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Julia Street with the Poydras Parrot

Dear Julia,

My husband is a man in his early 70s, and as a boy he remembers his grandfather being a member of Druids (not the Mardi Gras krewe). He said it was some sort of social organization with family picnics, etc., being held. We would like to know if you know any background on the organization and where exactly their “temple” was. He seems to remember it being between Lee Circle and Canal Street on one of the streets in the business district.

Barbara Giraud

The United Ancient Order of Druids (U.A.O.D.), an international fraternal and benevolent organization, traces its corporate roots to late 18th-century England. The group’s presence in Louisiana dates back to 1855. Like many similar groups in the days before the creation of national health and life insurance companies, the U.A.O.D. provided not only a social outlet for its members but also assured that members and their families would receive medical or burial aid if the member suddenly became ill or died.
The Druids’ home your husband recalls from his childhood was located at 843 Camp St. In 1910, the Grand Grove of Druids purchased the three-story building, a former boarding house, for $16,500. At the time, it was estimated the organization had about 4,000 local members. The Druids used the building until the late ’50s. In ’63, Ozanam Inn purchased the structure.

Dear Julia Street,

I have a yellowed States Item newspaper clipping of a column called “Ask A. Labas,” which answers readers’ questions about Mardi Gras. What years did this column run? Did it always answer questions about New Orleans, or did it also dispense advice to the lovelorn? Was this the columnist’s real name? Was A. Labas ever your direct competitor and, if so, has Poydras ever confessed to pecking the columnist with his considerable beak?

Mrs. Richard Cook
Abita Springs

First, about the name. It came from a once common French Creole greeting, “Eh La Bas” which translates roughly into “Hey over there.” The phrase was once commonly used in New Orleans when the culture was more French. Now it’s rarely used. Certainly the newspaper changing the name to “The People Helper” is a sign of the encroaching Americanization. Poydras is one of the last to still use the phrase and uses it especially when he wants to pick up girls. It never works. Perhaps the next time he should introduce himself as the Parrot Helper.

“Ask A. Labas” was a long-running consumer affairs column which first ran in the New Orleans Item around 1945. Warren Joseph Rogers Jr., was the first of several newspaper employees to use the byline A. Labas when writing for the New Orleans Item and its corporate successors. In an ’84 newspaper interview, actor M. K. Lewis of La Mise en Scene theater group revealed that his wife, Rosemary Ruiz, had also been one of the people who had written the A. Labas column.
People wrote to A. Labasfor aid in solving all sorts of consumer issues. Whether the writer was seeking an odd-sized watch battery or needed to know how to dispose of broken cement, A. Labas provided information the writer could use to resolve their problem or answer their question.
In September 1980, The Times-Picayune/The States-Item renamed the column. Then known as “Ask A. Labas, The People Helper,” the consumer affairs feature became simply “The People Helper,” and was written by reporter Amber Stahl. Although the column’s mission continued, the A. Labas byline was retired at that time.

Dear Julia,

One of my favorite hotels (of many) in New Orleans is the Wyndham Hotel on Convention Center Boulevard. They used to make it a point to keep 12 dozen roses in their beautiful lobby. I was always overwhelmed.

Friends say fresh roses are a New Orleans tradition; others say this is strictly a Wyndham Hotel specialty. I have also heard the hotel was originally an old sugar or rice warehouse. Is this possible? It certainly is a showpiece hotel in a showpiece city.

Philip Supina
Harrogate, Tenn

Roses are certainly a nice stylish touch but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re either a New Orleans tradition or a Wyndham Hotel specialty. The Wyndham Hotel Group manages 17 different hotel brands, appealing to a wide range of budgets and personal tastes running the gamut from budget properties to high-end resorts.
The Wyndham Riverfront Hotel’s construction in the mid-1990s involved the demolition of three older structures but one old building was retained as the center of the new hotel. In the late 19th century, the William Henderson Sugar refinery dominated the rear portion of the block while a molasses refinery once stood at the corner of what’s now Convention Center Boulevard and Girod Street.

Question for Julia,

My last name is Gentile pronounced “Gentilly.” Since living in New Orleans, I feel famous because everyone wants to spell my last name like the famous area called Gentilly. I would like to know what makes the Gentilly area so popular and thus me? Will make for great conversation starter.

Donna M. Gentile

While some parts of Gentilly are lower than others, Gentilly lies along an old river ridge and contains some of the city’s highest land. During colonial times, French brothers Mathurin and Pierre Dreux, the Sieurs de Gentilly, farmed the high ridge land, naming it in honor of their home in France. The French Gentilly is a commune in the Department of the Seine, near Anjou. There is architectural variation in the area, which is different from the classic New Orleans look including California-style bungalows. The area used to be famous for lawn ornaments in front of houses, especially glass balls, though that’s seldom seen anymore. Since Hurricane Katrina the area’s commercial life has been slow to recover,  but it’s coming back.

Dear Julia,

A great uncle of mine, William Russell, was a successful ice merchant in the last quarter or so of the l9th century. There are photos of him in the family with horses pulling vans of ice for delivery to ice boxes. According to family folklore, his ice factory was located at 85 Carondelet St. The company name was presumably simply “Russell Ice Factory.” Can you find any evidence to this effect, and can you tell me when delivery of big chunks of ice ceased, at least to private home?
Janice Donaldson Grijns

Greenwich, Ct.,
also New Orleans

When your great uncle, William Russell, passed away in 1918, a Times-Picayune reporter identified him as one of the city’s oldest and best-known ice dealers. The ice business, however, was Russell’s second career.

As a young man, William Russell had worked for the Commercial Bulletin newspaper before moving on to the Daily Picayune, where he was employed for 32 years. Toward the end of his time with the paper, William also worked his brother’s Home Ice Company, a venture that soon proved so successful that, in the late 1880s, William quit his newspaper job and went into the ice business full-time. A New Orleans City Directory listing from 1889 shows Russell Brothers Ice operating at 85 Carondelet St. Brothers Joseph, William and Charles Russell are listed as employees of the firm and, at the time, lived together in a house located at 405 1/2 Locust St.

About 1901, the Russell brothers expanded their business, establishing the Riverside Ice Company at 1050-1052 Tchoupitoulas St. The Riverside Ice Company operated until about ’20, when the Tchoupitoulas Street property was sold.

It is hard to say exactly when home delivery of block ice ceased. It seems most likely the practice just slowly faded away as modern refrigerators became increasingly more popular and affordable to the average homeowner.

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