Julia Street | WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT
THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Since a recent move to Mid-City I have been exploring this wonderful side of town by walking my shaggy little dog all over the place. The Bayou St. John and City Park are really such lovely areas! On some of my longer walks I have come across a dilapidated building that has made me curious. It is in the middle of City Park, near where I-610 crosses over. It is located off of Golf Drive and across from the greenhouse right there. The architecture is so interesting but it is such a state of neglect I can’t figure out what it is for. Can you shed some light on this topic for me?
Emily (and Benji the dog)
You found “the Corral,” also known as the New Orleans City Park Corral Maintenance Facility, which architect Richard Koch designed in the Louisiana Revival Style. Constructed under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), the Corral was built in 1936-37 using an estimated 150,000 Louisiana-made bricks salvaged from the recent demolitions of the old Presbyterian Hospital and the Orleans Parish Prison that formerly stood at the corner of Saratoga and Gravier streets. The Corral, which cost $50,000, originally housed park equipment and workshops and included living quarters for the Park Keeper and a foreman. The photograph accompanying this column is from the WPA Photograph Collection at the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library and shows the Corral as it appeared in April 1937, shortly after its completion.
Future plans for the facilities’ use are uncertain although one of the buildings might be incorporated into an administrative area for a proposed Splash Park if and when state funding materializes. Another idea involves developing some sort of food service facility. Nothing is definite yet.
My Mom and my Uncle Walt, when they were young and single in 1939, shared an apartment in the French Quarter at 616 Royal Street. It must have been an exciting time in New Orleans back then, but they were struggling with little money. She was completing her nursing training at Hotel Dieu and he was a young newspaper reporter.
Uncle Walt told me they had “a great deal” on their ground-floor apartment that used to be the carriage house, off a beautiful courtyard with a fountain. The one-bedroom apartment with a sitting room rented for $30/month, including all utilities and twice-a-week maid service! He said there was a well-known writer for Collier’s magazine also living there. Would you have any way of knowing who that magazine writer might have been? Or, would you know of any other famous residents of 616 Royal?
Thanks so much for your fascinating insights into Old New Orleans.
When the 1940 city directory was being compiled in late 1939, only five people were listed as residing at 616 Royal Street – Gertrude Demarest, Walter G. Cowan (your uncle), Elizabeth Cowan and Mr. and Mrs. Elbert J. Soskis. Gertrude Demarest’s profession was unspecified and your mother, Elizabeth Cowan, was then working as a nurse for Dr. Julian H. Lombard. Your Uncle Walter, was a reporter for the Item-Tribune and became a very prominent local journalist. Aileen Hall Soskis, a recent Newcomb College graduate, was employed as an industrial artist for the National Youth Administration and was residing at 616 Royal with her husband. Elbert.
While I certainly believe your late uncle’s assertion that a Collier’s writer once rented rooms at 616 Royal, I have been unable to prove it and am uncertain to whom he may have referred. On the other hand, your mother and uncle are known to have had a noted artist as their neighbor. Aileen Hall Soskis (1915-1988) was a Newcomb-educated artist who worked in several media including pottery, watercolor and pastel. She later moved to Florida with her husband, Dr. Elbert Joque Soskis, whom she divorced in 1974. Aileen Hall Soskis died in 1996 at the age of 83.
When I was in college in the early seventies, we used to drive to Picou’s bakery late at night to watch fresh donuts being made (and eating them too!) – afterwards we drove to see the “sparkle houses.” These houses were painted with something that when illuminated by car lights the houses “sparkled.” If I remember correctly the houses were shotguns side by side. Am wondering if anyone else remembers these and where they are located (and if just maybe, they are still there). All I remember is that they weren’t too far from Picou’s bakery.
New Orleans, LA
I remember Picou’s quite well but I have never heard of the “sparkle houses.” If any of our readers recalls a pair of shiny houses in the Bayou Road area near Broad, please write and let us know what you remember about them.
Picou’s Bakery was originally located at 3915 Baronne Street and opened a second location at 2138 Louisiana Avenue before adding the Bayou Road location near the end of WWII. In April 1944, Picou’s purchased Theodore P. Helwick’s well-known bakery at 2501 Bayou Road at North Dorgenois Street.
Helwick, formerly pastry chef for the Grunewald Hotel and later a partner in the Al Jensen Baking Company, was especially famous for his Danish. In the late 1920s, he established the LeBreton Market Bakery and Confectionery. Located across the street from the LeBreton public market, Helwick’s bakery was famous for its extensive line of expertly prepared baked goods. Soon after Helwick retired and sold the bakery on Bayou Road, Picou’s modernized it and changed its name.
Picou’s was open around the clock. In its early years, this made them especially popular with shift workers and those employed in wartime industries. The neighborhood got rougher in the years leading up to its closure and sale in the mid-1980s. I’m sure many readers recall going down there for donuts or some other sweet snack such as the ever-popular Washington Pie and putting the payment through a bulletproof compartment then receiving the goodies the same way.