MEMORIES OF
GENTILLY TERRACE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
IN THE 1950s

As a post World War II "Baby Boomer" growing up in the Gentilly section of New Orleans, Louisiana, I attended Gentilly Terrace Elementary School at 4720 Painters Street at the corner of Mirabeau Avenue. The school dated almost to the founding of the Gentilly Terrace area of the city, which began shortly after the creation of the Sewerage And Water Board in 1900. Pumping stations and drainage systems designed by S&WB founding engineer A. Baldwin Wood, allowed the land north and east of the French Quarter to be drained and made usable for the construction of homes and businesses.

Gentilly Terrace was a development that, by design, sat on a natural ridge formed by the overflow of Bayou Sauvage. This overflow, which occurred for thousands of years, made the land higher than most terrain in the north and eastern parts of the city. The area known as Gentilly Terrace Homes was a business venture of three partners, city real estate manager Edward Lafaye and his partners Michael Baccich and R.E. Edgar de Montluzin. The land sale prospectus for the new community promised "Homes Built On Hills."

Gentilly was the second area in the city to be expanded out beyond the original French Quarter and American Sector settlements that followed the high land along the banks of the Mississippi. The extension of Canal Street toward Metairie Road was the first of these new frontiers to be developed following the creation of the city's mechanical drainage system.

The mansion-like home of developer Edward Lafaye, at the corner of Gentilly Boulevard and Franklin Avenue, was a premier showpiece of early Gentilly Terrace residences, intended to demonstrate the intent of the partners to create one of New Orleans most prestigious new residential developments. Previous to the development of Gentilly Terrace, this area of town was initially uninhabitable swamp, and after drainage began, it became a place for cow pastures and farms. The main access, Gentilly Shell Road, was an ancient trail or passage for the Indians who resided in the Lake Catherine area. It served the Indians who used it to bring their wares to town for sale at the city's Old Indian Market, or LeBreton Market as it was later called, which still exists on Bayou Road near North Broad. The building remains today and serves as a church. At the same time, Elysian Fields Avenue did not exist. Frenchman road, one block to the west, was the only access road leading to goat farms that were located in the area. The present right-of-way that became Elysian Fields Avenue in the 1930s was previously the road bed of the old Pontchartrain Railroad, oldest railroad in the southern United States, which ran between the French Quarter and the resort settlement of Port Pontchartrain or Milneburg as it was called.

Gentilly Terrace School opened in 1914, which provided a major enhancement to the desirability of the new land development because it provided an exclusive "neighborhood centered" school for the children of residents of the new luxury homes that Lafaye and DeMontliszon promised. While portions of the city extending as far to the south as Benefit Street are now being included in the designation of Gentilly Terrace, the original boundaries of Gentilly Terrace were limited to Western Street on the west, People's Avenue on the East, Gentilly Boulevard (or Gentilly Road as it was called then) and Prentiss Street on the North. It is distressing to serious New Orleans historians that recent and present city administrators have changed the designations of neighborhoods from what they originally were. On the other hand, since Katrina cleared out many who knew the real history of the city, people forget what was, and they simply write their own versions of history to fill in the gaps. Today, Mid City, Milneburg, Hollygrove and a number of other "area designations from the city's history, have all been stretched out to cover areas never originally intended by the people who were the original developers.

The photo above shows the school as it looked in 1952, just prior to a major point in it's evolution. At the time this photo was taken, the school housed grades Kindergarten through 8th. Grade, which was the case with most of the city's elementary (or as was the term at the time "grammar") schools. There were no middle schools back then, and students who completed the eighth grade went on to attend one of the city's four-year high schools. Until 1966, all schools in the Orleans Public School System were segregated, a fact of history that our city chooses to ignore.

At the right of the photo, we can see the garage-like building which housed the Manual Training classroom for seventh and eighth graders. There was also a Home Economics classroom in the basement of the school at the opposite corner of the building on Arts Street. Mrs. Jackson was the school's last Home Economics teacher, and Mr. Harvey was the shop instructor. The principal at the time was Mr. Isaac Foster.

The Gentilly Terrace School structure was designed by noted New Orleans municipal architect Edgar Christy. The original design of the school was an eight classroom structure which formed what is now the front of the present building. In 1926, the school was enlarged and wings were added forming the present quadrangle structure. The enlarged plant included an open basement area which was used for assembly and rainy day recess. By the early 1950s, only the cafeteria, three kindergarten classrooms, and the Home Economics and manual training classrooms were actually built out in the original basement. The stairwells at each of the four corners of the school, and the main "grand" staircase leading into the center of the building, were all open staircases with beautiful oak and cypress millwork. On the second floor, there was an area next to the office that was used as a small audio-visual auditorium, and the school's original office was adjacent to that classroom. Toilet rooms for both boys and girls were located along the hall in the center of the basement, just off the Mirabeau street side of an open courtyard.

By 1952, changes in fire codes had made school administrators aware that the building was susceptible to fire spreading through the open stairwells. There was also the danger posed by the fact that a large steam boiler plant, absent of most safety controls found on modern steam boiler plants, was used for heating the building. These boilers required constant attention, and boiler explosions in older plants were common. In November of 1936, the school had been heavily damaged by a fire which was directly caused by the operation of the then hand stoked coal fired boiler, and which burned more than half of the building, forcing a year long period of repair. Thus there was ample reason for the school board to undertake a major renovation project to bring the building up to newer fire codes established after World War II. This major upgrade occurred over the summer of 1953, and as the school board attempted to address post-war over crowding in the city's schools, Gentilly Terrace School reopened for the 1953-54 school year as a grade K-6 elementary school.

Preceding the 1953 renovation, a number of things had transpired. In addition to the school board having adopted changes in the way schools were operated, including the institution of middle schools, there were changes happening at Gentilly Terrace as well.

Just after Christmas holidays in 1952-53, principal Isaac Foster, who had just assumed the principalship in 1947 following the retirement of the school's original principal Miss Henrietta Keitz, died unexpectedly. For the balance of the 1952-53 school year, Ms. Pauline Johnson, who was an upper grades teacher, filled in as acting principal. Additionally, the school's long time janitor, who lived on the property in a caretaker's shack located on the corner of Mirabeau and Arts, was found dead when teachers and students returned from Christmas holidays. During that same time, the school board had decided to end the practice of live-in custodians, and plans had been already made in September of 1952 to demolish the caretaker's quarters.

Forced by required code changes, and escalated by post war over-crowding of the school, a major renovation program was undertaken over the summer of 1953. When the school reopened for the 1953-54 school year, Clifton P. Kessler, a former coach and chemistry teacher who originally taught at Saint Aloysius high school, and who was more recently principal of Wilson public school, was appointed the new principal of Gentilly Terrace School. Kessler held that position through the remainder of the 1950s, and introduced many of the school's newer concepts including a proficient school band, well publicized fund raising events, competitive sports, and a fully functioning parent-teachers' association and dad's club.

As the students returned from summer vacation going into the 1953-54 school year, they came into an almost unrecognizable facility. The open stairways had all been enclosed in fireproof sheathed walls with fire rated doors at the tops and bottoms of each stairway. Ceilings on the ground floor had been lowered and new modern radiators were installed. The office had been modernized and expanded in the area of the second floor opposite the grand staircase, and an auditorium had been built in what was previously an open courtyard that was surrounded on all sides by the original building.

The old wood frame bus garage, that had been turned into the manual training shop in 1946, had now been demolished and replaced by a new cafeteria kitchen with modern service equipment. Although the cafeteria was not in operation until several weeks after the 1953-54 session began, it was a drastic improvement from the ancient facilities that it replaced. The formerly open basement assembly space had now been built out to contain several new classrooms, the former Home-Ec lab had been turned into a fourth kindergarten classroom, and a state-of-the-art fire alarm and public address system had been installed.

A safer gas fired heating boiler had also been installed, which freed up the maintenance staff to perform other duties around the building, and janitors and custodial staff now worked regular hours and lived off-site.

Those of us who attended school at GTS in the 50s will surely remember the "Annex" which was located on the opposite end of the school's property on the Carnot side of the block. This was a wood frame building, reminiscent of a military style barracks building popular in World War - II. The annex housed the fifth-grade classes, and a third grade classroom. The annex had been constructed during the 1946-47 era as a means of easing over-crowding at the school as a result of a heavy population increase in the Gentilly and Lakefront areas due to the recent war and expanding post-war population of New Orleans. In the 1953 main building renovation, little was done to the Annex, and updates were mostly limited to installation of a fire alarm system. The school board viewed the Annex wood frame structure as a stop-gap measure, pending construction of new schools in Oak Park and Gentilly Woods. The construction, which was basically a wood frame military-style structure, was incapable of being brought up to present day fire codes. It was heated by vented gas space heaters installed in the walls, and most of the original incandescent lighting, recycled antiquated furniture, and outdoor toilet rooms and plumbing remained until its demolition many years later. The building was demolished some time well after the 1950s, and all classes were then relocated to the main building.

It should be remembered that the 1950s Post War era was the greatest period of development in the Gentilly Terrace area. Exponential development growth in not only the Gentilly and Lakefront area, but the development and inclusion of most of New Orleans East into the service area handled by Gentilly Terrace School, literally strained the walls of the old facility that was only intended to handle the children of a one square mile area that was the original Gentilly Terrace subdivision. By the start of the 1953-54 term, the school had a minimum of four classrooms for each of the six elementary grades and kindergarten. There were five fifth-grade classes at the time that most of the post WW-II baby boom children were at that level in their education, and classes generally housed between 30 and 40 students under the tutorship of one teacher. A number of those teachers at that time were Normal School trained, and did not possess college degrees. Many were in the process of obtaining degrees, however there were teachers who retired in and after the 1950s who were still operating on their Normal School training and certificates. As new public schools were constructed in the Gentilly and New Orleans East areas, the student load on Gentilly Terrace School was reduced. The removal of the seventh and eighth grades in 1953 also served to reduce the population serviced by this school, so it then became possible to modify the student-teacher ratios, and to seriously contemplate demolition of the Annex. Still, however, the school remained crowded, well beyond its initial eight classroom design, with an average enrollment of near one thousand students, through most of the 1950s.

The following are some photos from my private collection, some borrowed from public Facebook sites, and others from the various state and public library collections, that are presented as an historical perspective of what life for a student in Gentilly Terrace School was like in the 1950s. I appreciate the use of photographs held by persons who posted to those sites, and I have attempted to give credit where possible. I have also provided a list of the teachers that I remember, and have indicated their present status if they are known to still be alive. If anyone who views this site has additional information that would be of interest, I will be happy to incorporate it into the site. Thanks also to those folks on the "I grew up in Gentilly" Facebook site for making available several photos and many memories of our old school and life in Gentilly in the 1950s. I lost most of my Gentilly Terrace photos in Katrina, so I appreciate your making these photos available to me and to the public.

 
 
HISTORICAL ARCHITECTURAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE
GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL BUILDING

Above is a photo of the school building, believed to date to 1926-27, as it would have looked following the 1926 addition of the east and west wings extending back toward Mirabeau Avenue. Note worthy are the second story window flower boxes that provided students with a place to grow plants as part of their studies, and which also protected against accidental falls from the large unscreened casement windows that were fully opened in warm weather. The building relied on open windows, high ceilings and transoms for air circulation in the early and late weeks of the school year. Portable fans only came on the scene in the mid to late-1950s when PTA fund raisers made purchase of portable classroom fans possible.

Notice that the boiler chimney, which towered above the roof when most us us attended GT in the 1950s and later, and which is clearly visible in the 1956 photo below, and the pre-Katrina photo at the bottom of this page, is not visible in the 1926 photo above.

The suspected cause of the great 1936 fire was reportedly a defect in the boiler chimney, so speaking as an engineer, I believe that the original chimney probably terminated too close to the roof, and that it was necesarily replaced or extended, as a full masonry chimney, well above the roof line, during the 1936 fire repair contract work.

One additional note, just inside the border at the middle left of the photo above, the live-in custodian's shack is visible. That was demolished just prior to the 1953 renovation, after the death of the school's last live-in janitor, Mr. Danner.

Photo above from LOUIS digital library-State of Louisiana. Photo below from a 1956 school publication provided by Mrs/ Joy M. Hopkins.

In the course of the research I have been doing toward the reconstruction of the school's history, I discovered that the original school building, completed in 1914, was only a part of the present school structure. In several Times-Picayune articles going back as far as the 1914 dedication, the school was referred to as an eight classroom wood frame structure. Later articles indicate that two wings, east and west, were added around 1926. It would appear that the original 1914 school structure was limited to just the front of the building that appears above, and that the two wings added (also eight classrooms each,) were the portions that extend back toward Mirabeau Avenue as visible in the 1926 photo above.

To see a copy of the 1926 article about the building expansion and wing addition, click here


 

THE 1936 FIRE

Another interesting fact that was uncovered in my research, involved a fire that occurred in November of 1936. In the newspaper account of that fire, there was again a reference to the original 1914 school structure as having been comprised of only an eight room wood frame structure. The 1936 articles, however, indicate that the building involved in the fire, was already built out to approximately the present quadrangle configuration.

A summary of the article indicates that on the morning of the fire, which happened to be the first really cold day of the school year, the "Negro fireman" had stoked the boiler with 75 shovels of coal, starting at 5:45 AM. Miss Keitz discovered the fire as she was making her rounds of the halls shortly after classes had started. The cause of the fire was attributed to the chimney of the school's heating boiler, which set the roof on fire. Upon discovering the blaze, Miss Keitz sounded the fire alarm with her brass hand bell, and then proceeded to go to the office to retrieve the money that had been collected for the Community Chest, along with an historic statue that stood at the entrance to her office.

Shortly after the children were out of the building, which occurred in a record sixty-seconds thanks to Miss Keitz's regular fire drill practices, the roof of the building collapsed. Repairs took the remainder of the school year, and classes were held in nearby churches and establishments that offered space to assist the school.

To see a copy of the November 1936 fire article, click here:

__________

Apparently some time between the occurrence of that fire, and the early 1950s, the boiler had been converted to burn oil instead of coal. In 1951, when I began attending Gentilly Terrace, natural gas service had been brought into the school's cafeteria, however they were still burning oil as heating fuel for the boiler. At the time, a large above ground oil storage tank was positioned just to the left of the Arts Street entrance to the building. During the 1953 renovation, natural gas was deployed as the boiler fuel for heating. I remember though that many of the teachers were still aware of the 1936 fire, and the potential for fires and boiler explosions in the steam heated wood frame building, therefore we were regularly cautioned to take all fire drills seriously.

 

THE ANNEX

As far as I have been able to determine, the Gentilly Terrace School Annex, which stood on the Carnot Street side of the school property, was built some time around the end of World War II. There are several articles from the local papers that indicate over-crowding at the school due to the construction of defense housing throughout the area, and a rise in the number of families with children in the area. A 1945 article details how the school board had begun to bus students from these defense related subdivisions, to other schools. In Gentilly Terrace, the student population rose from 600 to around 740 students as detailed in the 1945 article.

Another article from the same period states that the board's architect was instructed to design another eight classroom addition to the school, which I believe resulted in the construction of the Annex building. I recently received collaborating information from a former student who was there during the construction of the annex, that it was built during the 1946-47 school year.

At this time, I am searching for a good photo of the Annex to add to this page. If anyone out there can help, please contact me.

 
 
CLASSROOM PHOTOS
There are some interesting observations to be derived from the classroom photos on this page. First, you will seldom, if ever, see girls in these photos wearing pants. Even the very small children have neatly styled clothes and haircuts, and most of the girls have styled hair. The other thing is the presence of holiday celebrations in the classrooms. Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day are being celebrated in several of the photos. In most school systems today, these holidays are banned in favor of such celebrations as Winter Solstice, Fall Festival and a complete ban on Valentines' Day exchanges. The teachers are neatly dressed, and the general appearance of both students and teachers is a far cry from what you might expect to find in today's public school classrooms.
The second grade class of Mrs. Carolyn Babin, taken on Halloween day of 1953
Photo above by John DeMajo
 
The official class photo of Mrs. Carolyn Babin's second grade class from the 1953-54 school year.
Photo above provided by Joy M. Hopkins
 
Field trips were frequent in the 1950s. Shown here are second graders from Gentilly Terrace attending a floral show at New Orleans' Municipal Auditorium. (Photo source unknown)
 
Ms. Doris Tognoni's second grade class from 1954. Her classroom was located on the front corner of the Painters/toward Carnot St. side of the building
Photo courtesy of Kay Scudder Gill
 
The annual "Krewe Of Hearts" Mardi-Gras celebration was a popular feature at Gentilly Terrace School. Classes would elect student representatives and a king and queen to serve on the court, and a parade of students would pass through the streets of the surrounding Gentilly neighborhood. Shown in this late 1940s' presentation of the court photograph are Miss Alma Fluke, first grade teacher who taught for many years at Gentilly Terrace (facing the camera second from right.) In the background, the lady facing the camera (second from the left) is Ms. Henrietta Kietz, the school's founding principal who served in that position from 1914 until 1948. It is also believed that the lady to the right of Miss Fluke is third-grade teacher Annabelle Garcia. If anyone can confirm or correct that, please let us know. Prior to the construction of the school's auditorium in the 1953 renovation, assemblies were often presented on the front terrace area of the school as illustrated here. (Photo property of Kathy Boothby Waller)
 
The fourth grade class of Miss Marjorie Wingerter (1955-56). Visible at the rear of the photo are Miss Wingerter (left) and school secretary Clare Newman at right. Note the presence of operable transoms above the doors which were used to provide cross-ventilation to the classrooms when the doors were closed.
Photo above by John DeMajo
 
Children in the third grade class of Mrs. Annabelle Garcia prepare for Christmas 1954.
Photo above by John DeMajo
 

The first grade class of Miss Marian Sarrat
(Photo source Stephen Elmer)

 

Mrs. Chatelain's Second Grade class from 1956-57
 
Mrs. Smith's second grade class from 1956-57
 

The kindergarten class of Mrs. Mildred Wunder poses on the Painters Street lawn for their annual class picture. (Photo provided by Catherine Mears)


Mrs. Wunder (formerly Mildred Gonzales) was one of the remaining Normal School trained teachers. She was also instrumental in the movement to allow public school teachers in New Orleans to marry. (see note below).

Below are three photos of Mrs. Wunder's kindergarten class from the school year 1957-58 which were submitted by Claire McDonnell
 
Here is a photo of the 1946 Kindergarten classes, taken on the school's main stairway. The adults in the photo are (l-r) Mildred Wunder, Henrietta Keitz (Principal) and Providence Schrank. Photo courtesy of Carol Burgard Crosby.
 
This photo, from Hal Ellison, shows Mrs. Wunder with her class of 1950-51. Miss Sarrat is also in the photo at right. This is the class that preceeded me as I was in Mrs. Wunder's class in the 1951-52 school year. The photo was taken on the school's main stairway.
 
In addition to Mrs. Wunder, two other kindergarten teachers are remembered from the 1950s. Mrs. Providence DiMartino Schrank and Mrs. Martha Gherke were the other teachers in that era. Shown below is Mrs. Schrank's 1946 kindergarten class. The photo was taken on the school's open main stairway, which was later isolated due to fire code upgrades in 1953. Mrs. Schrank can be seen at the left-rear, and Mrs. Keitz, who was still principal at the time, is at the rear-right.
Photo property of Mr. Bill Creevy.
 

Another photo of Mrs. Schrank's class, this time from 1959, thirteen years after the photo above.
Photo is property of
Jo Elstner Dunaway.

 
The third 1950s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Martha Gherke, can be seen with her class below. The photo, however, is a later class and dates to 1962. Photo is property of Norvel Alexander Benoit‎.
 

(Photo property of Kathy Boothby Waller)
Shown here is the 1953-54 fifth grade class of Mrs. Ruth C. Stewart. The fifth grade classes were held in the school's Annex building which was located across the playground on the Carnot Street side of the property. Notice that most of the student desks in the Annex were of the older type which were bolted to the floor. Although the main building had been thoroughly renovated in the 1953-54 summer break, the Annex was not given the same treatment. This is evidenced by not only the older generation desks, but also the presence of "school room" style incandescent drop light fixtures visible in the extreme upper right edge of the photo, and the use of gas space heaters in the classrooms.

Here is another trivia question: Look in the rear right corner of the room to the right of Mrs. Stewart. There is a pole hanging from the picture moulding. Does anyone remember what those poles were used for? If you don't, the answer appears in the text somewhere on this website.

 
Miss Weinberger's class from 1952-53. This class was held in the school's annex.
Photo property of Kathy Boothby Waller
 
The teacher in this photo is Ms. Pauline Johnson, sixth grade teacher who also served as vice-principal and was acting principal during the remainder of the 1952-53 school year between the death of principal Isaac Foster and the appointment of C.P. Kessler as his replacement.
(Photo property of Kathy Boothby Waller)
 
A rare photo of the school basement prior to the 1953 renovation. I was initially confused about the orientation of the photo. After speaking with the provider, Mr. Creevy, he assured me that it is the Painters Street side of the basement, and that the doors seen at the right are leading to the patio that was in the center of the quadrangle. For those who remember this area, the front wall of the building that faces Painters Street was the left side wall in the photo, and Mrs. Gehrke's kindergarten classroom, which was on the front corner of the building, would have been at the rear of the shot. The group shown is the school's BSA Scout Toorp 98. The owner of this photograph is Mr. Bill Creevy.
 
1950's principal C.P. Kessler (center) from a Times Picayune story announcing his appointment as principal of Gentilly Terrace School. Under Kessler's leadership, the school saw many improvements and advancements in the field, making it one of the most respected schools in the Orleans Parish School Board system. Before coming to Gentilly Terrace in September of 1953, Kessler served as principal of Wilson Elementary School. Prior to joining the OPSB, he was a much respected football coach and chemistry teacher at St. Aloysius Catholic High School in New Orleans.
(Photo from the New Orleans Times Picayune Archives)
 
This is a rare photograph showing the stage area of the school's auditorium, which was constructed as part of the 1953 renovation. The date of this photo is circa Mardi-Gras of 1961, and it shows the school's carnival "Krewe Of Hearts" members for that year. The auditorium was built in a previously open central court yard that served as a playground for Kindergarten through second grade students prior to the summer 1953 building upgrade.
(Photo property of Deborah McShan)
 
In mid-December of each school year, Gentilly Terrace School students and their teachers walked several blocks through the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood to visit the extensive Christmas floral display at the nursery of E.A. Farley Florists on Gentilly Boulevard.
(Photo from the LOUIS Digital Library)
 
After teaching for many years at Gentilly Terrace, Ms. Betty Bernos went on to teach in schools overseas. She was featured in a 1970 Times Picayune article detailing her post Gentilly Terrace life. Click here to see a copy of that article from the New Orleans Times Picayune archives.
(Above photo property of Deborah McShan)
 
Mrs. L. W. Geary's 5th Grade Class of 1959
Photo property of Deborah McShan
 

During the administration of Mr. Kessler, the school enjoyed an extremely active Parent Teachers Association and a Dad's Club which also brought many improvements to the quality of education at Gentilly Terrace School. In addition to competitive sports, fund raisers, and an active role by the school in the Gentilly neighborhood community, Kessler also introduced a student talent show to highlight the talents of the children who attended the school during that era. The photo above is from the New Orleans Times-Picayune account of a talent show held in December of 1956.

To see a copy of that article, which mentions and shows several performers by name along with Mrs. McWhirter who was the producer, click the photo above.

 
The Arts Street elevation photo which was taken in later years preceding Katrina. Note that window planters, removed in the summer 1953 renovation are absent, and window air conditioners now can be seen in each classroom. During the years when the school's heating system was fired on oil, a large above ground oil storage tank existed just to the left of the door above. It was removed in the 1953 renovation program when the boiler plant was converted to natural gas.
(Photo from the LOUIS-UNO collection)
 
Gentilly Terrace School as it appeared just prior to Hurricane Katrina and it's incorporation as a charter school.
Photo above by John DeMajo
 
TEACHERS AND STAFF OF GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL IN THE 1950s
 
First name if known
Last name
Status
Grade taught
Isaac R.
Foster
Died January 1953 at age 53
Principal 1947-1953
Clifton P.
Kessler
Died October 10, 1981 at age 84
Principal 1953-
Clare
Newman
School secretary
Ethel
Primeaux
School Secretary
Inez R.
Landry, LPN
Died Nov 10, 2012 at age 94
School Nurse She was a graduate of Hotel Dieu School of Nursing
Emelda
Zeigan
Died September 23, 2005 at age 91.
Sixth
Marian
Sarrat
Born January 15, 1909. Died July, 1981 at age 72
First
Clara Louise
Mascaro
Died February, 1997
First
Elva B.
Davis
Born November 13, 1906. Died November 22, 1993 at age 87.
Sixth
Marjorie Rita
Wingerter
Died January 2013 at age 93
Fourth
Annabelle Parnell
Garcia

Died January 2004 at age 94

Third
Alma
Flucke
Died 1997
First
Isma
Zelenka
 
?
Amelia
Leke
 
?
Iva T.
Smith
 
?
Helen C.
Donahoe
Died April 21, 1982
First
Clare
Nevel
First (Mrs. Nevel, a recently retired teacher, filled in a full year for Donahoe when Helen Donahoe suffered a heart attack in her classroom early in the 1952-53 school year
Providence "Sue" DiMartino
Schrank
Died May 1994 at the age of 78
Kindergarten
Martha Bernissant
Gehrke
Died November 2004 at the age of 90
Kindergarten
Mildred Gonzales
Wunder
Died November 1999 at age 89
Kindergarten
?
Jackson (Ms)
Ms. Jackson transferred to McDonogh 28 Junior High in 1953 when seventh and eighth grades were discontinued at Gentilly Terrace School.
Home Economics (until 1953)
?
Harvey (Mr.)
Mr. Harvey also left GTS in the fall of 1953. We have no info on where he transferred.
Industrial Arts (until 1953)
Ruth Collins
Stewart
Died December 28, 2014 at age 102
Fifth
Lillian W.
Geary
Died April 12, 1996
Fifth
Betty
Bernos
Fourth
Ruth Molinaro
Devonshire
Born July 14, 1905- Died January 1, 1985 at age 74
Third
Edwina
Suarez
Third
Frances
Creevy
 
?
?
Penton
Fifth
Catherine
Tuminello
Died Aug 12, 1999 at the age of 68
Second
Emma
McLendon
 
Sixth
Lydia
Michal
Died April 1998 at age 90
Third
Cora Nellie
Phillips
Died April 1995
First
Audrey Arnold
Pavlovich-Chatelain
No official obit found, but SS database indicates someone with this exact name died in Louisiana on June 28,1991

Second

Pauline
Johnson
Sixth (also acting principal remainder of 52-53 session after Mr. Foster's death.)
Rita G.
Zerr
Fourth
Harry J.
Morel, Sr.
Died May 12, 2014 at age 94
Band
Doris
Tognoni
Born on December 21 1917.
Lived in Metairie, Louisiana 70005, USA.
Died on October 22, 2000, at age 82.
Second
Carolyn F.
Babin
Living in Texas at this time.
Second
B.
Warren
 
Fifth
Doris
Davis
  Kindergarten
Elsie Jane
McWhirter - Cornay
Died July, 1995 at age 76
First
?
Oglesbee (Ms)
Ms. Oglesbee was a part-time contract vocal music teacher who, like band director Harry Morel, was employed to conduct specialized classes on certain days of the week only.
Gloria
Bolton

Sixth

(was replaced by Emelda Zeigan when Mrs. Bolton became pregnant and left teaching)

Loretta
Burke
School Librarian/ Speech therapy
?
Allen (Mr.)
Janitor
Percy
?
Janitor
?
Danner (Mr)
Janitor (died late 1952)
The names that don't appear in the photo above may have been teachers who married and changed last names, or who were hired or left during the years that I was in school.

SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT OUR SCHOOL
AND OUR TEACHERS

At the height of the post World War II "baby boom," Gentilly Terrace School typically averaged 1000 enrolled students. Classes throughout the 1950s usually ranged from 28-33 students assigned to one classroom teacher. At that time, the concept of classroom teacher assistants had not yet been introduced, so each teacher was solely responsible for the education and discipline of the entire class.

Mrs. Mildred Gonzales Wunder (Kindergarten) was the organizer of the 1930s system-wide movement to allow female public school teachers to marry while continuing their teaching careers. Previously, all female teachers were prevented, by the terms of their contracts, from marrying while employed as teachers in the Orleans Parish School System.

Providence (Sue) DiMartino Schrank was the sister of Mrs. Gertrude Meade who taught Spanish at John McDonogh High in the 1960s.

Band director Harry Morel, Sr. was a noted trumpeter who played with a number of big dance bands.

Mrs. Ruth Stewart (5th grade teacher) had taught Mrs. Carolyn Babin (2nd grade teacher) when Mrs. Babin was herself a child in grade school.

Despite having had a serious heart attack in her classroom early in the 1952-53 school year, first grade teacher Ms. Helen Donahoe later returned to teaching, demonstrating the type of dedication to their profession that was common in teachers of that era.

And last but not least, Sex Ed, a hot topic in education today, is apparently nothing new according to this February 22, 1936 Times Picayune article involving Gentilly Terrace School. It would be interesting to know whether this met with any resistance from parents of that era:

OTHER ARTICLES OF INTREST CONCERNING GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL'S HISTORY

October 1914 - New Gentilly school building accepted. Classes to begin

1926 Expansion of GTS building from original eight classrooms

20th Anniversary of school Oct 8, 1934

The great fire of November 1936

30th Anniversary of school Oct 14, 1944

New classrooms to be added October 4, 1946

Retirement of Henrietta Keitz

Demolition of Janitor's house and discussion of over crowding Sept. 1952


DO YOU REMEMBER?

BRASS HAND BELLS

Prior to the 1953 renovation, the school did not have electric bells. Students were called to class by the synchronized ringing of brass hand bells at each corner of the building. Assigned teachers were responsible for ringing the bells in their respective areas.

Each morning, students were summoned by the ringing of the bells, to assemble in the Painters Street side of the basement where principal Isaac R. Foster addressed students from a platform located against the Painters Street wall. Students were required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and sing a patriotic song. After this morning assembly, students marched in two-by-two formation, led by their respective teachers, to their classrooms. Following the 1953 renovation, the morning assemblies were discontinued because of the basement having been turned into classrooms. Beginning that session, the morning Pledge of Allegiance and announcements were carried out over the school's new Executone public address system.

FIRE DRILLS AND "DUCK AND COVER EXERCISES"

Until the installation of the fire alarm system in 1953. fire drills and alarms were also signaled by the ringing of hand bells. By mid-1950s, the U.S. Civil Defense Agency required that schools conduct "duck and cover" drills as preparation for the developing threat of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Students were instructed to get on the floor of their classrooms and huddle under their desks during these drills. The school's fire alarm system was used to signal "duck and cover" drills by short blasts on the fire alarm horns instead of the steady tone that was used to signal fire drills.

While the Annex had been equipped with fire alarm devices per code in the 1953 renovation, electric bells had not been installed. The main building had IBM controlled clocks and class bells following the 1953 upgrade, but the brass hand bells were still used to call students to class in the Annex throughout the 1950s.

BANK DAYS

Gentilly Terrace School had one of the first college savings plans for students in the country. Instituted by Mr. Foster during the 1950 school year, Miss Michal was given the task of setting up a program whereby students could buy savings stamps, a holdover from the War Bonds program which the government instituted in World War II. When the students filled a book with the stamps, which they were able to purchase for 10 Cents each from Miss Michal in the school basement on the designated "bank day" each week, the stamp books could be converted over to a $25 U.S. Savings Bond in the student's name. Later, when Mr. Kessler became principal, the program was modified and Progressive Bank of New Orleans became a partner with the OPSB schools, thereby offering students a regular bank passbook savings account. Account deposits were still collected by the teachers, and students would have their passbooks updated by a representative from the bank.

KENNETH POTTER'S MORNING PLEDGE TO THE FLAG

For several years following the installation of the new PA system, each morning we would all rise and pledge allegiance to the flag, as led by student Kenneth Potter via the Executone squawk boxes in each classroom.

MRS. GARCIA'S LUNCH TIME SQUARE DANCE CLASSES

Several teachers and parents of Gentilly Terrace students were members of local square dancing groups. Third Grade teacher Mrs. Annabelle Garcia and her husband were one such couple. Mrs. Garcia brought the art of square dancing to the students at Gentilly Terrace by offering square dancing lessons to students who wished to participate during the lunch time recess. The classes were usually held in the school's auditorium.

WINDOW BOXES AND POLES

Our teachers generally assigned classroom duties to students. In retrospect, we see that this was part of their training us to accept responsibility that would carry over into our adult lives. These tasks involved cleaning blackboards, banging erasers at the end of the day, watering plants, and adjusting windows and transoms for good ventilation. As mentioned previously, the school was not air conditioned in the 1950s, and we relied on open windows and the school's high ceilings to make the rooms inhabitable during warm weather.

Prior to the 1953 renovation, the second floor classroom windows were adorned with wooden window boxes. These provided a dual function; allowing students to have a place to grow plants for science training, and to protect against students falling from the huge second floor windows. Under each of the windows, there were usually cast iron radiators which added to the peril. In the 1953 renovation, protective shelf enclosures were provided to shield the radiators so that students would not get burned when passing them. The window boxes were also removed at that time when it was discovered that most were rotting and there was some termite infestation because of the moisture they held.

The casement windows were extremely large double hung sashes that opened top and bottom. Interestingly, there were no screens in use with the exception of the cafeteria windows which were required by code to be screened against flies. For classroom ventilation, long poles with hooks were provided so that the classroom teacher could adjust the upper windows to provide air flow in mild weather. As we advanced into the higher grades, it became the duty of an appointed student to see that the windows were opened and closed at the start and end of the day. The window poles were used to reach the upper sashes. An example can be seen in the photo of Mrs. Stewart's fifth grade classroom above. Here is a thought: with open windows in the classrooms, and no screens, there were never any major complaints of mosquito or gnat bites. One has to wonder whether we were more tolerant, or whether the bug population was smaller back then.

MS. ELVA DAVIS and "LOLLYPOPS"

Sixth Grade teacher Ms. Elva Davis had a punish work favorite that she called "Lollypops." These were long division problems that required what seemed at the time to be an infinite number of long division processes, sometimes taking hours to solve. Of course any student who was fortunate enough to have access to their parent's office comptometer or high end adding machine at the time, could solve the problem in minutes, a fact of life that we all kept carefully hidden from our teacher. Today, students are required to use calculators in school. One has to wonder how teachers like Ms. Davis would have dealt with that development.

MR. KESSLER'S MEAT BALL AND SPAGHETTI FUND RAISERS

Mr. C. P. Kessler had established a reputation for fund raising to assist the school. One of the novel ideas he instituted was semi-annual family dinners in the school's cafeteria. In preparation, many of our mothers would assemble in the school's newly renovated cafeteria kitchen after lunch was over, and they would prepare meat balls and tomato gravy under the supervision of Mr. Kessler and the school's staff cooks. Later that evening, students and families were invited to a sit-down dinner in the cafeteria, the proceeds of which benefited the PTA's projects. One such use of the funds was the purchase by the PTA of electric fans for our classrooms.

WIND-UP ACOUSTICAL VICTROLAS IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOMS

From the early days of the school through at least the 1952-53 school year, the phonographs used in the three kindergarten rooms were Victor Talking Machine Company wind-up "Victrolas". Teachers had to crank up the phonograph with a hand crank on the side, and hope it would not run out of energy before the record was completed. Records were primarily used to allow stretching exercises and an early introduction to creative dance.

KINDERGARTEN CANVAS COTS AND NAP TIME

Prior to the 1953-54 school year, kindergarten students attended a full 9-3 school day. Following lunch each day, World War II surplus Army cots were brought into the classrooms and students were required to nap for an hour. When not in use, the cots were stored in the space under the Arts St. stairway across from Mrs. Wunder's classroom. This practice was discontinued with the start of the 1953-54 school year when Kindergarten classes went to half-day, with shifts of morning and afternoon students.

 

 

Here is a comprehensive time line on the school's history through the 1950s:

1900 - The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board is established. Land north and east of French Quarter is drained and made usable for residential development. Gentilly Ridge provided dry land even before this, so it was prime land for future expansion.

1911 - Gentilly Terrace Land Development company was formed and plans released for new residential area north of Gentilly Road.

1913 - Plans made for a school to serve residents of new real estate development known as Gentilly Terrace.

1914 - In October (one month behind schedule) the new Gentilly Terrace School opens as an 8 classroom facility. Initial enrollment was 62 students. Henrietta Keitz, a Normal School trained teacher, is assigned as principal and one of three teachers.

1926 - Gentilly area population growth in the 1920s requires that the school be expanded. Two wings of eight classrooms each are added.

1934 - The school celebrates 20th Anniversary under the direction of Miss Keitz. Enrollment is listed at 600 students

1936 - In November of 1936, the school suffers a devistating fire caused by the heating boiler's chimney. Children exit the building without injury, but school is badly damaged. Students are placed in temporary quarters and repairs to building take remainder of school year to complete.

1941 - World War II brings exponential growth to Gentilly because of construction of defense facilities and defense employee housing, extension of Elysian Fields Avenue, and reclamation of land along lakefront.

1944 - School celebrates 30th Anniversary still under the guidance of Miss Keitz.

1946 - Critical shortage of school facilities caused by war and post-war development in Gentilly. School's enrollment hits 730 students as classroom and teacher resources are strained. School board begins busing students to other schools. At the same time, basement space and a former bus garage are reconfigured to provide classrooms for manual training and home economics classes.

Miss Keitz retires after 40 years as principal. Isaac Foster is appointed as her replacement.

1947 - A wood frame annex building is constructed on the property in order to relieve over-crowding. School board also undertakes construction of new schools in the area.

1951- School sees another huge population increase as baby boom generation, (babies born after WW-II) are now entering kindergarten.

1952 - 53 Isaac Foster dies shortly after Christmas recess. School's live-in janitor also found dead in building on corner of Mirabeau and Arts St. School board issues plans to demolish janitor's house and to end live-in janitors at public schools. Pauline Johnson, upper grade teacher, is appointed acting principal.

1953 - Summer recess sees total renovation of school building. Classrooms are added in space that was previously open basement. Modern safety systems installed and a new auditorium is built. Cafeteria is substantially upgraded. Seventh and Eighth grades are removed and Gentilly Terrace now houses only grades K-6th. Clifton P. Kessler is appointed principal. Enrollment, despite additional schools being opened, still averages over 800 students. Kindergarten classes go to morning and afternoon shifts, and an additional kindergarten classroom and teacher are added.

1955 - Kessler forms "Dad's Club" to assist PTA in programs to boost the quality of education. Fund raising and competitive sports are introduced. The school also has a structured band and vocal music program.

1957 - First class of post WW-II born students graduates 6th grade and moves on to middle school.

 
A rare example of an official girls' beanie from Gentilly Terrace School in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Kay Scutter Gill
 
A departing pre-Katrina view of the school from Painters Street.

EPILOGUE

My real purpose in creating this site is to assemble a comprehensive history of the school, and to possibly reconstruct some of the little known details that may have been lost as the property evolved and changed management. After opening the site to the public, I received many positive comments from former students indicating that there was nostalgic value as well, and that many memories were being recalled. I hope that this effort will benefit all who visit, whether it be for historical research or just to revive old memories of our childhoods.

Gentilly Terrace School may have been just another school in a large public school system in a metropolitan city, but it represented more than that. Because of it's history as a pioneering school in a previously undeveloped area of New Orleans, it was a significant early landmark in the development of a growing city. It's development directly represents the development of both architecture and education in New Orleans. It therefore is, in some way, a reflection of the changes in history that directly bear on New Orleans and it's people.

While I drove past Gentilly Terrace School often in my adult life, I had never considered going back to visit until almost fifty years after graduating. It was in the year before Katrina that I awakened one morning and decided that I needed to go back to the old school and close the book on some unfinished memories. In April of 2004, I set aside a morning to do just that, and I drove over to 4720 Painters Street and found my way into the building. Much was the same; the smell of the floor sweep that the janitors used was still lingering in the air, as was the distinctive smell that always emanated from the cafeteria. I went to the office, which was still in the same place and still looked much the same, and I met the principal and office staff from that era. They welcomed me and had one of the ladies give me the grand tour, including the boiler room which I requested to see. While everyone was extremely nice, it struck me that none of these ladies had any knowledge of the history of the school, or what had transpired in the years when we were students. Our student records were not in the files there any more, and they did not know the names of the teachers who had been there in the 1950s. They did not even know who Ms. Keitz was, or that she had been a fixture there as principal for forty-years from the day that the school opened in 1914. I was introduced to a few of the teachers, and I noticed that the children were now being taught with "creative" techniques that allowed freedom of expression, rather than the strict 3Rs and discipline that we experienced as students. Much was the same, and yet much had changed. I left with some small amount of melancholy, but yet I was grateful for having had the opportunity to attend Gentilly Terrace, and to have known the teachers and fellow students that I remember.

Today, the Gentilly Terrace we knew is but a memory. The school is now run as a charter school, financed by a bank, and staffed as a laboratory for University of New Orleans education program. The physical plant seems to be well kept, and the school is getting high marks from the community. Katrina, while devastating the city, did force some improvements in New Orleans, and Gentilly Terrace School seems to have been a beneficiary of the rebuilding effort. As for we, the 1950s era graduates of Gentilly Terrace, I strongly believe that we were the beneficiaries of the best era in the history of Gentilly, New Orleans, and the United States. Life was a lot simpler then, and I am happy that I was there to enjoy it.

Happy Memories!

John DeMajo

Class of 1958

 

 

 

I welcome any additional photographs or additions to the site from those who attended or were involved with the school in the years between the end of World War II and 1958. Please contact jdemajo (@) demajo.net (remove ( ) if you have information that you would like to share.

Operation and maintenance of this website is funded as a project of the Museum Of Yesterday and the DeMajo Family Foundation. Our mission is to preserve the history of 20th. Century America. Hosting is provided by DeMajo Internet Services, Richmond, VA. USA.

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