Recently, I was in San Antonio for work, teaching a computer class at a community college just outside the gates of the Kelly Field Annex. This facility was Kelly Air Force Base prior to the military base re-alignment. Kelly AFB has been a part of aviation in the United States since 1917. During WWII, Kelly was an important maintenance depot for many of the big planes of the Army Air Corps, such as the B-17, B-25, and B-29 bombers, as well as the C-47 cargo planes. The Texas version of “Rosie the Riveter” worked at Kelly during the war:
By 1944, Kelly’s workforce had grown tremendously. In 1939, old Duncan Field had 1,100 civilian employees and only 10 military personnel. By 1945, over 15,000 civilians and 16,000 military worked at Kelly. During World War II, nearly 40 percent of the workers at the field were women. “Kelly Katies” were the Kelly counterparts to “Rosie the Riveters”, women everywhere who did non-traditional work, contributing greatly to the successful war effort. They worked in nearly every shop at Kelly, including engine overhaul.
After the war, when the USSR emerged as a perceived threat to US national security, Kelly continued to function as a big-plane maintenance depot for the USAF. That’s where the photo above (and my childhood memories) begin. The photo above is a B-58 “Hustler” supersonic bomber. It’s on display outside of the now-privatized portion of Kelly AFB. This sleek, delta-winged beauty set numerous supersonic speed records.
The B-58 also carried enough nuclear bombs to destroy a city.
The B-58 was, in many ways, one of the stars of the 1964 Sidney Lumet film, Fail-Safe, a cautionary tale of technology and nuclear destruction at the height of the Cold War.
That’s the world I grew up in as a small child. Too young to fully appreciate the Cuban Missile Crisis as it happened, I was typical of many pre-teen boys in the late 1960s/early-1970s who immersed themselves into the military hardware used to support the US side of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” The notion that the opposing sides of the Cold War were capable of destroying almost all life on the planet was pretty overwhelming; it was easier to wrap one’s head around NASA’s spacecraft and the technical specifications of planes such as the B-58.
Deployed from bases in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, the B-58 was a prominent part of the US strategic nuclear “triad” (bombers, missiles, submarines) during the Cold War. An expensive plane to manufacture and operate, the B-58 was superseded by the less expensive (and more effective) B-52, and eventually replaced by the FB-111.
The General Dynamics FB-111 “Aardvark” was the aircraft that replaced the B-58 in 1970. The mission of the FB-111 was described so vividly in one book about military aircraft in the 1970s that I remember it to this day. The FB-111 was deployed so that, in the event of war with the Soviet Bloc, it could “spin the mountains of Eastern Europe into glass.”
“Into glass.” Nuclear wasteland. Not only did we build these things, but we put bombs in them and threatened to end the game for everyone. If anyone under forty wonders why so many baby boomers decided to “turn on, tune in, drop out” during the Cold War, just take a look at these aircraft.
There were definitely some by-products of worrying that the world would come to an end in a nuclear fireball. The Space Race was a direct result of wanting to “beat” the USSR. The technology developments that produced planes like the B-58 led to all sorts of advances in civilian aviation. Human beings work well under pressure.
Still, I’m glad that my sons (now 23 and 17) grew up in a world with out Civil Defense air-raid sirens, fallout shelters, “duck-and-cover” drills, and bombers like the FB-111. They pick up the phone and call my mobile, and I answer from places like Bucharest, Romania, a city in the former Soviet Bloc. Yes, they still have to take off their shoes and belts to get on a plane, but the odds of something bad happening to them on that flight are nothing compared to the days of “Fail-Safe.”
For all we have to work on in terms of being stewards of this planet, we’ve at least managed to get past Mutually Assured Destruction.
My third book in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series will be out on Halloween. It’s titled Maison Blanche Department Stores. The book is a 128-page photo-history of the Maison Blanche chain, which opened its first store in 1892, and was absorbed into Dillards in 1997. Starting with the flagship store in the 900 block of Canal Street, the chain operated seven stores at its peak. Maison Blanche (“MB” to locals) was one of the places to shop all year round, but most importantly, at Christmas time.
Arcadia’s Images of America books are 128 pages and usually include 200-220 photos and/or illustrations. Naturally there’s always a bunch of photos that don’t make it into the book, for one reason or another. I’ll be sharing some of these photos here at NOLAFemmes as the release date approaches.
So, to start this off, here’s a shot of Maison Blanche on Canal Street from 1948. It was shot by Franck Studios, who did a lot of the legal and architectural photography at the time. The first five floors of the building, designed in 1908 by Sam Stone, were the store itself. The upper floors in the two towers were the “Office building,” which counted a number of physicians and dentists.
The neutral ground on Canal still has its four-track streetcar configuration; the two outside tracks were torn up in 1957. A Perley A. Thomas “green” streetcar approaches the intersection at Dauphine St., headed inbound on the Canal line. Across Rue Dauphine from MB is the second location of the Katz & Besthoff Drugstore chain (K&B). The first K&B opened two blocks down, in the 700 block.
The small building directly to the left of the MB building in this photo is the S. H. Kress building. Kress’ was a “dime” store, offering basic dry goods at discount prices. The store closed in the early 1990s. The Kress building was acquired by the group looking to convert the MB building into a hotel in the late-1990s. The building is now the parking garage for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, located in the MB building.
Got a question about Maison Blanche? Do you have a MB memory? Share them with us here in comments.
Annunciation Church in the Marigny (neworleanschurches.com photo)
The Archdiocese of New Orleans is moving to sell or lease property in thirteen church parishes that were closed after the storm. This is a big step for the archdiocese and Archbishop Gregory Aymond, in that it indicates a greater willingness on part of the Church to work with neighborhoods to preserve buildings that were once community anchors.
Five of the properties to be put on the market are already vacant, victims of the storm: Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Orleans East, St. Robert Bellarmine in St. Bernard Parish, St. Phillip the Apostle in Gentilly, and two in Plaquemines Parish, Our Lady of Good Harbor and St. Anthony.
Of the remaining eight, St. Simon Peter in Da East and San Pedro Pescador in Florissant (St. Bernard Parish, down past Poydras) are literally in the middle of nowhere. Located on Gannon Road near Hayne Blvd. (past Bullard), St. Simon Peter would be a great neighborhood-anchor facility. Of course, the big problem is, will the neighborhood come back? Five years after the storm, Da East is such a patchwork of development and abandonment, it’s unclear.
Incarnate Word Church during the “snowstorm” of 2008 (wikimedia commons)
The other six properties run literally from one side of the city to the other. Incarnate Word, located in Hollygrove, was officially merged with Mater Delorosa on S. Carrollton in 2008, under Aymond’s successor, Fr. Hughes. There was a certain amount of logic in the parish mergers that were made after the storm, mainly because of the dwindling number of priests available. Still, a church is more than its priest, and the Incarnate Word church building has a lot of potential to continue as a Hollygrove anchor. The big question with facilities like Incarnate Word will be how much does Abp. Aymond want for it? It’s listed as “for lease” as opposed to outright sale. If a community group could put together a package that would cover insurance and operating costs, hopefully the archdiocese will take them up on it.
Blessed Sacrament Church, Uptown (wikimedia commons)
Moving east from Hollygrove, the next property with potential is Blessed Sacrament. Located on Constance and Soniat Streets Uptown, it’s good to see this building is listed as “for lease.” This is another example of a building with an infinite amount of potential if the right community group would step up and assume the expenses. The closure of Blessed Sacrament and its merger with St. Joan of Arc was, along with the closure of St. Henry’s, not one of the finest hours for Fr. Hughes and the business side of the archdiocese. This church means too much to the African-American community to demo it or to see it converted into a restaurant. Blessed Sacrament should follow the model of St. Alphonsus in the Irish Channel.
Another blow to African-American Catholics in New Orleans was the closure of St. Francis de Sales parish on Second Street in Central City. St. Francis is considered to be a “pioneer church” in that it was one of the church parishes established during the Reconstruction specifically to give roots to the black community. The parish grew out of St. John the Baptist, making for an easy solution to the incredible black-white mix of Uptown and Central City New Orleans. This is another lock, stock, and barrel sale-church building, rectory, shrine, and parish hall. Combine this with the rectory of nearby St. John the Baptist on the list and you’ve got incredibly solid property on the market in an incredibly bad part of town. The odds of the new owners getting shot in the crossfire of drug wars is higher in this neighborhood than most other parts of the metro area. The St. Francis complex could be a major anchor in restoring sanity to this neighborhood, but where to begin? As with any of these properties, someone has to pony up the archdiocese’s asking price before doing anything else. Tough to get investors excited about a war zone. Perhaps someone from the very-vocal opposition that rose up when the parish was closed will step up.
St. Maurice’s in the Lower Nine, prior to the storm. (neworleanschurches.com photo)
Speaking of war zones, that’s pretty much the impression the world has of the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s a miracle that St. Maurice’s is standing in any condition. If the building survived the Federal Flood, the parish complex has historic value but as a community anchor. Since the L9 is where so many feel they can earn their “New Orleans merit badge,” one of the do-gooders should step up, buy the place, and use the facility to help along the rehabilitation of the area.
I’ve saved Annunciation (top photo) for last because it’s got the most personal connection for me. Located at Mandeville and Marigny Streets, Annunciation Parish was one of the “feeder” neighborhoods for St. Aloysius College, on Esplanade and N. Rampart. Even before the Brothers of the Sacred Heart established a permanent presence in the city, they used Annunciation as their base during the Civil War, which forced them to close St. Stanislaus College in Bay St. Louis, MS, to boarders. Now, as the Marigny and Bywater are returning, we should all be thankful to these communities for fighting as hard as they did when the archdiocese wanted to demolish Annunciation in 2008. Now, the church, rectory, and parish hall buildings are up for sale. With streetcars returning to this area, it’s only logical that such a facility will play a significant role in the renewal of the area.
I can’t help but wonder if the “gay-ness” of the Marigny is one of the stumbling blocks in terms of the church’s involvement in the area. There was no logical reason to tear down this church other than to sell it as a vacant lot. Did someone over on Walmsley decide that an empty lot in the hands of Teh Gay was better than an old church? I don’t know, but we are all fortunate that such a historic location was saved. The neighborhood associations should take steps to make sure a private investor doesn’t come up with what might be considered compelling reasons to tear it down.
Like everything involving property in post-storm New Orleans, there’s no black-and-white when it comes to these thirteen parcels of land. Still, with so much history in some of these “sliver on the river” churche, we have to make sure they stay a part of New Orleans for future generations.
NOTE: This is my first article for Da Girl Blog! I’m proud to bend the gender here, and my thanks to Charlotte for having me.