The Maison Blanche department store opened its doors in New Orleans on October 30, 1897. One of the first department stores in the city, it was described as “the greatest department store in the South” by the Daily Picayune.
Located on the corner of Canal Street and Dauphine Street, the store was a site to be seen. Its original five-story building, true to the store’s name, had a white exterior. Inside, it boasted 60,580 square feet of sales room space, with two passenger elevators to transport patrons to one of the many departments including women’s clothing, jewelry, upholstery, stationary and toys.
Maison Blanche was built and managed by three businessmen born and bred in New Orleans. According to the Daily Picayune, S.J. Shwartz was the general manager of the store. Gus Schulhoer oversaw the second and third floors. Hart D. Newman was in charge of the store’s advertising and correspondence.
Though a 1897 Maison Blanche advertisement described it as “the people’s store,” there were multiple reported incidents of racial prejudice against Black shoppers including a 1933 incident in which a Black woman was not allowed to try on a hat or in 1938, when another Black woman was not allowed to try on dresses at the store.
In 1906, the original building was demolished and a new one built. The new facility continued to offer shopping on the first five floors, but also had office spaces on the higher floors, including medical offices and New Orleans’ first radio station, WSMB.
The Maison Blanche opened several locations throughout Greater New Orleans, including stores in Carrollton, Gentilly, the Airline Village and Clearview shopping centers and Lake Forest Plaza shopping mall.
The Maison Blanche name eventually faded after Dillard’s purchased the department store in 1998.
The iconic building currently serves as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
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