and they’re right. Still, Norfolk Southern continues to oppose restoring a grade crossing at this intersection.