Julia Street

A monthly pursuit of answers to eternal questions
CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPH
Metropolitan Crosses on the spires of St. Louis Cathedral.

Dear Julia,
I thoroughly enjoy your article in New Orleans Magazine. I am very curious about the crosses on the spires of St. Louis Cathedral. They appear to be crosses with stars above. What is their significance?
Gaye Laudun-Sollberger
Slidell

On July 19, 1850, the Diocese of New Orleans became the Archdiocese of New Orleans. At that time, Rev. Antoine Blanc was promoted to the rank of archbishop. The distinctive crosses are properly called Metropolitan Crosses and signify that the church on which they are installed is a Metropolitan. If it helps to think of the term “metropolitan” in less specifically Roman Catholic terms, imagine that the Archdiocese is a country and that New Orleans is its capital city. Within that capital is a building that houses a literal or symbolic seat of government. A Metropolitan church is the highest-ranking church in an archdiocese and contains the archbishop’s cathedral, his literal and symbolic seat of authority.

Dear Ms. Street:
My grandparents, Marcus Henry LaBenberg and Julia Kiefer LaBenberg, were married at the home of her aunt Rebecca Kiefer (Mrs. Isidore) Newman just before or just after 1900 (They were all natives of Port Wilson, Miss.).
I have understood that my grandfather had a store called The Fair that burned about 1904. I have always been curious to know what he sold and where it was. I do know that he went on to become a member of the New Orleans Stock Exchange. I was also told that he proposed Charles Fenner for that exchange. I do know that Grampa died October 17, ’33 and in later days, the family home was at 2405 Octavia St. When he passed away, my mother brought me to New Orleans to be with grandma, who moved to California in ’34. I did have a few months at the Newman School, and shortly before Hurricane Katrina, I sent her Newman School rings (she was class of ’23) to the school museum (my mom and dad were married in February ’27 in the Roosevelt Hotel Blue Room). They always lived in San Francisco, where I was born.
 Any information you can provide will be very much appreciated.
Daniel E. Stone
San Francisco

 
I don’t think The Fair burned in 1904; I believe that was around the time it first opened. Located at 1628 Dryades St., in the heart of what was once the heart of the New Orleans Jewish mercantile community, The Fair was a dry goods store run by Morris H. Labenberg. The term “dry goods” generally refers to fabric, sewing supplies and ready-to-wear clothing. Over the decade or so the store operated, Labenberg’s business had frequent personnel changes; some of its secretary-treasurers included David Liberman, Edward Kiefer and Bernard Cahn. The Fair last appeared in local city directories in ’13; it probably ceased operation some time around the latter half of  ’12.

Dear Ms. Street.
I need your help! I spent most of my adult life in New Orleans and remember when I was about 10 or 12 years old, that would have made it 1937 or ’38, there were “tokens” being used. I believe it was the first state tax. You would get 10 aluminum coins with a triangle “cut out” in the middle of the coin for one penny and with each dollar that you would purchase you would have to give one token. So I think that would amount to one tenth of a cent state tax on each dollar. I believe it’s now 4 percent Louisiana state tax.
 I will let one of your staff figure out what kind of increase that is, but boy, I know it’s a lot!
 I haven’t seen one of those tokens in years. Where did they all go? There must have been millions and millions floating around at one time. I just think it was a unique way of taxing the folks and would like to hear what memories your older readers would have regarding “tokens.”
 Bob Baker
NEW ORLEANS

Please, Bob, you can call me Julia. I will have “one of my staff” figure out the tax increase but since my staff consists of just Poydras, and he still does his computing on an abacus, I’ll have to back to you later.
You memory for dates is exceptionally good. You would have first seen the tokens near the end of 1936.
The tokens were issued in the wake of the Luxury Tax Act of 1936 and, thanks to a great deal of confusion surrounding their use, they were very unpopular with shoppers and merchants alike. The idea was to introduce tokens with their denominations marked in mills (one mill = .10 cent) so shoppers could receive exact change for taxable transactions.
Not only did consumers have to carry around extra coinage but they were also confronted with a dizzying array of bewildering tax rules. Bread, if sold as a loaf, was non-taxable. On the other hand, anyone buying any other form of bread, such as a bag of buns, had to pay tax. Stockings were taxable but shoes were tax-free. Liquor was also tax-free, but only if the consumer drank it while standing at a counter; if the customer sat down in front of that counter to enjoy a drink and some food, the entire meal was taxed.
According to the book Louisiana Trade Tokens, by Louis Crawford, Glyn Farber and Edmund Tylenda, it is estimated that 70 million tokens of each millage denomination were produced before the system was discontinued at the end of 1940. Although unused tokens could, for a short time, be exchanged for cash, most were not redeemed. Some, like the one immortalized on this page, ended up buried under local houses.

Dear Julia,
I seem to remember there being a Catholic Church on Tulane Avenue across from Charity Hospital. It was St. Catherine, and it was a large church. Is my memory correct? Why and when was it torn down? How old was it?
Barbara Albert
Metairie

Barbara, the he church you’re trying to recall was once known as St. Katherine, with a “K.”
The church, built in 1846 as the original St. Joseph Church, once stood on the site of the present-day Tulane University Medical Center, on Tulane Avenue and Marais Street. Built to serve Roman Catholics living in Faubourg St. Marie, the original St. Joseph Church was designed by architect T. E. Giraud. Ministering to a rapidly expanding and largely Irish congregation, St. Joseph was, by the 1870s, too small to accommodate its sizeable parish, so a new and much larger church was begun further up Common Street (later Tulane Avenue) at Derbigny. Structural problems delayed completion of the new church until the 1890s and the original parish church at Common and Marais streets was eventually vacated.
In the 1890s, the old church got a new name and a new mission when, in May 1895, the original St. Joseph Church was re-named and rededicated. As St. Katherine’s, it was the first New Orleans church specifically mandated to serve the black and multi-racial community. Once of its early benefactors was the philanthropist Katherine Drexel, who went on to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Pope John Paul II canonized Katherine Drexel in 2000; she’s now a Roman Catholic saint.
The church that had served as the first St. Joseph and then as St. Katherine was torn down in 1966 due, in part, to damage it sustained as a result of Hurricane Betsy. At the time of its demolition, the church was 120 years old.

Dear Julia,
A friend of mine recently shared a story with me about the small holes you see on the tops of the seats in the older streetcars. His neighbor, an 80-year-old African-American woman, showed him a sign that read “colored.” She said when she was young she had to place in those holes to inform all riding passengers of her race. Share with us all anything you know about her sign.
Megan Alfone
New Orleans

One of the most blatant examples from the bad old days of racial segregation, movable signs known as “race screens” were once installed in local public transit vehicles, their purpose specified in at least one official memorandum from transit company management. The movable signs designated where on a public transit vehicle a black passenger would be permitted to sit.
In March 1928, New Orleans Public Service, Inc. issued through its Transportation Department an executive order regarding “race screens,” claiming the company had received complaints that some conductors “…will not attempt to seat white passengers when it is possible to do so, by having the colored passengers who occupy a single seat to move to another seat occupied by only one passenger.” According to Order 1128, it was the conductor’s responsibility to assure “that the race screens are placed in the cars at all times in such a way as to prevent too many seats being occupied by the single colored passenger.” Slightly more than 20 years later, on May 31, 1958, NOPSI removed race screens from local buses and streetcars.

Win a Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch or a night at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel
Here’s a chance to stay at an elegant local hotel, or 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 or an overnight stay for two at the elegant Omni Royal Orleans Hotel. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or e-mail: errol@renpubllc.com. This month’s winners are: Bob Baker, Baton Rouge; Barbara Albert, Metairie; and Daniel E. Stone, San Francisco.

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