Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot
THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Can you tell me something of the history of the Gallo Theater that was on Claiborne Avenue? I know that it was about one block away from my father’s store, Beerman Tire Service, at 2000 S. Claiborne Ave. At that time of the late 1940s-early ’50s, it was the “downtown” movie theater for African-Americans and showed first-run movies.
When I was a youngster, my mom sometimes brought me to my dad’s store for “babysitting” purposes. Daddy, in turn, would send me down the street to Mr. Louie Gallo, the owner, who would give me a bag of popcorn and sit me in the back of the theater to watch the movie.
Elene Beerman Blotner
The 1949 city directory confirms your dad’s tire service business was located exactly where you remember it at 2000 S. Claiborne Ave. It was only one block away and on the same side of the street as the Gallo.
The Gallo opened in June 1946 and was, at the time, the city’s premier “colored” motion picture theater. Stone Brothers designed the Gallo, which was located at 2122 S. Claiborne Ave., and named for its owner, August Gallo. According to There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans, by Rene Brunet Jr. and Jack Stewart, the Gallo changed hands several times. In late ’58, Louis Gallo bought a portion of the business but was soon bought out by Eugene T. Cologne, who operated the Gallo until his death in July ’75. Rene Brunet then purchased the theater from Cologne’s estate, successfully operating the Gallo as a single screen, and later, a two-screen venue.
The neighborhood movie theater business dropped off in the 1980s, prompting Brunet to lease the Gallo to a pawnshop. In ’90, the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission declared the Gallo a local landmark.
Brunet later sold the shuttered theater to an investor. Although the Gallo was damaged by a post-Hurricane Katrina fire, plans for its renovation remained alive until it was discovered that the city’s Department of Safety and Permits had issued a demolition permit. By the time its historic landmark status was noted, it was too late to save the structure.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
My grandfather, Willie Groh, and another German immigrant, Art Gessner, lived in New Orleans and began an electric welding business, Gessner and Groh, on a barge in the Mississippi River sometime after 1911. My family always said that they introduced electric welding to the city. Can you tell me if this is accurate?
Freddie Anne Lambremont
St. Marys, Ga.
I can assure you that your grandfather was certainly among the earliest and most successful electric welders in this area, but I found no statements indicating his business was the first of several electro-welders operating here in the early 1910s. I was, however, able to confirm Gessner & Groh conducted business from a barge that held its own on-board power plant and workshop, enabling it to travel to a stricken vessel, thereby reducing repair time and allowing damaged vessels to be put back into service more quickly than if they had to travel to a wharf or dry dock for repair.
In late 1912, William Groh of the Gessner & Groh Electric Welding Company arrived in New Orleans from the company’s hometown of Boston, Mass. Accompanying him was F. A. Wilson, a business agent for the same firm. Business boomed. By spring ’13, Groh and Wilson felt secure enough to send for their families and put down local roots.
Gessner & Groh provided a valuable maritime service, mending leaking seams, fixing cracks, and repairing worn boiler plates and broken rudder frames. In addition to their mobile welding shop and power plant, the firm had a telephone as well as a land-based office in the Wells-Fargo Building. Louisiana corporation records indicate the company was dissolved in 1930.
I remember the My-O-My Club in West End as a child. Because I was young, I never enjoyed the show there, but heard all the stories. Who owned it, what went on there and what happened to make it close?
Often identified as a West End location, Club My-O-My was actually located on a pier extending over Lake Pontchartain at East End, the eastern tip of Jefferson Parish. You may recall that the parish line ran behind the original Bruning’s. The small bridge to the left of Bruning’s connected West End with East End.
The club’s claim to fame was its all-cross-dressers entertainment revues. By today’s standards, the shows were tame, appealing to both gay and straight adult audiences.
The club was twice destroyed by fire. The first blaze began in Swanson’s Restaurant in the wee hours of May 5, 1948, before spreading to the Club My-O-My but owner Herman Brunies quickly rebuilt, only to move the My-O-My in ’56, because of a levee project. In ’72, Club My-O-My, then owned by Joe Nuccio and L. D. Jones, was again destroyed by fire. The uninsured nightclub wasn’t rebuilt. Thus ended Club My-O-My’s years on the lakefront. Attempts to resurrect the club at a French Quarter location were unsuccessful.
Dear Julia Street
Having lived in New Orleans for more than 10 years, I have become intrigued by the various statues. I daily see Robert E. Lee standing on his pedestal in the middle of Lee Circle (being a Yankee, I once made the unforgivable mistake of referring to it as Lincoln Square). I’ve learned that Lee’s statue is 12 feet tall and the pedestal he stands on is a Doric column 60 feet tall. Lee stands with his arms folded facing North, as if in continuing defiance of the “damn yankees.” Is this in fact why he’s situated so?
In Jackson Square, we find the magnificent equestrian statue of General Jackson, which I’ve learned was commissioned by no less than the Baroness Pontalba. A close friend insisted that Jackson is facing the river but I told her I was sure he’s facing Canal Street. But why? I’m sure you and Poydras can come up with many other stories about our many statues and why they are positioned as they are.
Accounts of the Robert E. Lee memorial’s 1884 dedication offer no explanation for the statue’s orientation. The earliest anecdotal explanation I noted was a humorous World War I-era two-line filler which appeared in the New Orleans Item on Aug. 8, 1916. Only 32 years had elapsed since the statue’s dedication, a timespan well within living memory of people who may have attended the 1884 ceremony or who may have known people involved with the statue’s creation and installation.
Stating that the Lee statue “… faced north because the living Lee always faced that way,” the anonymous New Orleans Item writer quipped that, if Europe were to employ the same reasoning when installing future memorials to World War I leaders, “… many of the statues will be mounted on turntables.”
As far as Jackson is concerned, he and his horse are facing in the direction of Canal Street. Our statue, by Clark Mills, is one of at least four similar memorials erected in Washington, D.C., Nashville, Tenn. and Jacksonville, Fla. I know of no official significance to the orientation of the local Jackson memorial statue. Most people see it from the Chartres Street or N. Peters Street perspectives. Perhaps it just looks best when viewed from the side, where sensitive onlookers are spared unobstructed views of the horse’s butt and his anatomically correct genitalia.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
I am a native New Orleanian. I recall as a child the entrance to City Park at Esplanade Avenue and Marconi Drive being a clock, perhaps constructed of flowers. I don’t have any pictures of it and am curious of its story.
Tracy Schroeder Toups
Your geography is a bit off but you’re right about the clock. Marconi Drive is on the opposite side of the park and doesn’t intersect Esplanade Avenue. The floral clock was located on Lelong Avenue, the entrance that extends from the P.G.T. Beauregard monument to the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The story of City Park’s floral clock begins in 1952, when City Park officials traveled to Canada to attend the annual National Park and Recreation Convention. While in Montreal, park directory Ellis Laborde and board member Alan Generes visited Westmount Park, which had installed a floral clock.
Returning to New Orleans, Generes donated a similar clock to City Park. Built at a cost of $2,000 and based on plans provided by the Mayor of Montreal, City Park’s floral clock was located near the park’s Lelong Street entrance. The timepiece lasted only 30 years. Vandalism had been a problem. Furthermore, park officials found that big hands and little feet didn’t go together very well. Generations of children climbing and jumping on the clock’s hands had taken a toll on the timepiece’s inner gears. Battered and broken, the floral clock was dismantled and removed in 1982.
Win a Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch
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: Irene Beary, Baton Rouge; and Elene Beerman Blotner, Metairie.