Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot
THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS
I was wondering if you could give me any information on the Old French Hospital. When I was old enough to go to New Orleans (for shopping), I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing anything about the French Hospital. I don’t know where it was located or how long it was in existence.
Originally an offshoot of La Société Française de Bienfaisance Mutuelle, the French Hospital stood at 1821 Orleans Ave., and served French benevolent society members as well as the general public from 1861 until it closed its doors on Oct. 31, 1949. Closing after nearly a century of service, the privately funded maternity hospital had been unable to effectively compete with more modern hospitals. The Knights of Peter Claver purchased the property in ’51, demolishing the French Hospital and building its national headquarters at the site.
I’m a 54-year-old native New Orleanian who grew up with Morgus. My interest was recently renewed in him when WVUE started airing his old shows. Can you please tell me if he (Sid Noel) is alive and well? As a side note, my mother, who is 81, remembers working with him for a brief period when she was at the telephone company in New Orleans around 60 years ago. She said he was a really good-looking guy. Who’d ’a’ thunk it?
Yes, Sid Noel is alive and well. Your mother probably remembers, but before Morgus became a household name, Sid Noel was the professional name used by local disk jockey Sidney Noel Rideau, a fellow who not only sounded good but also had looks to match.
Having attended the Lin-Rey School of Broadcasting, the young man with a big voice worked for radio station WWEZ before later joining WSMB. It was while at WSMB that Sid Noel led a vocal group and had brief recording career with Atlantic Records. In early 1956, Noel penned a novelty song called “Humpty Dump,” which was the A-side of the Atlantic release. The record’s B-side was called “Take Five” and featured “The Five Stars,” a vocal group Noel had formed with fellow WSMB disk jockeys Marshall Pearce, Jim Brown, Scott Muni and Roy Roberts.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
When I was a child in the 1950s in Mobile, Ala., my parents and their best friends would go to New Orleans to watch their alma maters, Vanderbilt and Tulane universities, play football. They stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel, partied at the Playboy Club and always ate breakfast at Brennan’s. They would bring us children treats and trinkets, one of which I am on a mission to find. We received Playboy Club keys, but the best was a 6-inch papier-mâché swan – with beautiful neck, head and feathers – that was filled with trinkets inside to delight a little girl’s heart. My three sisters and I were delighted to find the Roosevelt Hotel had returned to New Orleans but no one knew of the swans. Is the Roosevelt Hotel in the same location as it was in the 1950’? When did the New Orleans Playboy Club close? Does anyone in New Orleans have a recollection of the papier-mâché swans sold in the hotel gift shop or where I could get them now?
Patty C. Parris
The Roosevelt Hotel, now a Waldorf Astoria property, is still located at 123 Baronne St., but the Playboy Club’s two area locations are long-gone. The French Quarter location at 725-727 Iberville Street opened in 1961. When it closed its doors in ’76, New Orleans was left without a Playboy Club for two years until a new location opened at 3608 18th St. (aka Fat City Avenue) in Metairie. The short-lived Fat City location closed in ’81. Seven years later, the nation’s last surviving Playboy Club – in Lansing, Mich. – closed its doors.
As far as your swan-shaped trinket boxes are concerned, they have been in recognition of the famous swan ice sculptures at the base of which a scoop of sherbert was served to diners before the entrée. The actual souvenir figures might not have been unique to the Roosevelt or to New Orleans. Little animal-shaped papier-mâché candy holders and trinket boxes are seasonal imports I associate with Easter or Christmas. They are typically made in Europe, not here in New Orleans.
My family, on my mother’s side for the most part, all worked for the newspaper The Times Picayune, which put out an evening edition called The State Times. I believe their competition was an evening paper called The Item, which sponsored the elephant at the zoo, so it was named Itema. Do I have my facts correct? Also, I know The Times-Picayune still exists; does it still put out an evening edition? What happened to The Item?
The Times-Picayune wasn’t associated with an evening paper called the State Times; I suspect your family worked for the States, the Item or the States-Item.
In the early 1900s, the Daily States and Daily Item newspapers became known as the New Orleans States and New Orleans Item. In ’58, the papers merged to form the New Orleans States and New Orleans Item, which, in 1960, simplified its name to the New Orleans States-Item. In ’70, the evening paper was known simply as the States-Item. In ’80, The Times-Picayune merged with the States-Item. Now known as The Times-Picayune, the paper no longer publishes an evening edition.
In the early 1920s, the New Orleans Item ran a campaign encouraging local children to donate money to purchase and name an elephant for the Audubon Park Zoo. The kids enthusiastically responded and the elephant was named Itema in honor of the newspaper that had played a key role in her acquisition. For 39 years, Itema was one of the zoo’s most popular and enduring attractions. In November ’60, just shy of her 43rd birthday, Itema died of toxemia caused by heart and kidney failure. She was laid to rest in the batture at the rear of the park.
When I was growing up during the 1930s, my dad operated a plumbing business at 628 N. Rampart St. I visited it often, and I was intrigued by the presence of a large walk-in safe in the office. This safe was approximately 8-by-12 feet and maybe 7 feet high. The door was about 4-by-7 feet and contained a combination lock.
Can you tell me anything about the building at 628 Rampart St.? What type of business was there to need a safe of the above dimensions?
Thanks for your help. I enjoy your column in New Orleans Magazine every month.
John L. Magnon
That is a good question. Fire insurance maps from the turn of the 20th century show that address as residential property and, after World War I, I know that a Mr. Funk had a saddle repair shop there, but I doubt he brought in enough money to justify installation of such a massive safe. The next commercial user of the property appears to have been the L. N. Reiser plumbing company and it was probably they who installed the safe. Reiser operated at the 628 N. Rampart St. address from about 1920 until the company went bankrupt in ’35. When the business contents were liquidated at public auction in December ’35, four trucks and an iron safe were among the company’s listed assets, details which tell me the business had been a fairly large operation and had a safe on premises. Unfortunately, the court notice didn’t provide a detailed description of the company safe.
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 e-mail: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com. This month’s winners are: Nancy Parr, Covington and John L. Magnon, Fairhope, Ala.
Julia on TV
Look for the Julia Street question on “Steppin’ Out,” every Friday at 6:30 p.m. on WYES/Channel 12. The show features reviews, news and features about the New Orleans entertainment scene. Viewers who can answer Julia’s weekly question can call in for prizes. Tell ’em you read about the show in New Orleans Magazine.