Julia Street with the Poydras Parrot
The Pursuit to Answer Eternal Questions
Oak-lined North Claiborne Avenue, circa 1960, prior to construction of Interstate 10.
Photography Courtest of New Orleans Public Library
As we “celebrate” the 50-plus years since the elevated Interstate 10 was installed on the neutral ground of Claiborne Avenue, where beautiful live oak trees once grew, destroying one of the vibrant centers of the New Orleans black community, proposals are now being made to un-ring that bell.
It causes me to reflect on what occurred. An uproar was raised as those lovely old trees were being cut down, to make room for the ugly concrete supports for the interstate. The response was to “transplant” some of those very old trees. Elaborate clamshell-like devices on trucks were employed to gouge up the balls of dirt containing part of the root system of those trees and the trees were then hauled off, hanging from the trucks, to be planted elsewhere. I liken it to telling the kids that the old, sick family dog is being picked up by the pound to be taken to a lovely farm, where the dog can happily romp and play. In other words, it was BS.
I am betting that few, if any, of those magnificent trees survived this ordeal, that it was all just a public relations campaign. I am sure that you or Poydras can come up with the facts.
Donald C. Burnham
Donald, Poydras doesn’t believe in facts. He says they “cloud the mind.” Nevertheless, the eradication of the oak trees and the once-vibrant and ethnically diverse neighborhoods along Claiborne Avenue are cultural tragedies to people of all ethnicities. On Feb. 10, 1966, The Times-Picayune reported on a New Orleans Parkway Commission project to relocate oak trees removed from Claiborne Avenue. August Catalano, Parkway Commission assistant superintendent, noted at the time that 35 to 40 trees were to be moved to “Orleans between Bayou St. John and Florida Avenue,” but work had to be completed within three weeks, before rising sap precluded transplantation. Once the brief seasonal window of opportunity shut, no more trees could be moved until the following year when, Catalano claimed, the city planned to “... move as many trees in 1967 as time and money will permit.” Unfortunately, the federal highway project contained no provisions for salvaging the trees and we know how the story ends.
The city made no effort to save the oldest and most historic of the oaks; only the smallest and youngest were considered for transplantation. Furthermore, not all trees transplanted to Orleans Avenue came from Claiborne Avenue. Some had been ripped up and carted there from Elysian Fields Avenue, which was also targeted for highway development.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
I was reading your story about bands playing music in City Park on Sundays.
My family used to speak of it, as my dad played in a band made up of employees of the Pan American Life Insurance Company. It was way before my time. I found a picture of the band taken in 1924 among my family things. I was wondering if you could give me some information on the band and how long they played, when they stopped and started, etc. I know my dad worked for Pan American for many years, but by the time my memory starts there was no more band, and they spoke of it in passing. Maybe Poydras could ask some old birds in City Park for details.
Rick, Poydras really doesn’t like hanging around with birds of any ages. He gets nervous perched on branches. Nor does he like to get wet, so he avoids the ducks. Poydras is very lonely.
The Pan American Life Insurance Company Band was one of many such employee organizations and appears to have been in its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. In early May ’25, the group held a series of concerts at local playgrounds. Sid H. Lemley was the committee chairman in charge of the series, which began at Bunny Friend Playground.
In October 1925, your dad, J. Bruce Trotter, was toastmaster at a dinner honoring the band for its services during the past season. Festivities took place at Arnaud’s restaurant and featured speeches by band organizer Dr. George Farrar Patton, bandmaster William J. Braun, band manager Charles J. Mesman and others.
Dr. Patton, the group’s founder, died in early April 1934 at the age of 81. Prominent in medical as well as musical circles, Patton was a pioneer in yellow fever control and conducted a number of local bands, including that of the Pan American Life Insurance Company, where he had once been employed as the firm’s assistant medical director.
I was born in New Orleans, and grew up in the section of the city known as Tremé. In 1930, on Dumaine Street, in about the 1400 block there was a social club named the San Jacinto Club. Can you tell me something about the club? When was it organized and who were some of the founders? When did the club disband and why? Any information you can provide would really be appreciated, and would prove to some of my young friends that I’m not making this up.
My regards to Poydras.
The San Jacinto Club was located at 1422 Dumaine St. Benjamin F. Blanchard was the first president of The San Jacinto Social and Pleasure Club, organized in 1903. The club building, an important musical landmark, was destroyed by fire on Jan. 9, 1957. Through the efforts of firemen Wallace “Bill” Bailey and William Burns, the cornerstones were saved and donated to the New Orleans Jazz Club.
Prior to its destruction, the San Jacinto Club had been an important performance and recording site. Among the many famous musicians who played and recorded there were George Lewis, Peter Bocage, Kid Shots Madison, Jim Robinson and Bunk Johnson.
When my grandchildren were little, they used to enjoy going to see the white tiger at the zoo and would ask for her by name. Do you happen to recall when Suri first arrived in New Orleans?
Suri arrived at Audubon Zoo in July 1983. Her visit was supposed to be a brief one, since she was on a three-month loan from the Cincinnati Zoo, but she proved so immensely popular that her stay was extended and funds were raised for her purchase. Suri died of cancer in ’99.
Soon after Suri’s demise, white tiger brothers Rex and King Zulu arrived at the zoo. Rex passed away in 2012, at the age of 16. His brother, King Zulu, is the zoo’s sole surviving white tiger.
Local lore in Picayune, Miss., is that Eliza Jane Nicholson was asked to rename the town from Hobolochitto to Picayune when the New Orleans & Northeastern Railroad was built between Meridian and New Orleans in the early 1880s. Other than a 1953 article from The Times-Picayune where someone claimed that the story was true, I found no first-hand or contemporary account of that happening. The corresponding legend is that she also named the town just south of Picayune in honor of her husband, George Nicholson. Is either story true?
Like you, I have heard the lore concerning the role the Picayune and its owners played in the naming of that pair of Mississippi towns. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a primary document validating those claims. I can, however, tell you of another Mississippi place and newspaper namesake.
In March 1887, a writer with the Brookhaven Leader visited Picayune Farm and commented on its name. Located two miles north of Brookhaven, Miss., and east of the Union Church Road, Picayune Farm had formerly been known as the “Strong Place” but was renamed following a change of ownership. At the time the reporter visited the farm, it belonged to Daniel Dennett, who had renamed the property in honor of the newspaper for which he had served, for many years, as the agricultural editor.
Win a Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch or Lunch at the Rib Room
Here is a chance to eat, drink and listen to music, and have your curiosity satiated all at once. Send Julia a question. If we use it, you’ll be eligible for a monthly drawing for one of two Jazz Brunch gift certificates for two at The Court of Two Sisters in the Vieux Carré. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com. This month’s winners are: Don Burnham, New Orleans; and Mike Fitzwilliam, Picayune, Miss.