Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot
THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Built in 1906, the old McFadden Mansion has been home to Christian Brothers Academy since 1960.
Photograph COurtesy THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION
Dear Poydras and Julia,
For years I have wondered about the mansion that sits in City Park, not too far from the Casino and the Dueling Oaks. Is it still a private home?
In 1909, Fred Bertrand built a five-bedroom home near City Park and, a decade later, sold the home to William Harding McFadden. The new owner renovated and expanded the dwelling, turning it into a seven-bedroom, 11-bath mansion. Among the home’s amenities were a ballroom, trophy room, drawing rooms and a marble-lined indoor pool, and McFadden and his wife prided themselves on their elaborate gardens.
Relations with neighboring City Park were generally good, with McFadden eventually becoming an honorary member of the park’s board of directors.
McFadden was a generous but occasionally difficult neighbor. The same man who paid for park improvements, including a stone bridge near his home, objected when the park sought to replace a popular statue that had broken. His reason? He and Mrs. McFadden had an identical statue, depicting the Unfortunate Boot, in their own garden.
According to Historic City Park New Orleans, McFadden’s gardens were located on park property. The park and McFadden eventually reached a compromise with McFadden, getting a 99-year land lease in exchange for four other parcels of land. As time went on, McFadden became increasingly bothered by his lack of privacy. In 1943, he sold to City Park his mansion, three additional houses, a greenhouse and four acres of land. Until the ’40s, the McFadden mansion served as a U.S. Department of Agriculture Louisiana Southern Forest Experiment Station.
The following decade it was the Sam Barthe school, a boys’ primary school emphasizing athletics and self-reliance. When Barthe surrendered his lease in 1959, the mansion endured a rough year in which it was vandalized and suggested future uses – ranging from mayoral residence to hospital to chicken farm – were bandied about. Eventually the Christian Brothers Academy, a Roman Catholic school educating boys in grades five through seven, became their new lessees.
Since 1960, the old McFadden Mansion has been home to Christian Brothers.
One of my fondest childhood memories was having my picture taken at the old Audubon Zoo. I think the photographer was there forever.
There was a raggedy-looking stuffed bear he used as a prop. I remember the shabby bear but I can’t remember much about the photographer. Do you or Poydras remember who he was and how long he and that grubby bear worked at the park?
Andy, Poydras didn’t realize that the bear was stuffed. He used to try to talk to the animal, but his feelings were hurt because he thought the bear was just ignoring him. With this new information Poydras feels better.
Photographer Meyer Tischler (1894-1985) was an Audubon Park institution from 1949 until the early ’80s. His stuffed bear, quite literally loved to pieces by generations of squirming youngsters, joined him in ’58.
Tischler, a native of Austria, came to America at age 10. Dropping out of school in the seventh grade, he worked as a fruit peddler and employee in a jewelry factory before trying his hand at photography. For years he traveled the country, taking pictures at circuses and fairs.
Tischler first visited New Orleans in 1921, but returned to stay in ’49.
The bear’s name, life dates and birthplace are unknown. When a Times-Picayune reporter interviewed Tischler in 1983, the photographer recalled that, in ’58, he had traveled to New Jersey and commissioned a taxidermist to prepare said bear.
Back in the early 1970s, the television series “Longstreet” was shot here. It didn’t last long and, so far as I know, isn’t available on video. The title character was blind and lived on Chartres Street, but I don’t know the exact address. Do you remember the series?
Created and produced by Stirling Silliphant, the pilot film and 23-episode crime drama ran on the ABC network. James Franciscus (below left) starred as an insurance investigator who sought to find who had set the bomb that blinded him and killed his wife.
Although a few episodes that featured martial artist Bruce Lee are available on home video, the full series has been released only as Region 2 DVDs for the Japanese market. The desire to see the full series again is bittersweet. “Longstreet” showed the city in a flattering, but everyday light at a time the city was undergoing tremendous change. While other television shows occasionally visited New Orleans for cliché-filled theme episodes, “Longstreet” dared to be different.
The main building, patio and slave quarters of 835 Chartres St. figured prominently in the series, as did the International Trade Mart. The ITM building is now abandoned, but there, in its heyday, was where Longstreet’s friend, Duke, had his office. The Chartres Street property, Longstreet’s home, is one of a set of three adjacent and nearly identical townhouses built circa 1820 for owner Francois Dusuau de la Croix. In addition to using the property for location shots, Paramount created replica sets in Hollywood. In April 1972, Spring Fiesta included 835 Chartres St. on its Vieux Carré home tour.
Are you familiar with the shrimp platforms at Manila Village? How long were they around and who started the dried shrimp business?
Manila Village was a company town, built on shrimp drying platforms located about 20 miles southeast of Lafitte. The Quong Sun Company, a Chinese exporter, established the shrimp processing venture in 1873. Damaged by Hurricane Betsy, Manila Village was abandoned in the mid-1960s.
Manila Village was home to the practice of the “Dancing of the Shrimp.” Shrimp was cooked in salted water then spread on elevated platforms until thoroughly air-dried. The cooked crustaceans were then raked into piles. Music played as workers tread upon the shrimp, crushing the brittle shells but not harming the dried flesh. When the dancing was done, the shrimp were placed in large sieves so shell fragments – heads, tails, etc. – could be separated from the shrimp meat, which was then packed into barrels for shipment. Around 1920, shrimp processing was mechanized, rendering the shrimp dancers obsolete.
I know that excursion boats once ran regularly between Mandeville and the south shore but were there any vehicular ferries in the lake trade?
During the 1920s and ’30s, the Lake Transit Company operated at least two excursion steamers that conveyed pedestrians and automobiles between West End and the Northshore towns of Madisonville and Mandeville. The Ozone was the smaller of the vessels; her steel-hulled big sister was the steamer Susquehanna.
A one-way trip took two hours. Along the way, passengers could eat or dance while being entertained with live music. By the 1930s, the heyday of the lake excursion boats drew to a close. Personal cars could cross the lake by bridge in a fraction of the time the same trip had taken by boat, and shorter travel times meant that families could reach their daytrip destinations more quickly and enjoy longer visits without having to rush to board a boat for the day’s only return trip to New Orleans.
Win a Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch or Lunch at the Rib Room
Here is a chance to eat, drink and listen to music, and have your curiosity satiated all at once. Send Julia a question. If we use it, you’ll be eligible for a monthly drawing for one of two Jazz Brunch gift certificates for two at The Court of Two Sisters in the Vieux Carré. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com. This month’s winners are: Don Burnham, New Orleans; and Mike Fitzwilliam, Picayune, Miss.
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.