Julia Street With Poydras the Parrot
A monthly pursuit of answers to eternal questions
Dear Ms. Julia Street,
What was the building located at the south end of the New Basin Canal after the Turning Basin of the canal was filled in? The building fronted on South Claiborne Avenue before the expressway was built, and had a long horse-shoe shaped driveway. What was the building used for?
I pulled some photos from the New Orleans Public Library website of the building and its location. The canal came to a stop on the backside of this building after being filled in (c. 1937-1938). On the Sanborn Fire Maps, the building is shown as “Office, Vendor” in 1940.
The municipal address of your mystery building was 823 South Claiborne Ave. It first appeared in city directories in 1942, when it was identified as being occupied by the Louisiana State Department of Public Works New Basin Canal & Shell Road. The Department of Public Works maintained an office there until about 1950. In the early and mid-1950s, the building’s occupant was the State Highway Department Construction Division. The 1960 city directory indicates the location had been vacated by that time and, by ’66, the address was no longer listed.
Filling of the New Basin Canal began in 1937. In the decades that followed, the waterway, which had cost the lives of thousands of Irish immigrants, would disappear almost entirely except for a small section near West End Boulevard. Questions have long surrounded the New Basin Canal, which once ran along what is now a section of the Pontchartrain Expressway.
Recounting some of the New Basin Canal’s history in July 1937, as filling commenced near Rampart Street, Times-Picayune columnist Meigs O. Frost seems to have struggled with the lack of original documents concerning the canal’s past as he commented: “Sordid quarrels between bankers and politicians who have slept in their graves for decades are interwoven in the canal’s history. Craft and greed and written records mysteriously destroyed are part of the canal’s story.” Almost 75 years later, the canal’s history remains largely mysterious and untold.
The story has passed down for many generations that my great-great-grandfather, George Nightheart (1840-1910), owned and operated “Nightheart’s Restaurant” on Bayou St. John in the late 1800’s serving German food. Is there any truth to the story?
From the 1880s to World War I, New Orleans’ one-sizeable German population patronized restaurants and picnic areas at Spanish Fort. So popular was the area among local Germans that the name “Over the Rhine” referred not only to Otto Touche’s famous restaurant but to the open- air section of the Spanish Fort resort at the lake end of Bayou St. John.
Bavarian native George Nightheart (actually c. 1841-1910) is known to have operated Nightheart’s Restaurant near Bayou St. John as well as an ice house on North Rampart Street. George Nightheart married no fewer than three times. Your ancestor, Annie Nightheart Gouget (c. 1866-1923), was issue of his marriage to Mary Ann Crowell.
Is it true that ballast that were used on the ships that sailed the Gulf waters and beyond were used to build some of the patios in the French Quarter?
Yes, ballast stones can be found in some old courtyards, but not all flagstones arrived here as ballast in the holds of ocean-going New Orleans-bound ships. Unless historic receipts confirm specific courtyard paving stones originated as ballast, French Quarter courtyard paving cannot automatically be presumed to have been purchased as surplus ballast.
Dear Julia Street,
When I was young, I remember going to my dad’s place of work on Tchoupitoulas Street. It was a warehouse, I think called “Magnolia Compress.” My dad worked on lift machines and handled bales of cotton. I have tried unsuccessfully to find any information on this company. Every time I drive down Tchoupitoulas Street, I’m reminded of those few special visits we had to go see where Dad works. I was hoping you might be able to help.
David Doar was a foreman for the Magnolia Compress and Warehouse Company, a company that, in 1946, took over the Federal Cotton Press on Tchoupitoulas Street. The building where your father was employed was originally the historic Amelia Cotton Press.
By 1873, 26 cotton presses stood along Tchoupitoulas Street, but by 2001, the Amelia Cotton
Press had become New Orleans’ only cotton press to have survived intact. Threatened with total demolition for the construction of a Walmart store, some of the Amelia Cotton Press was saved from the wrecking ball but not before some of the cotton presses complex had been torn down.
Architect Charles Del’Isle designed the Amelia Cotton Press, which contractors Thomas O’Neill and Charles Garvey built in 1882. The press was built on land owned by brothers Michael and Armand Heine and it was in honor of Michael Heine’s wife, Amelie [ed note: Amelie, not Amelia] Miltenberger, that it was named.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
I recently celebrated my birthday at a local bar, where many of my friends and patrons of the establishment generously donated single dollar bills to me by pinning them to my shirt. Being a non-native, I assumed this was one of those quirky “only-in-New Orleans” traditions, but a friend of mine, who grew up outside Detroit, said that people up there do it, too. Where did this tradition come from? I certainly never experienced it while growing up on the West Coast. Does Poydras wear a T-shirt on his birthday so that he, too, can make some extra cash? I am assuming he wouldn’t want the bills pinned straight to his feathers.
Molly, Poydras and I have our own birthday money tradition. When it is my birthday I pay him to stay away for the day.
Whether the person being pinned is celebrating his/her birthday or his/her wedding, the custom, most definitely, did not originate here and is not unique to New Orleans. Although the point of origin for the custom remains open for debate, bridal money dances can be found in Poland, the Ukraine, Acadiana, Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico while variations on the cash-collecting custom, often without pins, occur in numerous other countries, including India.