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JULIA STREET WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT

THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS

Chalmettte Laundry. Tulane Avenue. Circa 1925

photo courtesy of the Charles L. Franck Studio Collection at The Historic New Orleans Collection

Dear Julia,
My grandmother grew up in the Gay Nineties (1890s). She was a thrifty woman who loved Mardi Gras, but prided herself on dyeing ball gowns in order to save on the financial cost of the social season. Do you happen to know if this was ever a widespread practice or if I simply had a cheap granny?

Carol Hynman
River Ridge

 Your grandmother would have been in her social prime around World War I. She was almost certainly aware that a prominent local laundry company was encouraging the practice of dry cleaning, dyeing and re-using dress clothes throughout the Mardi Gras season.

In 1916, the Chalmette Laundry introduced its “Mardi Gras Service” featuring the Bowser Cleaning and Dyeing system as a way to remain stylish but solvent through the Mardi Gras Season or any other socially demanding time of year. Partygoers could drop off soiled or previously used dresses or suits and, within a few days, pick up fresh-looking clothes ready to use at new social occasions.

Despite the fact that only the cleanliness and color may have changed, advertisements promised clients “You’ll scarcely recognize the garments yourself – surely your acquaintances will never, never know them.” Dim lighting and some holiday libations were, no doubt, helpful for making sure the dyed duds remained unrecognizable.

Advertised as being “safe, sanitary and supreme,” the Bowser method used distilled gasoline as its dry cleaning fluid. In the interest of safety, the Chalmette Laundry located its Bowser equipment in a fireproof building separate from its main headquarters. Safely pumping flammable liquids was a decades-old specialty of the S. F. Bowser company of Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

The nationally popular Bowser System of dry cleaning was the brainchild of Sylvanus Freelove Bowser (1854-1938), father of the modern metered gasoline service station pump.

According to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, in 1885 Bowser invented and introduced at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, a pump that grocery stores could use to safely measure and dispense kerosene into containers for home use. Soon after the turn of the 20th century, a version of Bowser’s invention was used to pump gasoline at the nation’s first automotive filling station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Dear Julia and Poydras,
During the summers throughout the 1960s, my parents and I often ate at the Bali H’ai, the Polynesian restaurant at Pontchartain Beach. I know it wasn’t the first restaurant out there, because my parents used to tell my brother and me that they ate at the beach during their courtship and early years of marriage. Unfortunately, neither of us can recall the name of the place or anything about the restaurant which preceded the Bali H’ai.

Karen Hildenson
Houma

Before the Bali H’ai or the short-lived Beachcomber (more about that in a moment), Pontchartain Beach was home to the Beach Terrace restaurant, which operated from about 1940 until the end of the Beach’s ’57 season. The Beach Terrace was a seafood restaurant overlooking Pontachartain Beach. In June ’40, a couple could dine at the Beach Terrace for $1.

A dinner of broiled trout served with Brabant Potatoes, a salad, coffee, tea and bread and butter would set you back $.50. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s the equivalent of about $8.48 in today’s money.

When the Beach Terrace closed at the end of the 1957 season, Hawaii was nearing statehood and the film version of Rogers & Hammerstein’s ’49 musical South Pacific, which featured the song “Bali H’ai,” was about to be released. The exotic novelty of the Pacific island culture was a hot as a lit Tiki torch. Around the country, restaurateurs scrambled to cash in on its popularity.

In 1958, Pontchartrain Beach park director Harry Batt introduced a Polynesian-themed culinary attraction he originally dubbed the “Beachcomber.” Designed by Joseph Lenz, the “Beachcomber” served Polynesian cocktails and Cantonese food, but Pontchartrain Beach management soon discovered that combo came with a large side of legal issues.

Attorneys for popular West Coast restaurant chain Don the Beachcomber made their concerns known, and the following season the restaurant at the Beach re-opened as the Bali H’ai.


Dear Julia and Poydras,
I know the old Pere Antoine’s ice cream parlor is long gone, but I have fond childhood memories of going there with my grandfather. The ice cream was decent but the late Victorian atmosphere is what I remember most vividly – the old soda fountain and those pretty but uncomfortable little wire chairs. It really evoked a bygone era and I’ve often wondered about its early days. Can you tell be when this old New Orleans ice cream parlor was established?

Winston Smith
New Orleans

Pere Antoine’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor was nostalgic but new when it opened in early 1961. With its vintage soda fountain, marble-topped tables and wire-legged chairs, it may have looked like a turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor, but it was a mid-20th century store furnished with antiques, some of which owners Mike Keller, Sidney Russell and Joseph Fein Jr. had obtained through a local classified advertisement. Perhaps the proprietors were taking a cheeky swipe at the eclectic period décor when their classified advertisement ran in The Times-Picayune on Feb. 19, 1961, inviting patrons to “Drop in for unusual old time ‘Gay Nineties’ atmosphere ...”

You may recall that, around time you and your grandfather were enjoying ice cream at Pere Antoine’s, 1890s nostalgia was quite popular and clubs such as Your Father’s Moustache were in their prime.

 

 

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