Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot
A MONTHLY PURSUIT OF ANSWERS TO ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Dear Ms. Street,
Many years ago, in the early 1930s, there was an exciting, entertaining ride called the “Wildcat.” It was on City Park Avenue and near where Ralph’s at the Park restaurant is today. The ride was similar to the Zephyr at Pontchartrain Beach during the beaches heyday.
What say you?
I would say you’re partly right, Frank. Stock’s Scenic Park, an early 20th-century amusement area located at City Park Avenue and N. Alexander Street, remained in operation during your youth, but I don’t think that’s where you rode the Wildcat. I think you went to the original Pontchartrain Beach when it operated next to Spanish Fort.
As early as 1930, Pontchartrain Beach was advertising a large roller coaster known as the Wildcat. In March ’31, Stock’s Scenic Park, with all its improvements and equipment, was put on the block in a sheriff’s sale. Although the carousel and other familiar rides are listed in the very detailed auction advertisement, there’s no mention of the Wildcat.
A grocer by trade, park founder Jacob Stock, “the flying horse man,” was fondly remembered for having operated carousels at several local amusement places. After Stock died, in 1908, his widow and sons carried on the operation of Stock’s Scenic Amusement Park until the early ’30s.
Is there any truth to the story that, during Prohibition, pharmacies in New Orleans sold “grape bricks” – compressed blocks of dehydrated grapes – as nutritional supplements to people’s diets, and that these bricks carried some of the country’s first product advisory labels (something like, “Warning! Do not put this brick in a container with five gallons of water and a pound of sugar and leave covered for a week in a cool location as this might produce alcohol!”)? The story is so wonderfully New Orleanian that I desperately want to believe it; but I have never met a person who could confirm it.
If there is any hope for my quest, it rests with your own kind self and the inestimable energies of Poydras. Thank you very much.
Inestimable energies! Kevin, unless it’s time for Poydras’ dinner, his energy level is totally easy to calculate: zero.
The grape bricks definitely existed and were sold throughout the country during Prohibition, so their story isn’t uniquely New Orleanian. There was a local connection, though, because Solari’s was the southern wholesale distributor for wine-favored bricks manufactured by the Vino-Sano Company of San Francisco.
It was no secret that the grape bricks could, under certain circumstances, transform into an intoxicating and illegal beverage. Hoping to skirt the law, Vino-Sano labeled their product with a warning similar to what you recalled, specifying what purchasers should avoid doing to the contents in order to avoid creating intoxicating and potentially illegal results. It was a clever strategy but Vino-Sano ran afoul of federal authorities anyway, because its labels not only warned users of possible illicit results but also included suggestions about how to produce specific wine flavors. Labeled as a “flavoring compound,” the bricks, which sold locally for about $1.50 each, came in the following family-friendly varieties: Port, Sherry, Muscatel, Burgundy, Tokay, Claret, Rhine and Champagne.
How did Bucktown get its name? I have asked people who were born there as far back as the 1930s, but nobody seems to know.
These days, few people other than land use attorneys seem to know that the eastern edge of Jefferson Parish, where the 17th Street Canal meets Lake Pontchartrain, wasn’t historically known as Bucktown but, rather, as East End and Metairieville. In March 1837, the Daily Picayune, in its infancy, noted the birth of the small suburban lakefront town of Metairieville. East End, though, was what residents usually called the settlement on the eastern edge of Jefferson Parish. (Thus, East End was west of West End, which was on the western end of Orleans Parish.)
By the 1890s a new name had begun to stick to the area: Bucktown. William Wooley, a New Orleanian, was a private watchman at East End, where he came to be known by the nickname “Buck.” Wooley was well known to young men who came to East End for rough fun and, before long, they began referring to East End as Buck’s town.
Several colorful, but conceivably libelous, urban legends recount Buck’s escapades but I haven’t seen historic evidence proving the stories are based on documented facts. For now, I will say only that Mr. Wooley is known as the person in whose dishonor Bucktown was named.
East End was also home to fisher folk who generally stayed out of the headlines and quietly lived off the land and the lake. Many of these East Enders resented the widespread public belief that their community was a bad boys’ playground called Bucktown. In 1921, East End spoke out.
In November 1921, the New Orleans Times ran a full-page story: “Please Stop Calling Us Bucktown.” One of the long-time East Enders voicing the sentiment was Captain John Bruning, patriarch of the restaurant family. Said Bruning, “We are going to get up a petition and present it to the newspapers in order to have them stop calling us Bucktown. We want to get rid of the name. It’s grown odious by now.” Interestingly, the article interviewed William Wooley and found even “Buck” wanted people to stop calling East End “Bucktown.” Nearly 90 years later, it’s obvious neither the newspapers nor the community listened. Bucktown is what posterity generally presumes to exemplify lakefront history and culture.
Few, besides those concerned with levees and property lines, will tell you the area is Metairieville, that it’s located in East End, and that its first lots were sold 173 years ago.
My wife and I own and run a construction company here in New Orleans. Often, clients request the paint color “French Quarter Green” (sometimes called Paris green) for the shutters on their homes and businesses. I have heard two different accounts about the origin of this traditional color. The first is that during World War II there was a shortage of paint and only three colors were produced: white, black and green. People in New Orleans loved the green color, but many couldn’t afford to buy green paint whenever they needed it. What they did, therefore, was mix together leftover green paint with leftover black paint.
The other version of the origin is once again focused on hard times when people who couldn’t necessarily afford to buy a particular “Paris green” paint at the store would gather together left over paint from other projects, mix them together and French Quarter Green was what developed from the mix – mostly colors mixed with black paint. Is there any truth to these accounts of how our unique French Quarter Green became a traditional, often-requested and sometimes-required color?
More than 40 years ago, the Vieux Carré Commission and the Sherwin Williams paint company teamed up to study historic paint samples gathered throughout the French Quarter. As a result, Sherwin Williams produced a locally inspired color palette. The company later reformulated their paints but, in 2003, introduced a new line of 22 colors similar to those documented in historic French Quarter paint samples.
Having established that a major paint company produces a line of New Orleans colors, including a special dark green, I have to break the news to you: dark blackish-green shutters are not unique to New Orleans and never have been. Without question, dark green was the preferred shutter color for homes throughout 19th-century America and elsewhere. In some cases, green shutters were used to complement nature and harmonize with household gardens, but not everybody embraced the color scheme for that reason.
Since pre-mixed paints weren’t yet the norm, tradespeople usually mixed their own, either improvising or following specific recipes. In New Orleans and elsewhere, house paint was mixed when and where it was needed. While it’s certainly true that, during wartime and hard times, consumers improvised as best they could with all aspects of housekeeping, “French Quarter Green” was not a wartime or Depression-era creation.
Modern paint may look like its historic counterpart but, chemically, it’s quite different. Traditional 19th-century green shutter paint darkened with exposure to the elements and got its color from the toxic substance copper arsenate, a chemical relative of arsenic. Modern paint is more colorfast and less toxic.