Dear Julia,
When I was a little girl my granny would take me out, and two of the places I remember most were the Poor Clare Nuns and Mr. Zatarain’s house. Mr. Zatarain’s basement was filled with items people would bring there in honor of their favorite saint or a saint they had prayed to and gotten their wish. I remember seeing prayer statues and rosaries all over the basement.

My question is: How did this get started and what happened to all of these items after he died? He would sit on his porch with visitors and they would talk for a little while, and then we would go down to the basement. There were always more items than our last visit.

I enjoy my monthly New Orleans Magazine. My heart will always be in New Orleans. I lived in Uptown all my life and lived 43 years in the same house before leaving New Orleans.

Thanking you in advance,
Kay Tripp
Ocean Springs, MS

In the late 1920s, prior to his wife’s death in March ’30, Emile A. Zatarain Sr. established at his 925 Valmont St. residence a religious shrine which, as time went on, grew from a holiday display to an increasingly elaborate and unusual spiritual sanctuary. Although the shrine was clearly in operation during Charlotte Niedermann Zatarain’s lifetime, it was in the years following her demise that the creator of Pa-Poose Root Beer expanded it into an eclectic block-long non-sectarian religious attraction that was open, free of charge, to “God’s people of any religious creed or nationality.”

It is impossible do justice to the full range of sights to be found at Zatarain’s self-made shrine. There were ponds, representing the River Nile and holding “holy gold fish.” Statuary and tokens of thanks abounded. There were scenes from the Holy Land and the life of Christ. Visitors could see, among other things, Crown of Thorn plants the owner had brought back from a visit to Jerusalem, depictions of the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity, the Star of Bethlehem and stone paths painted with inspirational text. Zaratain’s deep faith and sincerity were apparent, and advertisements he placed to promote Zatarain’s Miraculous Shrine were exceptionally detailed.

In one such ad, which appeared in April 1955, the 89-year-old self-described Christian Worker invited people of “all nationalities and creeds,” as well as scientists and artists, to see shrine attractions, which included his three foot- square plaster of Paris plaque showing an agonized Christ. The hand-painted plaque depicted the Savior as having “uplifted gray eyes for sorrow, his mouth wide open showing the rear teeth, showing pain and agony … with hair the color of a filbert nut fully ripe …”

The shrine continued in operation well into the 1950s, but appears to have closed before its founder’s death at the age of 93 in March ’59. I was unable to determine what happened to the shrine artifacts. A few years after their patriarch’s demise, the Zatarain family’s spice and extract company closed its Valmont Street headquarters, opening a new factory at Gretna. McCormick acquired the Zatarain brand in 2003.

Dear Julia,
Watching a segment on Ch. 12’s  “Lost Restaurants,” I recalled a restaurant on Jefferson Highway and Mylan Street. It was Marion Tucker Steak House. I dined there for a celebration as a teenager. The restaurant was quite nice and served good food. Was it family owned? When did it close? I drive on Jefferson Highway often, and every time I pass by the memory of eating there returns to mind. Hoping you and Poydras can inform me.

Karen Boudreaux

In 1944, Marion R. Tucker established a restaurant at 1007 Jefferson Highway, later opening the well-known Tucker’s Steak House at 701 Jefferson Highway. It was this business which inspired Tucker’s son, Marion B. Tucker, to establish his own restaurant up the road at the corner of Jefferson Highway and Hyman Drive. The younger Tucker’s eatery opened in ’74, operating it though the mid-’80s. Flame broiled Kansas City beef was a house specialty, but Marion Tucker’s also served seafood and featured an adjoining cocktail lounge. In 1985, Marion Tucker’s offered a $4.25 weekday lunch buffet and a dinner buffet, which cost $6.25.

Dear Julia,
My late grandmother use to keep bundles of dried vetiver root as a natural room deodorizer and moth repellent. I think she used to get it from a place somewhere north of the lake. Do you have any idea what her source may have been?
Thank you.

Sherryl Williams
New Orleans

Dried roots of vetiver, a type of East Indian grass, were a fixture in many old Louisiana households, where bundles were used as sachets to provide a nice odor and repel clothes moths. From the early 1930s through at least the late ’50s, the Northshore was home to what was reputed to be the nation’s only commercial vetiver farm.

In 1931, strawberry farmer W. I. Jennings of Pine Ridge Plantation at Pleasant Ridge near Hammond was looking for a way to enhance his farming income. Starting with five vetiver plants he acquired from a local man, Jennings began commercially cultivating the grass. By the early ’40s there were an estimated 50,000 vetiver plants growing at Pine Ridge. Jennings even devised a rolling machine somewhat like a cigarette roller for bundling the cleaned and dried roots into one-ounce bundles for commercial sale. The vetiver farm at Pine Ridge was sold in ’43 but remained in operation until at least the late ’50s.

In 1932, The Vetivert Essential Oil Company was incorporated at Mandeville. Area farmers were encouraged to grow vetiver but soon found it to have a limited market in an age when modern perfumes and insecticides were heavily advertised and readily available.

The processing plant at Mandeville failed to turn a profit. By 1938, it had closed.

Win a restaurant gift certificate

Here is a chance to eat, drink 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 a tour and Creole breakfast for two at Degas House or a Jazz Brunch for two at The Court of Two Sisters. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email: This month’s winners are: Karen Boudreaux, Marrero; and Kay Tripp, Ocean Springs, Mississippi.