Legendary Locals of Metairie


This website contains excerpts along with some of the 172 photographs in Legendary Locals of Metairie (Arcadia Publishing, 2013) by Catherine Campanella.
Use the links here to explore a sample of the book -- or purchase it for an in-depth view.



In 1952 Sheriff Frank Clancy held a political rally at a large hall just off Metairie Road near Causeway Boulevard. “Clancy for Progress” read the banner which barely concealed the hall's logo, “Meet me tonight In DREAMLAND”. The building is long gone, as is the sheriff, but folks continue to attempt to make their dreams come true in Metairie. (Courtesy of Time-Warner.)


There are few American cities so richly endowed with the blended spirit of as many nationalities as New Orleans. And so it goes that Metairie, an entity of itself but also an offspring of the city, would be comprised of the same rich mixture and become every bit as colorful. It just took Metairie longer to grow up for various reasonable reasons which will be discussed here.

Large swatches of land were granted – from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River – by the French government during the early 1700s. Plantations were established by the Du Breuil, Chartier, Chauvin, and Labarre families but large-scale agrarian development proved impossible. While New Orleans, the bustling Queen of the South, was booming with industry, financial institutions, and one of the greatest of America's ports during the mid 1800s Metairie was still mostly undeveloped with only the high ground along the ridges of the river, the lake, and Bayou Metairie (which ran alongside Metairie Road) used for farming, pasturing, and nurseries. The Bonnabel, Betz, Fagot, Bertucci, Maggiore, Barousse, Rolling, Persigo, DeLimon, Vincent, Marrero, Masset. Eastman, Friedrichs, Arnoult, Riviere, and Papworth families moved in around the turn of the century,

The word “Metairie” first appeared in the Daily Picayune in an advertisement on May 10, 1827 which alerted that a stray mule was found on Mr. Hazeur's property and would be sold by the 4th of July if not claimed. A June 16, 1883 advertisement offered: FOR SALE – 25 GOOD MILCH [dairy] COWS with young Calves. Apply to ALFRED BONNABEL, Metairie Ridge, 1 1/2 miles from Halfway House”. Even into the mid 20th century Metairie was largely rural – 1945 ads offered “four fresh cows with calves and farm equipment – 731 Carrollton St.”, cows at 201 Zinnia, a bull at 52 Metairie Heights, and a horse at 102 Oaklawn Drive.

Public education was an early priority thanks largely to the Bonnabel family. Alfred, who served on the school board for 36 years, dedicated Metairie's first public school in Bucktown in 1908 and donated land for the second on Metairie Road which opened in 1909. Religious education was introduced by the Theresian Sisters who set up a mission in 1850. In 1906 Salesian nuns visited one day each week to instruct Italian children on Metairie Ridge (the high land along what is now Metairie Road).

Local lore paints old Bucktown/East End as what could have been known as “The Town that Care Forgot” or “Metairie's Most Interesting 'City'”. It was the most densely populated area of Metairie during the early years, teaming with fishers and trappers, families, drinkers, and gamblers. But mostly it was rich with families. The Brunings were Bucktown/East End pioneers who settled during the 1850s and acquired much land along the lake shore. They were followed by the Boutall, Werner, Rapp, Swanson, and Shultz families, to name just a few.

Like New Orleans, Bucktown could have been called “The Birthplace of Jazz” but then so could Metairie Ridge . Both abounded with gambling joints – some plush, some plain – and most providing entertainment with a dance floor and a jazz band. The greats who regularly played here include Peter Bocage, Papa Celestin, Jules Baudic, Albert Brunies, Louis Armstrong, and Armond Piron. Paul Mares, Monk Hazel, Doc Souchon, Johnny Wiggs, Frank, Fred, Papa Jac Assunto, and Betty Owens Assunto performed and lived in Metairie.

Most often turning a blind eye to the gambling were sheriffs John B. Dauenhauer who served from 1920 to 1928 and Frank Clancy who was in office for 28 years (1928 to 1956). Clancy testified to a Senate Crime Commission during the 1950s that gambling had flourished here for 100 years and that a candidate could not be elected on an anti-gambling ticket. And this was the truth, so help him, Gawd.

Metairie became a gambling mecca when Orleans Parish officials cracked down on city gamblers – they merely crossed the parish line to Metairie where establishments advertised suburban “restaurants” and “clubs”. Before there was the exclusive Metairie Country Club in Old Metairie there was Ballard's “Metairie Country Club”along the 17th Street Canal owned by Fred P. Miller who was arrested in 1921 by Sheriff Dauenhauer only after being ordered to do so by Parish District Attorney Conrad Buchler because Senator A. H. Johness had filed a suit alleging that the “Metairie Country Club” was a gambling house. Fred A. Middleton was the defense attorney. Witnesses for the defense included Alexis Dumestre, Eli Watson, Gretna's mayor, alderman, and a candidate running for City Marshall, a Jefferson Parish police jurist and grand jury member, and a state board of health inspector. The club's officers were Fred Miller, president; J.M. Bakewell, vice president; C.L. Purcell, secretary-treasurer; E.P Ephram and T.D. Clark, board member. Jefferson Parish grand jury member J. J. McLachlan was the alleged door-keeper. Front page headlines reported the proceedings – Courthouse Filled With Spectators...“BALLARD'S” FIGHTS FOR LIFE...OBJECT OF LEGAL ONSLAUGHT – but in the end Judge Prentice Ellis Edrington Jr. dismissed the case.

Gambling was wide open but was organized by individuals, unlike what evolved later when organized crime stepped into “The Free State of Jefferson”. Governor Huey P. Long, professed foe of gambling, pressured Clancy and in 1929 the sheriff issued a warning to gaming establishments, but that was temporary at best. Twenty-two years later Sheriff Clancy declared (in 1951) that he still allowed illegal gambling because it provided jobs for about 1,000 aged and otherwise unemployable people and when running for office he promised voters that, regarding gambling, he would be “as dry as the Sahara Desert”. It wasn't until 1953, after Senator Estis Kefauver brought Jefferson Parish gambling into the national spotlight that Clancy declared that he “saw the light”. Gambling continued but on a smaller low-profile scale.

Metairie Road was the first major artery – an ancient naturally occurring ridge through surrounding lowland and swamps. Monsignor Henry C. Bezou, ordained in 1938 , pastor of St. Francis Xavier from 1967 to 1983, and author of Metairie: A Tongue of Land to Pasture, (the first definitive history of the unincorporated area) when interviewed by the Times-Picayune in 1981 said, “I'll tell you my theory for why Metairie Road developed the way it did. Very large tracts of land were held by a few families and very few of them had any desire to sell. It just so happened that many of the older owners were dying out at the time of the boom period that followed World War II. So this led naturally to the development of the land around Metairie Road, as the large old tracts were subdivided”.

Metairie Road's 34 blocks has gone by different names through the years. In the early days it was known as Metairie Ridge Road (which leads to confusion because City Park Avenue was also known as such). During the 1910s it was often referred to as Jefferson Highway, Shrewsbury, and LA 611-9 (still in use). In the 1920s and 30s it was called State Route 1 and US 61 and Air-Line Highway. The last common usage of Metairie Ridge Road occurred around 1947.

Many Metairie street names are family names. The Arnoult streets originate from Pierre Gervais Arnoult's plantation. Beauleau Street recalls the early settler Louis Chauvin de Bealieu. Bore Street is named for the Bore plantation where sugar cane was first successfully processed. Dwyer Street is named for William Joseph Dwyer, city marshal in 1928 and a leading advocate for incorporation of Metairie as a town. William Mason Smith owned land lake to river next to Lafreniere (also a street) property. William Edenborn was president of the Louisiana Railway & Navigation Company Frank Fagot, grocer and first modern suburb developer has a street off Metairie Road named for him. Max Ferran and Joseph A. Neyrey were builders. Before there was a Hessmer Street there was Hessmer Farm. Harry Papworth, an English horticulturist, bought land at the turn of 20th century from Metairie Road to the lake with six blocks fronting Metairie Road for $4000. James and Joseph Turnbull were early 1900s real estate brokers and developers. Builder and real estate developer Fred S. Simonson named a street for his daughter Sena. St. Rene Street comes from the Sainte-Reyne plantations – the earliest in Metairie. Charles Tolmas was also a real estate broker and developer. Other street name origins are included in the following chapters.

Just a few of those who call or called Metairie home included here are entertainers Peter Gennaro, Ellen Degeneres, Becky Allen, John Pela, Phil Anselmo, The Nobles, and the Glory Rhodes. Writers of note include Leon Soniat Shirley Ann Grau, Helen Prejean, William S. Burroughs, and Bunny Matthews. Sports figures Dave Dixon, Tom Dempsey, Mike Miley, Buddy Dileberto, Craig Steltz, Dick Nolan, Jim Mora, Otis Smith, and Mel Ott all live/d in Metairie. Entrepreneurs include Al Copeland, Al Scramuzza the Doerr/Mutter family, the Radostas, the Fitzgeralds, the Swansons, the Sclafani's, Merlin Schaefer, John Schwegmann, Alfred Danziger, Phil Phil de Gruy, Jerry Hendrick, and Steven Bel.

Broadcasters Laura Buchtel, Bob Walker, and Scott Walker; politicians David Duke and Dave Treen all lived/d here. Crime figures David Ferrie, Gordon Novel, Perry Raymond Russo, Dean Andrews, Phil Kastel, and Carlos Marcello made their homes in Metairie.

In 1953 the route of Veteran's Highway was approved and in 1956 Jefferson Parish president John J. Holtgreve broken ground for the first span of the Causeway bridge linking Jefferson Parish to Lake Pontchartrain's north shore. And nothing has been the same since. Metairie boomed with new housing, schools, churches, and businesses many of which still exist today. By 1986, had Metairie been incorporated it would have been the second largest city in Louisiana.

A century earlier, in the spring of 1893 an article appeared in the Daily Picayune announcing that George J. Friedrichs, of Baumgarden & Friedrichs, had recently sold 120 acres of land on Metairie Ridge -- a mile above Friedrichsruhe (a land development Friedrichs also had a hand in). Mr. Friedrichs declared “it's more than likely that some improvement will be made” there.

Then on March 13, he auctioned lots on Canal Street on the opposite side of Friedrichsruhe. The land was bounded by Canal, Napoleon (now named South Hennessey), Alexander, and Cleveland Avenues – a full square block, four blocks from the Jewish Cemetery near what was then Metairie Road and is now City Park Avenue. Friedrichs' advertisement for the sale included these words: “Canal Street is the axis upon which the life of the city evolves. Canal Street will continue to be the main artery of the city long after you and I are dead, rotten, and forgotten'.

George J. Friedrichs' visionary views came to pass – and made him a very rich man. When streetcars (“electric traction”) connected Canal Street to Metairie Road the once quite country land began to populate with New Orleanians. Large swatches Metairie land were subdivided. Old roads were improved and new ones constructed. New businesses, schools, and churches opened to serve the growing population. Swamplands were drained. Unfortunately, verdant oak laden richly fertile country land was converted into streets and sidewalks, residential lots, and parking lots – the price paid for “progress”.


Those who built the streets in Metairie as well as those whose names now mark them (including Mr. Friedrichs) are included in the following chapters of this book. We must remember, however that none would exist had not nature formed the first one – the Metairie Ridge. An historic marker proclaims that had not the Metairie Ridge existed neither would New Orleans for it was the high land that linked the city to Bayou St. John and the lake which allowed for early trade and commerce. As important as the geological makeup are the people who formed this community which has endured for centuries. Metairie owes a great debt to New Orleans which was its cultural lifeblood. The mother-city's offspring now carry new traditions while cherishing the old. This book brings attention to many from Metairie whose talents and efforts have contributed to the richness of New Orleans and the world.


Other books by Catherine Campanella:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is dedicated to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's efforts to rebuild and maintain the historic New Canal Lighthouse.

Excerpts from New Orleans City Park  (Images of America).

Contact Catherine Campanella