FOX8’s “Heart of Louisiana” segment on “Streetcar” featured…me.
FOX8 Heart of Louisiana
It’s the 75th anniversary of the movie, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” To mark the milestone, The Historic New Orleans Collection presents a wonderful, well-curated collection of ephemera and memories from the movie, It’s titled “Backstage at ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Dave McNamara, of WVUE FOX8 New Orleans, did a segment for his “Heart of Louisiana” series on the exhibition. Dave wanted someone to speak to the original, real Desire line. THNOC got ahold of me, and I got on the teevee.
Dave Walker at THNOC was familiar with my podcast segment on the Desire line. He connected McNamara and I. We got together at the Seignouret-Brulatour Building. Some folks may remember this building as the location of WDSU-TV for decades. Many of the station’s ID photos featured the courtyard at the Brulatour house. The building currently contains “Streetcar” exhibition. We walked across the street to the courtyard of THNOC’s Royal Street Campus. That’s where Dave interviewed me.
The Real Desire Line
Tennessee Williams wrote “Streetcar” while living in an upstairs apartment on Royal Street. Since the Desire line serviced the French Quarter, he hard the streetcars coming and going. No doubt that influenced his creative process. Desire ran through the Quarter, Marigny, and into the Upper 9th Ward. Desire Street was the termination point of the line.
NOPSI 922 as movie star
NOPSI 922, the movie star, running on the Canal Line, early 1960s
When the production company came to town to film “Streetcar,” they headed Uptown to Carrollton Station. The streetcar barn offers a practical route for filming. The streetcar emerges from the front of the barn. It turns left onto Willow Street, then left onto S. Carrollton, outbound. The car takes one more left, turning onto Jeanette Street. On Jeanette, it enters the barn from the rear. With the right lighting and camera angles, directors capture solid footage. The viewer remains unaware of the simple loop run. NOPSI 922, one of the 1923-vintage arch roofs received the call-up for “Streetcar.”
Additionally, this route appears in other movies. In “Runaway Jury,” John Cusack hops off of an arch roof on Jeanette Street, as if he’s heading home from work.
The “Other Desire Streetcar”
In the FOX8 segment, you’ll hear us talking about the “Streetcar Named Desire” the French Market Corporation displayed in the 70s and 80s. While NOPSI 453 was an older, Brill streetcar, it represented the city and movie for decades. That streetcar sat out of service for years prior to the movie, but every arch roof had “Desire” on its rollboard. So, in many ways, they’re all “Streetcars Named Desire.”
Thanks again to Dave McNamara for not leaving me on the cutting room floor (which now is the “delete” key on the computer), and to Dave Walker for thinking of me for this segment. “Backstage at ‘A Streetcar Named Desire” runs at THNOC until July 3, 2022.
Congo Square establishes the roots of Jazz.
Section of the 1883 Robinson Atlas plates showing Congo Square
Congo Square in Faubourg Treme
Before air conditioning’s escape into the mall or confinement at home, people gathered together to socialize and try to beat the Summer heat. In Spanish-controlled New Orleans of the late 18th Century, this also applied to the enslaved. Respecting Sunday as a “day of rest,” the Spanish gave the enslaved the afternoon off. The white owners permitted socialization. Like the rest of us, the Africans in New Orleans gathered and complained about the heat. They also entertained themselves, making music and dancing.
The Spanish city leaders permitted socialization, but outside the city proper. The enslaved gathered in an open area north of Rampart Street. Locals named that area, “Place des Negres,” They also called it “Place Congo.” The enslaved brought drums, bells, and other musical instruments to the square and gather, roughly by tribe, to play music, sing, and dance.
Uniquely New Orleans
The French and Spanish held different attitudes towards the enslaved than the Anglo-Irish. The Catholics, even the Spanish, usually ignored the “African” aspects of slave culture. The Anglo-Irish planters demanded their enslaved convert to their form of Protestant Christianity. They banned African-based music, song and dance. These trends continued after the American Revolution. When New Orleans joined the US. American ways merged with Continental philosophy slowly. The physical separation of the Vieux Carré and Faubourg Ste. Marie, the American Sector. contributed greatly to this.
That’s why, in 1819, architect Benjamin Latrobe was treated to over 500 enslaved Africans making music and dancing every Sunday afternoon. The local Creoles (people of French-Spanish descent) were equally affected by the heat and humidity of the city, so they didn’t have any qualms about descendants of Africans stripping down to next to nothing to drum and dance. Since the Creoles didn’t go to lengths to demand the enslaved assimilate into their culture, they didn’t. Latrobe heard the musical sounds of African-style instruments, such as the bamboula drums. The influx of Le Gens de Couleur Libre, the Free People of Color, accelerated the merge of African rhythms with French songs, as Blacks from Haiti joined in the Congo Square gatherings.
African Music and Dance
photo courtesy Falcanary at English Wikipedia
The “Calinda” became the best-documented dance from Congo Square. Large groups of enslaved would form the 18th/19th century equivalent of a mosh pit – hot, sweaty, nearly-naked bodies gyrating in time to the beat of the bamboulas, gourds, and banjos played by musicians. While these dances shocked observers such as Latrobe, the Spanish knew that giving the Africans time for rest and entertainment made them more productive. Additionally, calinda-dancing slaves also tired themselves out. The white Catholics believed they were less likely to practice Voudon in large numbers as the sun went down.
The Sunday afternoon gatherings in Congo Square continued well into the 1880s. After the Civil War, white city leaders tried to suppress the gatherings, even going as far as officially re-naming Place Congo to “Beauregard Square,” after former rebel general (and post-war civic leader) P.G.T. Beauregard. The residents of the Vieux Carré and Faubourg Treme, however, always referred to the area as Congo Square. That name was formalized by the New Orleans City Council in 2011. The original New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was held in Congo Square in 1970. Jazz Fest rapidly outgrew the square, moving to the New Orleans Fair Grounds racetrack. In a salute to the festival’s and the city’s roots, there still is a “Congo Square Stage” annually at Jazz Fest.
As part of an attempt at “urban renewal” in Faubourg Treme, the city demolished houses and buildings in the vicinity of Congo Square. They built Louis Armstrong Park. The park surrounds Congo Square. Music historians regularly argue the significance of Congo Square’s role in the evolution of Jazz. One thing is certain, though—Congo Square contributed to keeping African music and dance alive.
Author’s Note: I originally wrote this piece in 2012 for GoNOLA dot com. The images vanished from the article over time (photobucket loses, etc), so I updated it a bit over here.
Audubon Place is a “private” street in Uptown New Orleans, but it’s so much more to the city. (cross-posted to YatPundit.)
Audubon Place gate at St. Charles Avenue, 1900s (Detroit Publishing photo)
Audubon Place and its residents
The area of New Orleans now referred to as the University District stands in between Faubourg Bouligny and the old City of Carrollton. The city reserved a large amount of land for a public park. The Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884 drew attention to this part of town. Additonally, Tulane University moved uptown in 1884. New Orleanians looked past Napoleon Avenue. With Tulane’s property lines now defined, developers built streets and sold lots just off campus.
In the 1890s, George Blackwelder created a single-street development on the western side of Tulane. He allocated 28 large lots along Audubon Place. The development required builders construct large single-family homes with high values. With city approval, the neighborhood association took Audubon Place private in the early 1900s.
The notion of a gated street with one way in, one way out appealed to wealthy New Orleanians. The late Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans (both Pelicans, BTW, the NBA team, and his abortive attempt to buy a minor-league baseball club), lived on Audubon Place. His widow still owns the house. John Georges, owner of Imperial Trading, the Times-Picayune, and Galatoire’s Restaurant, also lives on Audubon Place.
Zemurray home at 2 Audubon Place. (Infrogmation photo)
The most notable home on the street is 2 Audubon Place. Samuel Zemurray, founder and first president of United Fruit Company, built a magnificent home on the left side of the main gate, facing St. Charles Avenue. Zemurray later donated the mansion to Tulane. The university uses the home as the official residence of their president.
More than 28 lots
Mrs. Gayle Benson’s home on Audubon Place was built in 1902 for a coffee merchant.
So, Audubon Place isn’t the only street where rich people live. After the Cotton Exposition at Audubon Park, other wealthy residents bought into the neighborhood just to the east of the park. Streets such as Henry Clay, Webster, State, and Nashville sport large houses owned by wealthy families. This continues up to Faubourg Bouligny and into the Garden District. Drive through these neighborhoods during Carnival season, and you’ll see the flags of the School of Design and the Mystick Krewe of Comus from a number of these homes. Those flags indicated that a member of the family was/is a past king of either parade.
These rich New Orleanians are the city’s business elite. They also donate large sums to the campaign funds of Orleans Parish politicians. While they don’t all live in Audubon Place, that 1900s gate and those 28 lots represent the class and their way of thinking.
Proteus 1922 had a rose theme.
Krewe of Proteus chose “The Romance of the Rose” for their theme in 1922. Thanks to the Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, for maintaining the krewe’s archives. Those archives include design sketches of their floats throughout the years. This post features three floats from that parade, “The Painted Wall,” “Love Conquers All,” and “Sir Mirth’s Garden.”
Proteus first paraded in 1882. They took a hiatus from 1993 to 2004, because of the controversial “Mardi Gras Ordinance” of 1993. Proteus returned to the streets in 2004. The krewe quarantined in 2021, but plan to parade on Lundi Gras 2022.
Le Roman de la Rose
Title float, Proteus, 1922
Like the other “old line,” debutante krewes, Proteus often chose themes from literature and history. “The Romance of the Rose” is a typical choice. From Wikipedia:
Le Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose) is a medieval poem written in Old French and presented as an allegorical dream vision. As poetry, The Romance of the Rose is a notable instance of courtly literature, purporting to provide a “mirror of love” in which the whole art of romantic love is disclosed. Its two authors conceived it as a psychological allegory; throughout the Lover’s quest, the word Rose is used both as the name of the titular lady and as an abstract symbol of female sexuality.
To put this in Carnival terms, the poem offered the krewe a fertile ground for beautiful costumes and floats. Even if most of the parade-goers in 1922 had no idea about the poem, red! roses! costumes! The float designs lived up to the ambition.
“The Painted Wall”
“The Painted Wall”
Standing between “The Lover,” and the object of his desire, “The Rose,” was “The Painted Wall.” To reach his desire, the wall required our protagonist to overcome the trials of Poverty, Villainy, and Hate, among others. This float creates positions for six riders a side, with The Lover up front.
“Sir Mirth’s Garden”
“Sir Mirth’s Garden” Proteus 1922
Once he passes The Painted Wall, The Lover approaches the walled garden of Sir Mirth. Inside, he encounters couples dancing, led by Sir Mirth Lady Gladness.
Love Conquers All
“Omnia Vincit Amor”
This float bears the saying, “Omnia Vincit Amor” on the side. “Love Comquers All.” At the front of the float stands The Lover. The Rose, an artistic blending of a lovely flower with a woman at the center, highlights the float.
Floats then and now
Proteus 1922 floats sit atop old wooden wagons. The krewe use these same wagons to this day (well, to be sure, they’re regularly maintained/rebuilt). Proteus limits its size, so mega-floats are unnecessary. Additionally, a number of the members of Proteus also belong to other “old-line” krewes. It’s important to remember, these organizations present their daughters and granddaughters to society at their respective balls. Before the growth of parading organizations, the actual old-line parades served as glorified transportation to the bal masque.
800 Canal Street started as the Pickwick Club, then the Pickwick Hotel
The Pickwick Hotel
Photo of the Pickwick Hotel, 800 Canal Street at Carondelet Street, from New Orleans the Crescent City, as it Appears in the year 1895. The Pickwick Club build their “clubhouse” on that corner in 1884. The “Pickwickians” operated a social club whose members formed the Mystick Krewe of Comus. Comus changed Carnival in New Orleans in 1857. They presented the city’s first “modern” Carnival parade. The building later became Leon Fellman’s department store, then Feibleman’s. It was demolished in 1948.
The Pickwick Club
In 1880, the Pickwick Club called a building at Canal and Exchange Alley home. So, they leased the corner of Canal and Carondelet Streets, just down the street from Boston Club. The club moved into their new home in 1884. They remained on the corner for about ten years. A fire broke out in the club in 1894, causing severe damage. The Pickwick Club abandoned the building, moving up the street to 1028 Canal Street.
Col. R. E. Rivers acquired the Pickwick Club building after the fire. He repaired the damage and opened a hotel on the property. New Orleans the Crescent City… described the hotel thusly:
The beautiful Pickwick Hotel is located at the corner of Carondelet and Caral streets , in the very heart of the retail business portion of the city , near the Cotton Exchange and every place of interest . Almost every street car line passes the door . The building itself is one of the handsomest in the city. This house is a bijou resort and only caters to the very best trade. It is furnished throughout in the most elaborate manner, costing nearly S300,000 to outfit. The restaurant attached is without an equal in the South , either in furnishings or the table. The Pickwick is the property of Col. R. E. Rivers , who has succeeded in making it the most popular hotel in the South . The house is always filled with guests.
While the hotel and its restaurant enjoyed critical acclaim, it only lasted for two years. In 1897, S. J. Shwartz acquired all of the Mercier Building, just up the street at 901 Canal. He evicted Leon Fellman and his store from the building. Fellman proposed converting the Pickwick Hotel into retail space. Rivers accepted the proposal, and Leon Fellman’s re-opened at 800 Canal in late 1897.
Leon Fellman’s re-branded to Feibleman’s in 1920, when Leon passed. So, the store remained at 800 Canal until 1931. The family re-located Feibleman’s to a new building they constructed at Baronne and Common that year. The Gus Mayer store chain bought the building in 1948. They demolished it and moved their store from the other side of Canal to that corner.
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Lazard’s Canal Street in the 1910s.
NOLA Retail: Lazard’s Canal Street
My friend Derby Gisclair commented on the origins of Lazard Freres, the investment firm, a while back on Facebook. There’s a great hi-res scan of a 1910 photo of Canal. The photographer stands (or looks out of a window) on the second floor of a building in the 700 block. They catch the 701, 801, and 901 blocks nicely. On the Uptown side, they catch the electric sign for Lazard’s, and Leon Fellman’s at 800 Canal Street.
What we know now as the investment and asset management firm, Lazard, Ltd., began as a dry goods store in New Orleans. Alexandre, Lazare, and Simon Lazard opened the store in 1848. Simon, along with two other brothers, moved to San Francisco in 1851. The California Gold Rush of 1849 presented opportunities for financial managers, as miners became millionaires. The brothers expanded to New York City and Paris, and the mega-firm began. While the financial business grew on two continents, the family continued the dry goods business in New Orleans.
Canal Street in the 1910s
The Lazard’s in this photo operated as one store on a very-busy Canal Street. The merchants of the Touro Buildings across the street offered their goods. Daniel Henry Holmes and other merchants appealed to locals in the 801 block. S.J. Shwartz completed his new building for Maison Blanche, with S. H. Kress next door. Katz and Besthoff Drugstore and Adler’s Jewelers serviced customers just up from Lazard’s.
The small onion-dome visible behind the Lazard’s sign stands atop the Pickwick Building. Leon Fellman operated his department store there at 800 Canal, since 1897. His family changed the name from Leon Fellman’s to Feibleman‘s in 1920.
Lazards the brand
“See That Lazard’s Label Is in the Gift You Give Him.” While the founding Lazard brothers moved into the world of high finance, the store kept going. This ad in The Daily Picayune, December 21, 1912, suggested a number of gifts for men. Lazard’s focused on men’s clothing by 1912, rather than general dry goods.
“Open Nights Until Christmas”