Brief news article about a streetcar vs train accident in The Daily Picayune, 11-May-1912.
Passenger train No. 339, of the Illinois Central, crashed into the Royal Blue car at Washington Avenue, at 9 o’clock last night and knocked it into splinters. The car was dragged about 125 feet and part of it was on the front of the engine. The latter was derailed.
Howard Heldenfelder, of 136 S. Olympia, employed at the Krauss Store, was the only passenger in the streetcar. He sustained injuries about the chest and was badly shaken up. Jules Mainbaum, the motorman, was thrown from the platform, into a canal. He was fished out by the conductor, Thomas Burke. The motorman was injured about the head. He and Heldenfelder were taken to the hospital, where their injuries were found not very serious.
Interesting unpack here! A quick online search didn’t immediately turn up the route of IC train 339. It was either coming or going to Union Station, on Rampart Street. This was the “old” station, built in 1892. The city demolished it to make way for Union Passenger Terminal, in 1954.
A “Royal Blue car” ran on the Napoleon Avenue line. New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) operated streetcars in the city in 1912. The Napoleon line got the nickname “Royal Blue” because the roll board (the rolling sign indicating the streetcar’s route) was enclosed in blue glass. Since the streetcar was smashed into splinters, it likely was an all-wood Brill double-truck.
The motorman ended up in the New Basin Canal. This part of the canal is now part of the Palmetto canal system, that feeds into the 17th Street Canal and its pumping station near Metairie Road. Good thing the conductor could fish him out!
And then there’s the passenger, Mr. Heldenfelder. he lived at 136 S. Olympia. That’s across the street from St. Dominic School (now Christian Brothers School). To get to work at Krauss, he likely took the Canal line from Mid-City down to Basin Street.
Early morning outbound and inbound on the Canal Street Line, 2-April-2022. The first streetcar, outbound, is actually the second car out of the barn. The Canal line cars leave the barn at Canal and S. White Streets, turn lakebound, and travel to the Cemeteries terminal. The first streetcar of the morning already did this when I pulled up at Blue Dot Donuts. That car is the second one in the video. The operator pulled out, headed to Cemeteries, and now is doing a full inbound run. You can see the “01” on the right-side rollboard on this second car, 2023. That indicates it was the first one on the line this morning.
Canal line operations
NORTA 2023, inbound on Canal Street, 2-April-2022
There’s a couple of reasons NORTA operates Canal in this mode. First, it’s easier to come out of the barn and make a simple right turn. The car barn is behind the A. Phillip Randolph bus facility, the big building you see on Canal Street. This used to be the location of the original New Orleans City Railroad barn. That building, parts of which were from the 1860s, was demolished in the 90s. When streetcars returned in 2004, NORTA built a new streetcar barn. It’s big enough to hold all the red and green streetcars. So, Carrollton Station, up on Willow Street, is just a maintenance facility. The 2000-series Von Dullen streetcars always operated from this barn. The Rail Department performs minor repairs on the cars on Canal. The streetcars return Uptown for major repairs, maintenance, painting, etc.
The second reason the streetcars go up to Cemeteries first is that it gives the operator a chance to shake the car down before they go to work. If there’s a problem, they can turn around and go back to the barn.
NORTA operates a limited schedule this weekend, because of the NCAA Final Four.
Canal Street 1960 featured Hitchcock at the movies.
Canal Street 1960.
Unpacking a photo from “N.O.L.A. – New Orleans Long Ago” on Facebook. This color shot features the 1101 to 901 blocks of Canal Street. The photographer (unidentified) stands across the 140′ street. the angle indicates they’re at Elk Place. A green arch roof streetcar travels inbound, on the Canal line. A second streetcar travels outbound, a block down the street. The marquee of the Saenger features Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Woolworth’s at N. Rampart Street, the Audubon Building, and Maison Blanche Department Store are visible, along with numerous billboards and other advertising.
While this photo is undated, the marquee of the Saenger Theater tells us it’s from the Summer of 1960. Paramount and Hitchcock released “Psycho” nationwide at the end of June. An interesting tidbit about the film: it was the first movie released in the United States with a “no late admission” policy. While Paramount opposed the notion, it turned out that moviegoers lined up well in advance to see the film.
Like other movie houses in New Orleans in 1960, the Saenger observed Jim Crow laws and restrictions. The theater operated the balcony separately from the rest of the building. They walled off the balcony as a “colored” theater, the Saenger Orleans. The theater merged back to one after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Rubenstein’s store, on the Sanger’s corner at Canal and N. Rampart, was not connected to Rubenstein Brothers, the venerable men’s store still at Canal and St. Charles Avenue. This Rubenstein’s was part of a chain of women’s stores. They later moved to the 1000 block. That corner storefront of the theater became a Popeyes in the 1980s.
F. W. Woolworth Co.
Woolworth’s operated one of its two Canal Street stores on the other side of N. Rampart. This location became a nexus for Civil Rights protests just two years after this photo. As in other cities, protesters focused on the Woolworth’s lunch counter. While there were no major incidents, Civil Rights leaders, most notably the Rev. Avery Alexander, led pickets and protests on Canal Street.
Woolworth’s closed the store in the 1990s. The building remained vacant until 2011. Developer Mohan Kailas acquired the store. He demolished the building (which stood on the corner since the 1930s). Kailas partnered with Hard Rock Cafe to build a hotel on the site. In 2019, construction failures caused the development to collapse, killing three.
The 901 block of Canal Street stands as it has since 1910. The Audubon Building was an office building at the corner of Canal and Burgundy streets. It was later converted into a hotel, The Saint. Next is the S. H. Kress store, then Maison Blanche Department Store. MB the store occupied the first five floors. The upper floors were leased as office space. WSMB radio stood atop the building, on the thirteenth floor.
A 1923-vintage arch roof streetcar heads inbound on Canal Street. It approaches the corner of Canal and Rampart streets. I can’t make out its number – if you can, let me know! New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated the transit system in New Orleans at the time.
The “beautification project” of 1958 cut back the number of streetcar tracks on Canal from four to two. Streetcar lines heading inbound to Canal Street used the outside tracks to turn around and return to their origin points. By the late 1950s, the only remaining streetcar lines were Canal and St. Charles. So, since those turn-arounds were no longer necessary, the city cut down the size of the neutral ground. Additionally, they increased the number of auto lanes in the downtown section of Canal. planters and palm trees appeared as part of the project. By the summer of 1960, the palm trees survived a couple of winters.
North Carrollton Streetcars have operated only since 2005.
North Carrollton Streetcars
NORTA 2012, operating on the “Carrollton Spur” of the Canal Street line, 23-December-2021. One in three (or four, depending on how busy the line is) cars running on Canal spin off at Carrollton Avenue, traveling the length of North Carrollton Avenue, out to City Park. NORTA built the 2000-series “Von Dullen” streetcars in 2003/2004, for the return of streetcar operation on Canal. Like the green, 1923-vintage arch roof cars running on St. Charles Avenue, the Von Dullens get holiday decorations for Yuletide.
The Carrollton Spur
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority planned for streetcars back on Canal Street starting in the late 1990s. They pitched electric street rail operation to the Federal Transportation Authority at a time when local governments only had to put up 20% of the cost. So, once the city assembled a financial package, the Feds got on board. Additionally, they pitched an extension of the traditional Canal route, a “spur” going down Carrollton Avenue. This spur connects Canal Street with City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The original plan was to get the almost-five miles of Canal Street track done and settled, then NORTA would turn its attention to the spur in a year or two. When George W. Bush became POTUS in 2001, the FTA dramatically cut back their contribution to street rail projects. Despite securing funding for the Canal project, NORTA became concerned. They moved up the plan to run North Carrollton Streetcars. So, construction began on the spur as the main line approached completion.
As much as construction-related street closures interrupted business along N. Carrollton, most owners saw the streetcars as a good thing in the long-term. While Hurricane Katrina slammed down economic growth immediately, the streetcars eventually boosted the neighborhood.
First time streetcars
Back in the days when New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) operated transit in the city, they never ran North Carrollton Streetcars. This is because of the Southern Railway’s “Bernadotte Yard.” The railroad built an extensive rail yard in Mid-City New Orleans. It ran from Canal Boulevard and Bernadotte Street, down St. Louis Street, crossing N. Carrollton, up to Dr. Norman C. Francis Parkway. So, when the rail yard reached N. Carrollton, six railroad tracks crossed the street.
Now, that many railroad tracks was bad enough for automobile and truck traffic. Those tracks made it impossible for street rail to run down the street, crossing the tracks. So, NOPSI never ran streetcars on that side of Canal Street. They operated the “Carrollton” bus line, from Elysian Fields and Gentilly Road, to DeSaix Street, to Wisner, N. Carrollton, all the way to S. Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues, Uptown.
As you can see from the video, the Carrollton Spur operates in the street, not the neutral ground. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the entire Canal line used the old arch-roof cars, as the Von Dullens underwent repairs.
Palace Streetcar on a test run on Esplanade Avenue, 1921.
New Orleans Railway and Light (NORwy&Lt) 605, running outbound on Esplanade Avenue, 8-October-1921. This photo is part of a set shot by Franck Studios for the Rail Department. The note references a civil court case number. NORwy&Lt purchased the “Palace” streetcars from the American Car Company in 1905. These streetcars ran at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. They impressed the NORwy&Lt’s Rail Department. They ran these cars on the Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue lines. The Palace cars also ran out to West End.
Palace Streetcar on Esplanade
While the Palace streetcars offered the most comfortable ride of any in New Orleans, operation on Esplanade Avenue was tricky. That street’s neutral ground was small. The branches of the old oak trees converged over the center. NORwy&Lt avoided cutting down the trees, but encountered close calls with branches. This run of car 605 documented the clearances along Esplanade Avenue.
The Canal and Esplanade lines operated in “belt service” at this time. One line ran continuously in one direction, the other line in the opposite direction.So, a round trip involved taking both lines. Since the streetcars didn’t have to terminate and change directions, their running time improved.
The car’s roll board shows West End, rather than the two lines running the belt. The Palace cars also ran out to West End. They traveled up Canal Street outbound, turned onto City Park, then turned up on West End Boulevard, heading out to the lake. For this run, 605’s last “revenue run” was on West End. The motorman didn’t bother changing the sign.
The man sitting at the back of the streetcar on this run is likely a Rail Department employee from Canal Station. He’s wearing civilian clothes. The other man in the photo is the conductor. He wears the standard uniform.
Two years after this run, NORwy&Lt re-organized into New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI). NOPSI was then acquired by EBASCO, a division of General Electric. NOPSI later became part of Middle South Utilities, which is now Entergy.
Tivoli Circle connected the CBD with Union Station.
NOPSI 934, heading outbound on the St. Charles line, 1968. John LeBeau photo, via Aaron Handy, III. Here’s Aaron’s caption from Facebook:
Outbound Charley car 934 coming off Saint Charles Avenue to round the former Lee Circle, piggybacked by NOPSI GMC New Look 18, assigned to Freret. October 23, 1968. (John LeBeau collection.)
NOPSI 934 was one of the thirty-five 900-series arch roof cars to make the cut in 1964. It was one of the 1923-24 streetcars ordered by New Orleans Public Service, Inc. While New Orleans Railway and Light Company ordered arch roofs in 1915, things changed by 1923. The transit company in New Orleans re-organized as NOPSI. Mr. Perley A. Thomas took his arch roof design from Southern Car Company, opening his own business in High Point, NC. The NOPSI order was so big, Thomas had to sub-contract it to other manufacturers.
Tivoli to Lee to…?
As streetcar traffic from Uptown increased in the 1870s, the city converted the intersection of St. Charles Avenue and Delord Street (later Howard Avenue) into a traffic circle. The re-design made it easier for streetcars to curve off into the Central Business District or down to Union Station. The city named the roundabout “Tivoli Place,” after the famous Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1884, the White League petitioned the city to construct a monument to the traitor Lee at the roundabout. The city authorized the construction of “Lee Place” in 1877. While the monument and the small park surrounding it was named for the rebel general, the roundabout remained “Place du Tivoli.” Over time, however, the names merged, and locals called it “Lee Circle.” The column at the center of Place du Tivoli remains, even though Alexander Doyle’s statue is in storage.
General Motors produced their “New Look” buses from 1958 to 1979. NOPSI purchased a number of these buses. While Flxible Company buses replaced the streetcars on the Canal Street line in 1964, New Look buses also traveled the city’s streets. In this photo, NOPSI 18, operating on the Freret line, follows NOPSI 934.