Today in New Orleans History

January 31

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Dedication of Pontchartrain Park
January 31, 1955

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1955January31PontchartrainParkDedicationChepMorrisonEtAl.jpgPontchartrain Park was developed in the mid-1950s by the Park and Parkways Commission (now the Department of Parks and Parkways) on the lakefront land adjacent to the Industrial Canal. The 190-acre park, initially constructed for use by African Americans, provided a 9-hole golf course (expanded in 1957 to 18 holes), a picnic area, playground and lagoons. Several years later a baseball stadium and tennis courts were added. In 1979, the golf course was was renovated and renamed in honor of Joseph M. Bartholomew, Sr., the course's designer and first golf pro. The playground, stadium and tennis courts are now administered by the New Orleans Recreation Department.

Pontchartrain Park subdivision was developed by private investors at the same time on land surrounding the public park. Billed at the time as "one of the biggest, most luxurious Negro developments ever undertaken in the South," the 200-acre subdivision contains 1000 two and three-bedroom homes.(NOPL)

Pictured From left: Mayor deLesseps S. Morrison; Councilmembers Glenn Clasen, James Fitzmorris, Walter Duffourc, Victor H. Schiro, A. Brown Moore and Fred Cassibry; unidentified; Joseph Bartholomew; unidentified; unidentified.


The caption on reverse for the photo on the left: "New $25,000 clubhouse is one of the facilities already constructed in the 190-acre Pontchartrain Park. There is also a nine-hole golf course, picnic grounds and playground areas. Under continuous rapid development, more money has been made available for the development of more recreational facilities. A $15 million, 210-acre private housing subdivision is now being developed around the park. It will contain 1000 of the finest modern homes."





Pictured on the right: Morris F.X. Jeff, Sr., New Orleans Recreation Department

Pontchartrain Park flooded badly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, taking on water first from the overtopping of a section of floodwall of the Industrial Canal caused by storm surge channeled into the city from the MRGO Canal, then from major breaches sustained by floodwalls along the London Avenue Canal.

Photographs by Leon Trice Photography
From the New Orleans Public Library

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The first of three lectures on January 31, 2009 in the Black History Month African American Leadership Lecture Series hosted by the New Orleans Public Library began with Dr. Joe Caldwell, Associate Professor of History at the University of New Orleans, at MidCity Library. Dr. Caldwell gave a presentation on African American leadership during and after the Reconstruction period. Click here for a photo.

Over 20 schools in the New Orleans Public School system were named for African Americans. Community activist Malcolm Suber, who played an integral part in having these schools renamed, discussed the meaning for the renaming and the challenges faced in the process of having them renamed at a program held on January 31, 2004 at the Main Library. Click here for a photo.

Members of The Grateful Dead (icluding Jerry Garcia) were "Busted, down on Bourbon Street" in a French Quarter hotel early on Saturday morning, January 31, 1970.  They were in New Orleans for a two-night performance for the grand opening of A Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street. See Alison Fensterstock's,  article at

Leon Trice photo of Filmore Avenue from Elysian Fields to Pastuer Boulevard riverside "before" Paving Lien-3rd Phase; Drainage complete January 31, 1958, Paving complete March 28, 1958. Lawrence Aviolasiti's Bakery ("Mr. Wedding Cake" is included.

Photo -- Visit of General Medina to New Orleans, January 31, 1944. Left to right: Mayor Maestri; General Isaias Medina Angarita, President of Venezuela; Governor Sam Jones; Alejandro Fernandez Ortiz, consul general of Venezuela in New Orleans.

Author George Washington Cable was born in New Orleans on October 12, 1844.  A bookkeeper by profession, after serving in the Civil War he became columnist and reporter for New Orleans Picayune. He wrote Old Creole Days (1879), The Grandissimes (1880), Madame Delphine (1881), Dr. Servier (1884), The Silent South (1885), Bonaventure (1888), The Negro Question (1890), John March, Southerner (1895), The Cavalier (1901), Bylow Hill (1902), Kincaid's Battery (1908), Gideon's Band (1914), and Lovers of Louisiana (1918). In 1884 and 1885 he participated in a joint reading tour with Mark Twain. His fellow New Orleanians, especially the Creoles, fiercely criticized him for his depiction of Southern attitudes and practices, including the treatment of blacks in the post-Reconstruction era. Described by one New Orleanian as a "'strict Presbyterian … and did not favor drinking, card-playing or the stage". Later in life his moral strictness … relaxed sufficiently to allow him to go to the theater and to consent to the dramatization of his novel, The Cavelier." Not until the twentieth century was he appreciated by his fellow New Orleanians, receiving an ovation after a speech before the Louisiana Historical Society in 1915. Cable died in St. Petersburg, Florida on January 31, 1925.  (From

Mug shot and arrest information (on an NOPD Bertillon card) for Hugh M. Howell who was incarcerated for "Dangerous and Suspicious" activity on January 31, 1913.

The Napoleon Branch (now Children's Resource Center) of the New Orleans Public Library opened on January 31, 1908.

Banjoist Emanuel Sayle, born on January 31, 1907, perormed with William Ridgely's Tuxedo Orchestra and worked with Fate Marable, Armand Piron, and Sidney Desvigne on riverboats up and down the Mississippi River. In 1929 he participated in recordings with the Jones-Collins Astoria Hot Eight.  He moved to Chicago in 1933, where he led his own group and worked often as an accompanist on blues and jazz recordings with Roosevelt Sykes and others. He returned to New Orleans in 1949, playing with George Lewis (with whom he toured Japan in 1963-64) and Sweet Emma Barrett. He played with Punch Miller in Cleveland in 1960, then played again in Chicago in the house band at the Jazz Ltd. club from 1965-67. Returning once more to New Orleans in 1968, he played with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Sayles recorded with Peter Bocage, Kid Thomas Valentine, Earl Hines, and Louis Cottrell, Jr.  He died on October 5, 1986.

On January 31, 1898, a series of resolutions was enacted, establishing the Local Council of Women of New Orleans. As stated in the minutes of the first Council meeting, its founders envisioned the "formation of a Local Council of the Women of New Orleans to bring their various associations into closer relations in an organic union, without thereby losing the independence in aim or method of any society, or committing it to any principle or method of any other society which may join the Council." By creating an association of various women's clubs and societies, the founders of the Local Council hoped it would "serve as a medium of communication and a means of presenting any work of common interest." Representation by over one hundred local organizations -- through delegates and officers of the various committees and subcommittees of the Council -- evidenced the wide support garnered for this coalition by women of New Orleans.  This and more about it at

January 31, 1861 -- the State of Louisiana takes over US Mint at New Orleans

The profession ceremony for Sister St. Martha Turpin was held at Ursuline Convent in New Orleans on this day in 1752. She was the first American-born woman to become a nun in the Catholic Church.

Eleanor McMain School for Girls Opens to the Public
January 31, 1932

We've all passed the faded pastel pink and blue art deco building at 5712 South Claiborne Avenue and many of us have wondered why it is painted as it is.  But when it first opened it was much more colorful.  

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/McMainSchoolBW.gifEleanor McMain High for Girls first welcomed ----- on February 1, 1932.  It was the only New Orleans public school named for a living person, but an exception had been made to honor Miss McMain who had done so much for so many through her work at Kingsley House in the Irish Channel.  Under McMain's guidance and leadership, Kingsley House had grown from a modest parish outreach program at 929 Tchoupitoulas of the Trinity Episcopal Church parish to an internationally known settlement house.  Elanor McMain must have been bowled over by what Times-Picayun writer Podine Schoenburger described as the "new high school which combines luxury with efficiency" in a symphony of riotous, splashing color".

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/McMainEntrance.gifThe photos here are new. The following descriptions are from Podine Schoenburger's January 10, 1932 article.  The colors described by Shoenburg don't match the modern-day colors but give us  aglimpse or what the building looked like so many years ago:  The exterior of the stucco school building was painted green. Schoenburger described the "strange colorful entrance" with vivid blue urns, one at each side of the main door, in which century plants were growing. The carved tops of the white pillars flanking the doorway were painted green and cold.  The doors were of leaded glass with a basket of brightly colored flowers topping them. Green grinning gargoyles topped them all, and above them the nameplate was blue with with gold letters spelling out the school's name amid a pair of gold lions.

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/McMainStatues.gifHigh above the entrance of the three-story building are two sculptures by Albert Ricker.  The first  depicted a young Acadian maiden in a blue dress, starched apron, and a spinning wheel at here feet to symbolize industry.  The second figure is of an older woman, with an owl as symbol of wisdom.  

As the girls stepped inside onto inlaid terrazo floors, two cream-colored curved staircases with carved balustrades and mahogany rails could take them up the the principals office, the main office, or the teachers room. The principals office opened to a brightly tiled, yellow-walled court yard with a blue, green, and yellow fountain, providing a "tropical atmosphere". 

On the third floor was a study hall which could accommodate 300 students. It was finished in green and buff with full-length leaded glass doorways which led to an overhanging balcony.

The classrooms were finished in green, blue, and pink in a "modern style in perfect keeping with the personalities of the lithe creatures who will people it".  Each room had a telephone. Some large rooms could be divided by accordion doors which, when closed, provided a series of blackboards.

The building was equipped with radio and loudspeakers. Oscillating heaters were employed on the ground floor; ventilation and heat throughout the facility were "modern to the nth degree" and there were "many and generous windows".

Natural lighting in the art room was provided by a central skylight.  There were hand dryers on each side of white wash basins. "Ducky little kitchens", each different, were designed so that "one can learn to cook for a $15 a week clerk husband, a husband of moderate means, or a wealthy banker spouse". The first  was small with a tiny stove and diminutive sink -- "Girls will learn to manage a small apartment, so that if they plan to live on love they will know how to feed hubby dear in cramped quarters, and on a slim income".  The second kitchen was larger, "to train for moderate housekeeping".  The third had an "electric stove and other luxuries that migh be found in a wealthy home".

The auditorium"resembles a large theater" with a saucer-shaped balcony, special switchboard for stage lighting, a projection booth "for showing both silent and talking pictures", and an asbestos curtain side-draped with gold and blue velvet. It could accommodate 3000 people. 

According to the school board architect Edward C. Meric, who worked with chief architect E.A. Christy, the "Vivid coloring is built after the fashion of such school buildings in the East and Middle West".  Schoenburger noted the "gay colors and scientific educational aids" at McMain.  There were, in fact, four science labs, 40 classrooms, a 5000 book library, and a modern cafeteria in the building which measured 180 x 390 feet and was built at a cost of $550,000. This "colorful structure embodying many new ideas in education was opened under the direction of Miss Alice A Leckert, principal.


E.A. Christy submitted building plans for school on August 13, 1930. McMain was scheduled to open on the same day that the new boys school, Alcee Fortier was to open, in February 1931.. The building permit for McMain was approved by city engineers on October 29, 1930. J. A. Petty was the builder of the school located on South Claiborne between Joseph and Nashville streets. Construction work started in November.  On December 10, 1930, Miss Leckert, principal of  McDonough No. 14, was named as McMain's first principal.

Fortier opened as planned on February 2, 1931 but McMain did not.  As Fortier welcomed as many as 1500 boys, McMain's first floor had yet to be completed.  According to Christy, difficulties were encountered in the foundation and excavation because "the site was once a swamp".  The builder expected to sink 45 foot pilings but instead was forced to use 70 foot piles.   To further the delay, many tree stumps had to be removed from the boggy location.  Girls who were scheduled to attend McMain, whose student boundaries were South Carrollton, St. Charles Avenue, Howard Avenue, and Loyola University, enrolled instead at Sophie B. Wright.  The opening of McMain was rescheduled for the fall of 1931.

Plaster-work for McMain was executed by Sam C. Ball and Company, whose work could also be seen in five public markets and the old U.S. Mint.  In July, $13, 730.36 was approved for purchasing furniture and equipment.  On September 6, 1931 registration was open for McMain students but their school was still not ready.  Nicholas Bauer, Orleans Parish Superintendent of Education announced that it would open on September 31.  But on September 12, officials announced that the school would not be opened until February of 1932.  

In January,, Fortier boys held their graduation exercises in McMain's auditorium but liens against the McMain contractor threatened to delay the girls school's February opening. After legal wrangling, McMain finally opened its doors to the public on Sunday, January 31, 1932 from 4 to 7 p.m. when a reception was hosted by the teachers.  The 917 students' first day was Monday, February 1, when the girls gathered in the auditorium for speeches by local dignitaries followed by a flag raising ceremony with music provided by the Warren Easton band.

This New Orleans Public Library photo shows McMain students on November 17, 1941 painting a mural in the corridor of their school. They are Christeen Young, Gayle Hughes, Mary McGowan, Lois Townley (on ladder), Sybil Jung (seated), and Jane Menz. 

Today Eleanor McMain Secondary School is open to boys and girls in the 7th through 12th grades.  Still under the direction of the Orleans Public Schools, it has 769 students whose graduation rate is 95%.

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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