When Metairie Had a Mayor
That, and other memories along “The Ridge”
Kids could be satisfied with small pleasures in 1950s Metairie. “We used to walk to the corner of Metairie Road and Causeway Boulevard under the overpass,” remembers Linda Daigre. “There was a root beer place there, and my friend and I would each get a six-ounce Coke, and we’d split an order of french fries.”
Daigre’s father had said he would only move to Metairie if he could live on the Metairie Ridge, the high ground on which Metairie Road meanders from Orleans Parish toward Causeway Boulevard at Airline Highway. Although Metairie had been settled for some time, the area was still building up from its rural beginnings. “On some of the older streets there were some houses that had been fishing camps,” she recalls. “When we moved here, Causeway Boulevard was a gravel road, and there was no Veterans Boulevard.”
Every improvement was exciting. “When they put in the round-about at Causeway and Airline Highway, people were absolutely sure the drivers would never get used to it,” she says. “People adjusted right away.
“About the time I started high school the Airline Shopping Center opened, and there was a Maison Blanche there,” Daigre adds, noting that most shopping for clothes was still done on Canal Street at the time.
Besides the big Schwegmann’s store on Airline Highway at Labarre Road, (“the shape of the building looked like a Quonset hut”) you could buy your groceries at the Hill Store on Metairie Road on the New Orleans side of the railroad tracks. Frances Belloni fondly remembers walking past Beulah Ledner’s bakery on Metairie Road. “If I had any babysitting money, I’d ask if they had any damaged cakes –maybe one with the icing messed up.” That made for a special treat.
East Jefferson High School was the only public high school on Jefferson Parish’s East Bank, and students took advantage of every local opportunity for teenage fun. “We all went to the Frostop and got a Lot-a-burger and a root beer float: it was across the street from Metairie Junior High (now Haynes Academy for Advance Studies),” Belloni notes.
Christmas in Metairie wouldn’t have been complete without attendance at midnight Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church on Metairie Road. Hearing Julian Murray sing was a midnight Mass treat at St. Catherine of Sienna Church, also on Metairie Road. “We might go to a party that night, but we always went to midnight Mass,” Belloni explains.
Another holiday event was the big bonfire that the Cuccia family had in a vacant lot across from their home near the public library on Metairie Road. “They were a big family, and Mr. Cuccia used to ride a horse in parades and he’d always wave at us.”
Metairie also had its own movie houses: the Grand was in the 2000 block of Metairie Road, the Aereon was on Metairie Road at Severn and the Metry was on Frisco Street.
And where deLimon Place is now, was the Do Drive In Theater. Chris Timmins lived nearby on Rosa Street. A little adept wire stripping could bring a speaker into a teenager’s own yard for added movie enjoyment. Timmins, who graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School, also remembers O’Shaughnessy’s Bowling Alley on Airline Highway: Good bowlers could earn money as soon as they were 18 and play in adult leagues.
Timmins’ connection with Metairie goes back two generations. His grandfather, Charles P. Aicklen, was the first and only mayor of Metairie.
Aicklen and his wife, Inez Mayeur Aicklen, and their two children, Audrey Aicklen Timmins and Charles P. Aicklen Jr., moved in 1923 from Audubon Boulevard in New Orleans to Crestmont Park, an early subdivision. Aicklen operated the Borden-Aicklen Auto Supply Company in New Orleans. He was also an active member of the Sertoma Club, a service organization.
On June 19, 1927, The Times-Picayune ran a story headlined “Metairie Ridge Becomes a Town.” Timmins’ grandfather and a group of businessmen had collected signatures on a petition and Governor O.H. Simpson issued an act of incorporation for the Village of Metairie Ridge, and on July 13 the same year, the little town came into existence.
Aicklen was named mayor. Metairie’s aldermen were W. A. Dunbar, J. J. Lecler, and A. J. McCullough; town marshal was W. J. Dwyer Jr.; and E. Howard McCaleb, who later became a judge, served as city attorney.
The city lasted a brief 17 months. Disgruntled residents brought suit, claiming that the governor had no right to grant a town charter and calling into question the validity of the names on the petition. Timmins believes the underlying issue was town governance, and possible new laws limiting gambling establishments. Whatever the reason, the Supreme Court of Louisiana ultimately struck down the incorporation and agreed that the governor had no jurisdiction in the matter.
Timmins loyally points out that his grandfather did manage to get gas service for Metairie, one good result of its brief life as a town. Timmins and his late wife Myrna lovingly researched C. P. Aicklen’s history and are proud of his accomplishments.
The proclamation naming Aicklen as mayor of Metairie still hangs prominently in his grandson’s Baton Rouge home.
Benny Grunch and the Bunch will bring along “The Twelve Yats of Christmas” for their annual appearance Christmas Eve, noon to 2 p.m., at the Walgreens on Metairie Road at Codifer Street. Grunch admits to having Christmas fun at his “Aunt Clara’s house, on the corner of Codifer and Homestead [streets].” Now, he’ll hang out “in front of the Maybelline eye makeup.” In a locally inspired carol, “Metairie, O, Metairie,” Grunch croons, “They’re putting up the Christmas star, and viewing stands for Mardi Gras.” Grunch encourages his fans to attend with their “mawmaws and pawpaws and friends and neighbors; this is a rare event!”