Where was the original Pontchartrain Beach amusement park located? All I can remember is a scary streetcar ride along Canal Street to the end of the line.
The roller coaster was called the “Wild Cat,” there was a German beer garden with an oompah band and my favorite: an ice cream stand built like an old-style crank ice cream churn.
I do remember having lots of fun! I almost forgot – it was built on boardwalks.
The Wild Cat was a scenic railway that debuted at the original Pontchartrain Beach in early May 1929. Its train took about a minute to make the ride’s 3,560-foot circuit.
The Lake Shore Beach Company ran the original Pontchartrain Beach, which opened in late June 1928 on recently reclaimed land across Bayou St. John from the Old Spanish Fort. During its first year of operation, Pontchartrain Beach was a bathing resort with only one ride – a little roller coaster called The Whip – but by its second season many new attractions, including the Wild Cat, had been added.
I just read your and Poydras’ column which appears in the New Orleans Magazine dated January 2013.
When I read about the Pontchartrain Railroad, the first thing I thought was “I have to show this to Walter!” Your stories and answers take me into the past – forgetting the present – forgetting that my precious husband, Walter, passed away over two years ago.
Julia, this is a tough question! You will need Poydras to help you with this one.
Back in the mid-1930s, when I was a very young child, I lived Uptown around Octavia and Laurel streets. Near Drobe’s Grocery, I used to find what we called “slugs.” They were about the size of a nickel. They seemed to be plentiful in that location. Did that phenomenon have anything to do with the streetcars or the tracks that ran along Laurel Street or, maybe, a factory nearby?
Julia, I plan to write to you again. I have lots of questions for you and Poydras regarding my beloved New Orleans!
A. O. Malley
Thank you for the sweet message.
Slugs are blank little discs of metal that are about the same diameter and thickness as coins. The thing about slugs is that, although they don’t easily fool people unless they’re in a hurry or the lighting is dim, machines were more easily duped. In the mid-1930s, when slot machines were quite prevalent, counterfeit coins were in high demand as tools for tricking gaming machines into giving something for nothing. I doubt the proximity of either the streetcar stop or the grocery would explain your finding slugs on a regular basis. On the other hand, if the grocery or another nearby building had gaming machines tucked away in a back room, that would explain it.
I grew up in the 9th Ward on Music Street, three blocks from St. Roch playground. I attended Our Lady Star of the Sea school and was baptized and confirmed at that church. Is the church still open? If so, what’s the schedule?
In addition, as you know, New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods. I would like to know if you have any history on the following places of businesses, like who were the owners and when did they close.
Tony’s Bar on the corner of Almonaster Avenue and Galvez Street; the Crown and Tiger theaters on Franklin Avenue; and the Famous Theater somewhere around St. Claude Avenue. The best “hard packed” ice cream I ever had was at a shop across from the Crown Theater on Franklin Avenue. If possible, can you find the name of the ice cream shop?
Sorry George, asking multiple questions costs extra. Please leave an envelope with $100 in it next to the “meteorite” in Audubon Park. I will send someone to pick it up.
Our Lady Star of the Sea remains an active Roman Catholic Church and is located at 1835 St. Roch Ave. For its Mass schedule, check the parish website at olss-no.com or call the parish office at 944-0166.
The Crown Theater, which Louis E. Rosenbaum managed in the early 1950s, was located at 1441 Almonaster Ave. First opened as the Avenue Theater in ’29, the theater was renovated in ’39, reopening as the Best Theater. Renovated again 10 years later, it changed its name once more when, in ’49, it became the Avenue Theater. It burned on New Year’s Day ’55.
About 1952, the ice cream shop at 1246 Almonaster Ave., near the Crown was run by Edward A Becker. By the mid-’50s, the same address is listed as a retail store for Hayes Dairy Products, a Louisiana-incorporated company that liquidated in ’77.
The Tiger Theater, which Karl M. Williams managed in the early 1950s, was located at 2939 Franklin Ave. It operated as the Tiger ’50 to ’73. Later re-named the Riget and the Grit, it closed in ’80. It still stands, vacant and abandoned.
The Famous Theater, at 1538 Marigny St., had been built about 1913 and was an active theater until ’78. From ’56 to ’78, it was owned and operated by Rene Brunet Jr. Following its ’78 sale, the theater was sold to a new owner who turned it into a disco. Damaged, but not destroyed, by fire on March 15, ’92, the building demolished and replaced with a parking lot.
When I was a pre-teen, my grandparents lived at 2816 Grand Route St. John at the corner of Crete Street. My parents, and the parents of several cousins, gathered there to visit with “Granny” and “Paw Paw” on most Sundays.
I have fond memories of attending the movies at the Bell Theater on Sunday afternoons, with my cousins while the adults played card games or just chatted about the events of the prior week.
Can you tell me what happened to the Bell Theater? I don’t think it’s on Grand Route St. John any more. Did it succumb to the trend of the mall theaters with multiple screens and viewing rooms?
The Bell Theater was located at 2800 Grand Route St. John, just a few doors away from your grandparents’ house. The second of two Bell Theaters to operate at different locations in the same general area, the Bell on Grand Route St. John opened in 1922. It was destroyed by fire on Sept. 9, ’66 and wasn’t rebuilt.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
Can you tell me how the “Casino” in City Park (now “The Morning Call”) got its name? Was it a gambling establishment?
Also, did Poydras ever fly over that area in the 1950s and ’60s to enjoy live outdoor orchestras? Was it the Louisiana Philharmonic or the Summer Pops?
Those were truly our glory days.
Shortly before World War I, park administrators made the decision to move the park’s existing administrative offices and shift City Park’s main amusement area from the City Park Avenue periphery to the park’s interior. Part of that plan called for the erection of what became known as the Casino building. (The word did not apply to gambling, which never occurred there, but to the Spanish phrase for “canteen” as in providing food.) The building opened July 4, 1913. The architectural firm of Nolan and Torres designed the two-story building, the original purpose of which was to house a refreshment area on the ground floor and park administrative offices upstairs.
Three years after the Casino opened, John F. Popp donated $7,500 for a new park bandstand to replace a 1902 structure he felt clashed with the nearby Peristyle’s New-Classical architectural style. Architect Emile Weil designed the new bandstand which was dedicated on July 4, ’17.
Both the Louisiana Philharmonic and the Summer Pops were among the many orchestras to perform at the Popps Bandstand. Unfortunately, the free concerts fell out of fashion and ended in 1979. At the time, park officials blamed television for changing public taste and dwindling attendance at the formerly popular concerts.
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.