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.
There’s always activity at the Claiborne Terminal.
Claiborne Terminal 1978
It was hectic at the end of the St. Charles line on 18-August-1978. Michael Palmieri captured this shot of three vintage-1923 arch roof streetcars, (l-r) NOPSI 914, 923, 962. NOPSI 923 blocks the other two streetcars. On the left, 914 can’t move forward, and 962 can’t enter the terminal. All three streetcars survived the 1964 massacre, when the Canal line transitioned to bus service. NOPSI kept 35 of the Perley Thomas streetcars for St. Charles. The route of the St. Charles line runs from this terminal, at S. Claiborne and S. Carrollton Avenue, inbound down S. Carrollton, turning onto St. Charles, where the line runs into downtown.
Here’s Mike’s caption for the photo from Facebook:
We’re not sure what misfortune has befallen New Orleans Public Service car 923, but the big truck parked on the other end of the car and the large contingent of sidewalk supervisors indicate that something is amiss. We’re standing on South Carrollton Avenue facing the outer end of the line at South Claiborne Avenue. The car on the right has changed direction, and is ready to head back to Canal Street. The inbound car in the background is the 914. Plum Street is behind us and Willow Street is right on the other side of the 914.
Since this mishap happened on S. Carrollton, it was easy for supervisors from the Rail Department to come up to Claiborne Terminal from Carrollton Station.
As Mike mentions, there’s a truck behind 923. The sequence to get the line back moving would be, send 962 inbound. The streetcar is on the outbound track, but the operator will switch to inbound at S. Carrollton and Willow, by the streetcar barn.
With 962 out of the way, that big truck can push 923 forward through the crossover, onto the inbound track. If the problem was with 923 itself, the truck could push the streetcar to the switch at S. Carrollton and Jeanette Street, and into the barn. Assuming the track and overhead are OK, NOPSI 914 can then leave Claiborne Terminal and head inbound, following 962.
New Orleans has always had private utility companies.
Private Utility Companies
There’s a lot of talk in the wake of Hurricane Ida of privatizing the electric utility in NOLA. Electricity has been private since the 1880s.
The New Orleans Railway and Light Building (NORwy&Lt), 1915. The building stood at Baronne Street, corner Common Street. NORwy&Lt was the third attempt to consolidate utility and transit operations into a single corporation. The company formed in 1905. They acquired this building as a headquarters. When NORwy&Lt failed in 1922, the city transferred utilities and transit to New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI). NOPSI continued to use this building until a fire severely damaged it in 1929. Photo by John Teunisson.
We usually refer to street railways as “public transit,” but private companies built and operated streetcar lines. From the first New Orleans line in 1832 until 1984, they were a public conveyance but not publicly-owned.
It wasn’t all that hard to start a streetcar line. Make a proposal for a route to the city. Put down rails. Additionally, buy the actual streetcars and propulsion. Until the 1890s, “propulsion” were usually mules. Put streetcar on the rails, hook it to a mule, and off you went. At various points in the 19th Century, multiple operaters ran streetcars on the same lines. Their origin points were different, then converged on a main street, like Magazine Street.
Cities in the US began electrification in earnest in the late 1880s. By the early 1890s, electrification of New Orleans was well underway. Streetcar operators understood the economics of replacing mules with electric motors. Electrification required significant investment. The system upgrades included overhead wires and the poles to hold them. Then the operating companies needed to generate electricity. So, the companies financed their infrastructure investments with loans and stock sales. Riders rejected the notion of increased fares to pay for the upgrades. So, with little new revenue, the companies found themselves unable to pay their debts. They went bankrupt.
The city stepped in as the streetcar operators failed. Public transit was essential. They worked with the operators to consolidate management into a single company. The first incarnation was the New Orleans Traction Company, in 1897. That attempt failed. The city re-organized it into the New Orleans City Railroad Company in 1901. That failed, and New Orleans Railway and Light Company took the reins in 1905. By 1922, NOPSI was formed.
NOPSI was a subsidiary of what eventually became Middle South Utilities, Inc. That company was a component of EBASCO. They were a subsidiary of General Electric. When the Justice Department ordered the breakup of EBASCO, they allowed MSU to continue operations as a unit. So, NOPSI, Louisiana Power and Light, Mississippi Power and Light, and Arkansas Power and Light stayed together. So, by the end of World War II, NOPSI wanted out of the transit business. While streetcars were the largest consumers of electric power in the 1890s, the system was a loss for NOPSI by the mid-20th Century. The company turned over transit operations to the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority in 1984.
Streetcars and Walgreens at 900 Canal Street!
900 Canal Street
This Peter Ehrlich photo from 2008 features some next details. Most notably, NORTA 968 runs inbound on the Canal Street line. This was the period post-Katrina where the Canal and St. Charles lines crossed over. The 2000-series Von Dullen cars flooded at Canal Station. The arch roofs survived the storm, buttoned up on high ground at Carrollton Station. Unfortunately, the wind uptown blew down over sixty percent of the overhead wires on the St. Charles line. So, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) combined the two.
Perleys back on Canal
The overhead on Canal required only minor repairs. They re-built the trucks and propulsion on the 2000s. The Rail Department towed green streetcars down St. Charles to Canal Street. Once on Canal, the streetcars ran on their own. So, they went into service. Notice that NORTA 968 sports “SPECIAL” on the rollboard. The roll signs no longer include “CANAL,” since their national landmark status locks them into St. Charles. The thirty-five remaining 900-series cars haven’t run on Canal since 1964. The green streetcars present a powerful symbol of the history and strength of the city. Running them on the Canal line added resiliency as a statement.
Behind NORTA 968 stands the Walgreens Drug Store at 900 Canal Street. This store opened in 1939. All that neon dates back to 1940. A lot of transplants to New Orleans see the bright lights and express disdain. They don’t realize just how long that Walgreens has been a part of the CBD. (On a side note, the folks that work there are fantastic. I’ve actually done a book signing there.)
The old Chess, Checkers and Whist Club building stood at the corner of Canal and Baronne for generations. By the 1930s, the structure fell apart from the inside. Walgreens bought the property, demolished the old building, and built the drugstore.
The palm trees appeared during the 1957. The 900 block received greenery, as the “beautification project” that year cut back the four streetcar tracks in the neutral ground to two. Hard freezes killed those first palm trees, but New Orleanians love them. So, the city replaced them, over and over.
Behind Walgreens is the Roosevelt Hotel, with its rich and colorful history in the CBD.
NOPSI 913 on the Canal line in its waning days of operation.
New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) streetcar 913, starting an outbound run on the Canal Street line. Photographer uncredited–if you know who shot this, please drop me a line. NOPSI 940 approaches 913, pulling up to end its inbound run. Both streetcars are 1923-vintage arch roof cars. Here’s Aaron’s caption from Facebook:
NOPSI Canal car 913 and another car rest the Liberty Circle terminus at the Riverfront, while 940 finishes the turn. April 21, 1964 (about a month or so before The Canal Line’s Big Switch to buses; notice the hobbyhorses over smudgepots on the right).
NOPSI 913 survived the conversion of the Canal line to buses. Market Street Railway in San Francisco now owns the streetcar.
This photo presents the perspective so many people saw, as they hopped off inbound streetcars to catch the ferry to the West Bank. Or, workers in the various buildings around the two-track terminus just after the loop around the Liberty Monument. The Louisville and Nashville train station vanished ten years earlier. When it stood behind the ferry bridge, these streetcars also brought rail travelers up Canal Street, to their hotels.
The loop track around Liberty Place ended the Canal line’s inbound runs since 1900. Ford, Bacon and Davis designed the original terminal. The city built out six tracks in this space. By the time of the 1957 “beautification” project on Canal Street, only the Canal and St. Charles lines remained. The city cut back tracks on Canal Street to two that year. The loop remained, with just two of the terminal tracks. Outbound streetcars merged into the single track on the French Quarter side.
Five weeks after this photo, NOPSI converted the Canal line to bus service. The city ripped up all these tracks. They paved over the neutral ground. This created a bus zone that ran from here at the river to Claiborne Avenue. After Claiborne, the neutral ground switched to green space. Buses merged into the auto lanes.
The city also removed the Liberty Monument, to make way for construction of the International Trade Mart and the Rivergate Convention Center. They put the monument into storage and demolished Liberty Place. While this move escaped public scrutiny at the time, the monument became a symbol for “heritage” in later years.