Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot
The Pursuit to Answer Eternal Questions
Prior to Hurricane Katrina there was Spanish moss on the big oaks in Audubon and City parks. I see Spanish moss on trees in Harahan. Why hasn’t it come back to the trees in the big parks?
Contrary to popular belief, Spanish moss isn’t a parasite and doesn’t damage the trees it inhabits. The plant, whose scientific name is Tillandsia usneaides, is a bromeliad related to the pineapple. It is an epiphyte, not a parasite, and derives its nutrition from the air rather than the trees on which it grows.
Although both parks have trees that are devoid of Spanish moss, they also have trees that appear to have healthy Spanish moss plants draped from virtually every available limb. During recent visits to both Audubon and City parks, I had no difficulty locating entire groups of oak trees festooned with dense layers of Spanish moss. I also saw numerous Crepe Myrtle trees, leafless because of the winter season but generously draped with the grayish hair-like plants.
Spanish moss was once far more prevalent in our municipal parks but has been in decline for decades – long before Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed. Both air pollution and disease have been cited as contributing to Spanish moss’ diminished presence.
Twenty-five years ago, Times-Picayune columnist Frank Schneider called attention to the disappearance of Spanish moss. Schneider had grown up near City Park and recalled bygone days when his grandmother had a moss-stuffed couch and Spanish moss could be found nearly everywhere in our municipal parks. Alarmed by the rate at which the plant was disappearing, Schneider criticized conservationists who remained silent as Spanish moss, a natural asset closely associated with Southern cultural identity, quietly slipped away.
We just moved into a new house in Metairie off of Causeway Boulevard on one of the “numbered” streets. We became curious that the last street before the Lake Pontchartrain levee is Fifth Street. Looking at a map, we see that from West Metairie Avenue all the way to the lake, the streets are consecutively numbered from 49th Street to Fifth Street.
Can you tell us why the naming starts at Fifth Street, and what ever happened to First through Fourth Streets? Could it be that the planners had laid out a street grid starting with First Street at what was once the lake shoreline, but the Levee Board took over that land to construct their shoreline protection, levee and berms? Or perhaps there was once a plan to reclaim a portion of the lake and build out a subdivision with First through Fourth streets?
If Poydras could possibly fly to Metairie to research this perplexing situation, we’d finally be able to sleep well in our new home!
In the early 19th century, part of Jefferson Parish around the modern-day intersection of Causeway Boulevard and River Road was known as the community of Harlem. A large thoroughfare, Harlem Avenue extended from Harlem through the undeveloped land lying between the original Harlem and Lake Pontchartrain.
During World War I, developers actively promoted the Harlem Avenue area as farmland. In the mid-1920s, United Realty developed Harlem Drive and Harlem Parkway, parallel subdivisions flanking Harlem Avenue and extending from near Metairie Road to the Lakefront. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say United Realty had delusions of grandeur as they envisioned the area one day becoming a luxurious waterfront destination rivaling Chicago’s Gold Coast. In 1954, Harlem Avenue was renamed Causeway Boulevard in anticipation of its connection to the Causeway.
It appears the subdivisions may have initially, at least on paper, extended a bit beyond Hammond Highway towards the lake. Because lakefront protection levees were being discussed at the time Harlem Drive and Harlem Parkway were being developed, it seems possible that residential development of any squares lying north of Hammond Highway may have been abandoned in favor of levee protection some time after the subdivisions’ street grids had been laid out. I am, however, neither a real estate attorney nor a surveyor, so this is just an educated guess.
Music is one of the magnets that draws our family back to New Orleans year after year! I have a particular interest in the turn-of-the-century roots of jazz in New Orleans, and I’m curious about the bottlemen musicians that brought blues music into neighborhoods over 100 years ago. Could you give some information on the bottlemen (or ragmen) who travelled the streets of New Orleans with their carts, mules and long tinhorns, influencing future jazz giants such as Kid Ory and Louis Armstrong?
Although bottlemen, rag men and street vendors of all sorts contributed to the sounds one heard in 19th- and early 20th-century neighborhoods, I wouldn’t go so far as to describe them as “the bottlemen musicians that brought blues music into neighborhoods.” In order to notify people of their approach, so households could have their goods ready for pickup, street merchants made loud noises, either with their voices or with some form of noisemaker, such as a bell or horn. While there were some melodious street vendors – Sam the Waffle Man comes to mind – there were others who simply made loud noises to call attention to their presence.
Bottlemen, as their name suggests, collected and sold used bottles. Think of them as early recyclers. Bottlemen were especially popular with children because they would give the kids candies or small toys in exchange for used bottles.
The rag men or rag pickers, many of whom were foreign, collected used rags and worn out clothing. These rags were later sold, in bulk, to paper mills.
In late February 1912, the New Orleans Item noted that bottlemen, rag men and other street vendors had largely vanished from the modern streetscape. Around ’18, local noise ordinances took a toll on the few remaining street merchants who could no longer loudly proclaim their presence as they wandered the streets of New Orleans.
I visited my old Hurtsville neighborhood this week and was delighted to find that the former LaSalle School on Perrier Street is being renovated from a dilapidated mess to its lovely new life as condominiums.
Here are my questions. Can you find a photo of LaSalle that shows the original staircase that led to the second-floor entrance, or otherwise tell me when and why the stairs disappeared? Also, is my memory correct that there was a streetcar line throughout the length of Camp Street?
Also, please tell Poydras that while I was visiting this neighborhood, I saw and heard his wild cousins (parrots) flying back and forth. I certainly hope for your sake, Julia, that Poydras isn’t as sociably noisy!
Wuanita Browne Talley
Wuanita, Poydras does not hang around with those tree parrots. He says they all look alike, plus they drink his rum.
LaSalle School first opened in 1901. Although I was unable to locate an image of the school with its second-story entrance intact, I believe the entrance was most likely changed in the mid-’40s.
On Dec. 14, 1945, The Times-Picayune reported that LaSalle School’s Parent-Teacher Association had inspected the building at 6048 Perrier St. and sent the school board a list of defects and safety concerns. Among the problems the PTA noted was that, “At the basement entry, there is a crack across the entire ceiling where the sinking of the front stairway has pulled the entryway away from the main building.” It seems likely the front entry was later discarded as a direct result of this major structural problem.
As far as a Camp Street streetcar is concerned, you’re partially correct. The Prytania line, which was originally known as the Camp and Prytania line, ran on Camp, but not along the entire length of the street. As of 1919, the outbound route began at Canal and Camp streets, and ran up Camp to Prytania Street before turning on Joseph and Hurst streets and ending at Exposition Boulevard. The route later changed, beginning at Canal and Camp streets but traveling out Magazine Street to Poeyfarre Streets before turning on Camp to Prytania, Joseph, Coliseum and Henry Clay streets before turning once again into Camp Street. The Prytania line was discontinued on Oct. 1, ’32.
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: Wuanita Browne Talley, Pearl River; and Chris Duncan, Opelika, Ala.