JULIA STREET WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT

THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS

Created in 1935, Monkey Hill was designed to show local flatland children an example of a “real” hill.

NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC LIBRARY photoGRAPH

Dear Julia,
What is the truth about the origin of Monkey Hill? Having lived walking distance to Audubon Park most of my life, there was no swamp to drain and a pile of dirt wouldn’t by chance be pyramid-shaped.

If you are an authority on Monkey Hill, I would appreciate your opinion.

Robert K. Morrill
New Orleans


I don’t consider myself to be an authority on Monkey Hill, but will do my best to set the record straight. Like you, I take issue with the notion that Monkey Hill was built on swampland that was drained for park expansion. That isn’t quite right. Land reclamation and swamp drainage aren’t necessarily synonymous. In this case, it was the river, not the land, which was cordoned off and drained. The land at the back of the park was created by constructing a new levee in the Mississippi River, joining it to an existing levee then filling the enclosed area.

On March 8, 1936, The Times-Picayune described the land reclamation project, reporting it would result in 36 acres of “made land” and a 3,500-foot river frontage “... rimmed by a new levee built by WPA workers, to a height of within three feet of that of the main levee several hundred feet behind it.” The columnist reported that, once filled and, perhaps featuring a paved road, the reclaimed land would “... form not only the broadest and most substantial of defensive works along the Mississippi River, but will constitute a beauty spot and point of vantage from which New Orleanians and visitors really may see the great, curving sweep of the river, whose levees conceal it from normal view.”

According to his obituary, Newton Reeve Howard designed and supervised the Monkey Hill project for the Works Progress Administration. Trained as an architect but better known as an artist, Howard is said to have designed Monkey Hill to show local flatland children an example of a “real” hill.

Generations of New Orleanians have enjoyed the view from atop the man-made Monkey Hill. As of press time, the attraction is undergoing a major renovation. Those of us who remember the joy of rolling down Monkey Hill will be happy to hear that rolling will soon return to our very own fake hill. Thanks, Audubon Nature Institute for bringing back this cherished local tradition!

Dear Julia,
When I first set foot in New Orleans, on May 4, 1978, the streets were flooded. A strike had stopped trash collection and there were mounds of garbage everywhere. It was hot, humid, steamy and fetid. I was 1,200 miles away from my family and feeling very homesick. Dread that coming here was the worst mistake in my life was consuming me. Then I had my first cup of coffee with chicory. Suddenly, the streets turned charming, the atmosphere fascinating and the people, the friendliest. I knew that I was where I belonged.
My question is: How did chicory come to be put into coffee? My own feeling is that there should be statues commemorating the geniuses who dreamed up this wonderful combination and their exploits should be taught in every school.

 Poydras would probably enjoy having more statues in the city; but that’s a whole new story.

 Please help fill this hole in my quest to know more about the city that coffee with chicory helped make me a part of. Thank you.

Kevin Cahalan
Kenner


What came to be known as the May 3rd Flood was a memorable event that happened when “train effect” rain fell faster than the pumps could drain it. Everyone seemed to be either soggy or stranded by the worst flooding the city had seen in half a century. I am glad to hear that coffee and chicory helped you appreciate the good side of a city that was having a very bad day.

Normally, I’d tease you about whether there was anything else in that magical coffee, but not today. While my experience wasn’t quite as trippy as yours, my first cup of post-Katrina café au lait was exceptionally good and affirmed for me that I was home.

The tradition of adding chicory to coffee was well known in France and Belgium prior to the American Civil War. While French families in old New Orleans brought with them a taste for coffee mixed with chicory, other coffee-drinking citizens insisted that their beverage contain coffee beans and nothing else. Before readers hop all over me, I shall preface my remarks by stating that I do drink and enjoy traditional coffee with chicory, I also appreciate pure high-quality coffee.

When speaking of pure foods, there can be a fine line between an “added ingredient” and an “adulterant.” Unfortunately, prior to the creation of modern food purity laws, unscrupulous local coffee merchants frequently added cheap extenders to their coffee beans in order to maximize profit, not to appeal to local taste. Chicory was one such extender. Split peas were another, but I’ve never heard of anyone yearning for coffee with peas.

Dear Ms. Street,
With all the talk and activity involving “gluten” these days, I wonder what happened to “Spudnuts.” In the 1950s, at Washington Avenue near Broad Street, there was a shop that made “Spudnuts.” They looked and tasted just like glazed doughnuts but were made from potato flour. Now seems like the ideal time to resurrect “Spudnuts.” Your thoughts? I am a gluten-free person and it ain’t much fun.

Frank Sehrt
Metairie


John Barry Drufner Sr. (1929-2010) was the man who brought Spudnuts to New Orleans. From the mid ’50s to the ’70s, Drufner and his family operated the local Spudnut franchise at 4206 Washington Ave. According to his obituary, Drufner then returned to his career in maritime service.

Spudnuts were the brainchild of the Pelton brothers of Salt Lake City, Utah, who, in 1946, established a chain of national potato-based doughnut shops. In its heyday, the Spudnut chain contained more than 300 franchises from coast to coast and in Canada.

Although there’s no longer a Spudnut store in Louisiana, independent Spudnut shops still exist in other states and in Canada. It is important to note that, because the stores are no longer franchises with access to a single source of ingredients from a parent company, recipes may vary among them and some present-day products sold in the remaining stores under the Spudnut name could possibly contain gluten.

Dear Julia,
I have great memories going to the Gallo Theater on Claiborne Avenue. After the movie, we would go next door to a doughnut shop. They made the best doughnuts.

Julia, can you tell me about that doughnut shop?

Lenora M. Harris
Lebanon, FL


The Dix Pastry Shop was located at 2106 S. Claiborne Ave., just down the block from the Gallo Theater, which stood at 2122 S. Claiborne Ave. The doughnut shop was in existence for more than 25 years.

Curtis N. Dix had worked as a carpenter prior to establishing the pastry and doughnut shop in the early 1950s. Dix managed the store until his death in ’74. His son, Lester N. Dix, took over daily operation at the Dix Pastry Shop but, by ’77, the property at 2106 S. Claiborne Ave. was vacant.

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