D. H. Holmes
D. H. Holmes, on Canal Street, 1864
D. H. Holmes in 1864
I spoke to the tour guides that volunteer with the Friends of the Cabildo on Monday. They’re a lovely group of folks. I like to say that talking with them is like teaching an AP History class. You have to come prepared and offer things they don’t already know.
I’m not sure how much they did or didn’t know about the Jewish families who dominated the retail scene on Canal Street for over 175 years, but that’s what my Krauss book is about, so that was the subject of the talk. When I speak on Krauss, I usually start with background on the Touro Buildings in the 701 block of Canal Street. Then we go up the street to the 900 block, with a brief pause for D. H. Holmes, in the 800s.
Canal Street in 1864
The photo above shows the 800-900 blocks of Canal Street in 1864. The Civil War was still in progress, but New Orleans had been under Union occupation for two years. You can see the various buildings in the 800 block, including D. H. Holmes. At the time, the Holmes (“Holmses” in the Yat vernacular) was considered a “dry goods” store. Holmes, Fellman’s and Godchaux’s followed Maison Blanche in branding themselves as “department stores” in the late 1890s.
You can see the third incarnation of Christ Episcopal in the background, at the corner of Dauphine and Canal. The second incarnation occupied the corner of Bourbon and Canal, in the 700 block. Judah Touro bought the second church and tore it down to complete his row of commercial buildings. The chapter moved down the street.
Move to Uptown
Christ Episcopal left Canal Street for Uptown in 1884. In that year, the chapter auctioned off the 901 Canal location and moved to St. Charles and Sixth Streets. The Mercier family bought the church, demolished it, and built the building bearing the family’s name. D. H. Holmes was in the middle of all of the goings-on, from 1842 to 1989. That’s when Dillard’s of Little Rock acquired the stores.
The Maison Blanche Building – Since 1907
The Maison Blanche Building on Canal Street, now the Ritz-Carlton Hotel New Orleans.
Greatest Store South
In 1906, S.J. Shwartz’s department store, Maison Blanche, felt growing pains. The Mercier Building, in the 900 block of Canal Street, was home to MB, but Shwartz envisioned something grander. He decided to demolish the Mercier building and build a larger building. The plan was to have five floors of retail space, and seven floors above that for offices. Shwartz demolished the Mercier building in stages, tearing down the back of the building first, so the office tower closer to Iberville Street went up first. With the back finished, they moved the store into the new space. The front of the old building then came down. The facade generations knew as Maison Blanche on Canal went up. Maison Blanche truly lived up to its motto, “Greatest Store South.”
The two towers above the retail floors contained offices for various small businesses. Many doctors and dentists opened offices in the “Maison Blanche Office Building.” A set of elevators and a separate entrance took folks up to the office floors. So many doctors leased space in the MB building, the store opened a pharmacy, so patients could get prescriptions filled before leaving the building. This concerned the Katz and Besthoff drugstore so much, they opened a K&B directly across the street, in the 800 block of Canal.
Maison Blanche operated on Canal Street until 1982. The company closed the original store, but continued to operate the suburban locations. The Canal Street store re-opened in 1984, but Dillard’s closed it permanently when they acquired MB in 1997. The building was sold and re-developed (along with the S. H. Kress building next door) as the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. The hotel opened in 2000.
After the original building was completed in 1909, the company continued to expand the store. The company acquired the property facing Iberville Street, joining that to the store. During the renovations to turn the store into a hotel, the Iberville side became a separate Marriott hotel. Now, the entire property operates as the Ritz.
Ashton Theater – neighborhood news and entertainment
Ashton Theater, on Apple Street in Hollygrove (courtesy Infrogmation)
A friend asked me yesterday what I knew about a theater in her new neighborhood, The Ashton. Hollygrove/Leonidas isn’t my ‘hood. So my answer was, not much. My curiosity was piqued, though. I did some basic research. It’s not all that unique but interesting. The building was a typical neighborhood theater. You found these all around the United States in the days before television. It opened in 1927, a time when radio was just coming on the scene. The average American got their news from the local paper, and radio was speeding up that process. Movies made it possible to add visuals to that knowlege base. Theaters would show “newsreels” before the feature film. The news in those newsreels was way dated by the current standards of the 24/7 media beast we feed today, but they satisfied the public’s need to see what was going on.
Ferdinand Rousseve – The Ashton Theater’s architect
The Ashton Theater was designed by Ferdinand L. Rousseve. Rousseve was a New Orleans native who was a descendant of a Battle of New Orleans veteran. He attended Xavier University, as well as Coyne Trade and Engineering School in Chicago. Rousseve received an engineering degree from Coyne in 1924. So, the Ashton was one of his first design jobs. He went on to have a distinguished career, both as an architect and a civil rights leader. In 1947, Rousseve became the provisional chairman of the Urban League of New Orleans. Upon moving to Boston, Rousseve remained active with the Urban League. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1948. Rousseve became chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Boston University in 1958. He died in 1965.
The Ashton is located at 8437 Apple Street, which is one block off Leonidas, two blocks off Claiborne, in Hollygrove. Hollygrove is an “uptown backatown” neighborhood. It’s close to both S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenuses. So, that makes the area easily accessible by bus and streetcar. Hollygrove endured some tough times economically, with crime being problematic. As gentrification hits other neighborhoods, it’s naturally spreading into Hollygrove as well.
Ashton Theater had a Reproduco pipe organ installed. I don’t know if the organ is still in the building. It closed in 1958. The building is now privately owned. While this neighborhood got a good bit of flood water during Hurricane Katrina, it survived. It’s now an artist’s studio.
Mortgage executed by Bernard Marigny, 1836 (courtesy LaRC at Tulane)
Bernard Marigny de Mandeville and Faubourg Marigny
Bernard is the man the neighborhood is named after. He inherited Marigny Plantation in 1806. Almost immediately he subdivided it, turning the plantation into New Orleans’ first neighborhood outside the French Quarter. He was still selling lots into the 1820s,
Marigny was quite the rake, and that lifestyle isn’t cheap. Property owners have it easier than a lot of folks in terms of financing an extravagant lifestyle. It’s easy for them to pay the bills, because all they have to do is sell off something, like lots in a subdivision. He took an interest in horse racing in the 1830s. Marigny founded the Louisiana Race Course, located on what now is the Fair Grounds Race Course. The first races at his track were held in 1839. Borrowing money in 1836 fits with the timeline for this project.
This is mortgage document is written in French, so I don’t know the details. I’m quite curious to see what he was borrowing against. Marigny would have been fifty-one in 1836 (he died in 1868, at the age of eighty-one).
One of the cool things about primary sources such as this is that they bring larger-than-life characters like Marigny down to earth. Here’s the guy who had connecitons to the Battle of New Orleans, brought the dice game Hazard to the New World, where it morphed into what we now know as “craps”, and expanded the city’s footprint. Did he run out of property to sell by 1836? What did he own that he could borrow against? Analyzing antebellum mortgage documents is an interesting twist on forensic accounting.
If any of y’all can read the French here (and the script it’s written in), please, please let me know! Will pay in beer or burgers for some insight into Marigny. 🙂