Past Tense

Pics from the town that was
Pictured above is what was commonly known as “newspaper row” hearkening back to the late 19th century when there were enough newspapers to have in a row. These and other photographs remind us that while New Orleans has done better than most cities at preserving its past|!!| there are still many layers to explore. Life was so different. It was as plain as black and white. |!!!|











In the late 1880s, when George François Mugnier took this photograph, the riverside of the 300 block of Camp Street – seen to the right – was called “Newspaper Row,” because several of New Orleans’ major newspapers and other publications were located here. Among these were the Daily Picayune (third building from the right with the balconies) and the Times-Democrat several doors to the left of the Picayune. For years, these were the city’s dominant morning newspapers, finally merging in 1914 as the Times-Picayune. The combined paper operated from “Newspaper Row” until ’20, when it moved a few blocks away to Camp Street at Lafayette Square. The Mascot, seen next door to the right of the Daily Picayune, was a scurrilous scandal paper that was published through much of the 1880s and 1890s.

In the early 20th century, goats were popular for pulling small children’s wagons and floats, frequently showing up in children’s photography of the time. John Tibule Mendes took this image of the New Orleans Children’s May Festival, May 13, 1917. It was an especially patriotic event that year – with its diminutive Red Cross nurse, Uncle Sam and American flag – since the United States had just entered World War I a few weeks earlier. The festival took place at the Taylor Playground, which still exists at the corner of Washington Avenue and South Derbigny Street in Broadmoor.

Boys are shown taking time to pose on the crumbling steps of the former Citizens’ Bank building about 1890. Located on Toulouse Street between Royal and Chartres streets, the bank was built about 1838 and was typical of the Greek temple-like banks of the early 19th century, which were meant to give the impression of wealth and stability. Citizens’ Bank – called La Banque Des Citoyens in French – printed its own notes (a common and legal practice then) in English and French. The $10 notes bore the word “DIX,” the French word for 10, said to have originated the terms Dixie Note and Dixieland. The bank eventually relocated and by the 1870s was already an abandoned ruin that was finally demolished by 1900.

On Feb. 14, 1895, New Orleans received its greatest recorded snowfall when about eight inches of the white stuff fell during the night to blanket the city. The city came to a standstill, as streetcars were abandoned and businesses suspended operation. Sightseers dressed up, braved the chilly air and filled the slippery streets. Some hurled snowballs at unsuspecting passersby, while others just strolled about, such as those seen here at the corner of North Rampart and St. Ann streets at Congo Square. Today this is part of Armstrong Park, and since 1930, the Municipal Auditorium has filled the area of small houses directly behind the square on what, in 1895, was St. Claude and Orleans streets.

Comparing photographs taken at the intersection of Felicity and Polymnia streets looking toward the river from Dryades Street – now Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard – in the late 1850s and early 1920s, one can clearly see how dramatically urban life in New Orleans changed over a period of only about 65 years. The early view, with boys posing stock-still in the street for the long photographic exposure time, shows a primarily residential area of dirt streets with deep drainage gutters with plank bridges. Unseen, there would have been no public water supply or sewage disposal. The later view shows technological changes that had come about: automobiles, asphalt paved streets, electric streetlights and utility poles strung with garlands of telegraph, telephone and electric wires. The neighborhood had become more commercial, and there would have been running water, subsurface drainage and sewage disposal.

This group of women is throwing rocks and bricks at a house in the 600 block of Joseph Street on July 5, 1929. They are attacking the home of a strike breaker during the contentious streetcar strike that had begun on July 1 over the methods New Orleans Public Service used to discharge workers and the company’s unwillingness to accept a closed shop system. July 5 was especially violent when NOPSI attempted to restore service. Cars were overturned and set ablaze, and there was even a house dynamited. The rock throwing incident – possibly posed for the media – took place along the square behind the Arabella Car Barn in the 5600 block of Magazine Street. Houses now fill the back square, while the Arabella Barn is a Whole Foods Market. Streetcar service returned on Aug. 15, ’29, with the strike settled in October. The term poor boy sandwich – to feed hungry strikers – is said to have been coined during this strike.

The Morris Building was among the tallest buildings in New Orleans – except for church steeples – when it was built in the late 1880s. It was considered the most modern and elegant office building in town. Although touted as fireproof, a major fire seriously damaged the upper floors in 1901; the building is shown here being restored afterwards. The restoration contained fashionable bay windows as well as a wide cornice; the latter was blown off by the ’47 hurricane. The building to the right was so damaged in the fire that it had to be torn down and replaced. The Morris Building is still standing, although it later became the Interstate Bank and for many years was known as the Cigali Building.

D.H. Holmes on Canal Street between Bourbon and Dauphine streets seen here in the mid-1880s was the largest dry goods store in New Orleans, already covering much of a square block. Dry goods stores were primarily huge fabric, notion and accessory stores poised to become full line department stores in about 10 years. Seen here is the “Silk Hall” near Holmes’ Dauphine wing. Rising two stories high this department with its appearance of a gothic cathedral – meant to elevate lady shopper’s moods and encourage sales – sold the finest fabrics in the store in the days when better quality ready-to-wear clothing wasn’t yet available. Dress patterns and material were there for home sewing, but only if a lady wished someone else to make it, Holmes had seamstresses on call to meet the demand. Mannequins dressed in the latest modes were placed around the floor for inspiration and to encourage sales, but also give eerie impression of well-dressed headless shoppers.

This whimsical ca. 1953 Maidenform bra display at LaBiche’s must have made a few heads turn. (National company advertising such as this is frequently quite successful, since it tends to be memorable.) It was thought-worthy enough to be photographed by Charles L. Franck Photographers. LaBiche’s was a better class clothing and home appliance store then located in the 300 block of Baronne Street. The store, was founded in ’18 as LaBiche and Graff on Poydras Street; it operated on Baronne from the early ’30s until the early ’60s, when it relocated to 714 Canal St. While Maidenform is still around, LaBiche’s and its several branches have been out of business since the ’80s.

The clothing worn by the woman to the left probably dates this to summer on Canal Street. It is either 1917 or ’18 when the United States was embroiled in World War I and exemplified by the large American Red Cross sign stretching across the median of the street pleading for “Help! For Pity’s Sake.” This view by John Tibule Mendes looks toward the lake from Rampart Street. The large building seen peeking over the top of the streetcar to the right is the Southern Railway Station built on the Basin Street median in ’08 and demolished in the ’50s. Today the Saenger Theater (’27) fills the right foreground of the view, while the State Palace (’26) and Joy (’47) are across the street.

This intersection, with it tracks and rough paving, looks down North Rampart Street from Elysian Fields Avenue on Jan. 5, 1921. The tracks along North Rampart Street are part of the Dauphine streetcar line, which abandoned this route after being transferred to the St. Claude and Desire lines in ’26. The cross tracks along Elysian Fields Avenue belong to the Louisville and Nashville and “Smokey Mary” – the train that ran out to Lake Pontchartrain and Milneburg with its long pier and mix of clubs and camps. The building in the right foreground is now the Phoenix Bar, while the buildings at the left have been replaced by a parking lot and warehouse belonging to a supermarket abandoned since Hurricane Katrina.

John Magill is a curator and historian at The Historic New Orleans Collection.


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