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 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. The overflow, which had occurred for thousands of years, rendered the land higher than most below sea level terrain in the north and eastern parts of the city.

Gentilly Terrace Homes subdivision development was a business venture of three partners, city real estate manager Edward Lafaye and his partners Michael Baccich and R.E. Edgar de Montluzin. Viewable here, 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, and the area known as Gentilly (mostly farm land extending beyond old Gentilly Shell Road), were the new frontiers that developed as drainage and artificial filling of the land occurred.

At the inception of the Gentilly Terrace Homes project, access to the area was either by way of wagon traveled dirt roads or the Pontchartrain Railroad, oldest railroad in the southern United States. The railroad operated a short line from the Mississippi River and French Quarter, to the old village of Port Pontchartrain, which also was called Milneburg. When this Smokey Mary locomotive photo was taken (Ca: 1904), Gentilly was comprised mostly of undeveloped land and a few family owned farms. Auto travel, in that era, was extremely difficult, as the urban part of the city ended at Florida Avenue and the L&N Railroad track. From there existed only dirt roads which were impassible by car most of the time.

Shown here is the show place home of developer Edward Lafaye, formerly located at the corner of Gentilly Boulevard and Franklin Avenue, It was a striking example of early Gentilly Terrace residences, and intended to demonstrate the intent of the partners to create one of New Orleans most prestigious new residential housing developments. The homes along Gentilly Boulevard were mostly mansion like villas, built on the high terraces that was formed by the creation of streets. Gentilly Road existed as a walking trail, and was used by Indians from the Lake Catherine area who came to town to sell their wares at the city's Lebreton Barket 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 until the railroad was removed. Frenchman road, one block to the west, was the only access road leading to the farms and Jewish burial grounds that were along the railroad right-of-way. The present strip of land that became Elysian Fields Avenue in the 1930s was the road bed of the Pontchartrain Railroad, and was only developed into a roadway by the Works Progress Administratio in the mid 1930s.

THE HISTORY OF GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL

In order to attract upscale home buyers, desirable neighborhoods require good schools, so it was only fitting that New Orleans newest development of luxury homes needed a suitable neighborhood school. Gentilly Terrace School opened in 1914, and provided that much needed school for the children of the well-to-do families who were building their homes.

Today when New Orleanians speak of Gentilly Terrace, the designation has been applied to parts of the city which were not in the original charter. Today, the boundaries have been extended to as far as Benefit Street on the South and Paris Avenue on the West, but the actual boundaries of Lafaye's chartered development were Western Street on the West, Prentiss Avenue on the North, Peoples Avenue on the East, and Gentilly Road on the South. Obviously, the recent movement by residents and city government officials , to rename and redefine historic areas of the city in order to be eligible for state and federal money, displays their ignorance and lack of caring of history, and is distressing to historians, and confusing to true researchers.

The photo at the top of the page shows the school as it looked in 1952, just prior to a major event in its hundred-year history. At the time that photo was taken, the school housed grades Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, which was the case with most of the city's elementary (or "grammar") schools. All New Orleans public schools were segregated prior to the late 1960s, and the concept of middle schools did not hit New Orleans until the early 1950s. Students who completed the eighth grade in one of the city's many elementary schools, went on to attend one of the city's four-year high schools, John McDonogh, Warren Easton, Fortier or Francis T. Nichols. For African-American students, there were separate segregated elementry and high schools. For white students who wished to pursue a trade, there were two additional high schools which offered specialty training, Rabouin which taught subjects such as practical nursing and office support to girls, and Samuel J. Peters, or "Commie High" as it was known, which taught commercial and industrial subjects to boys.

System-wide changes in the 1950s had already altered the board's operation of high schools. Previously separated boys' and girls' high schools were the rule prior to the end of World War II. McDonogh High, Warren Easton, Nicholls and Fortier, were originally segregated not only by race, but also by sex. John McDonogh High on Esplanade Avenue, which many Gentilly Terrace graduates attended, was formerly an all girls school, and Warren Easton, on Canal St. was the companion all boys school for the Gentilly and Mid City areas. The 1950s saw all of that change as high schools became 3 year co-educational programs with students attending schools based on their residential districts. A number of schools that were previously K-8 grammar schools, now became junior high schools, offering 7th - 9th grades, and the elementary schools were reduced to K-6th grade only.

At the right of the 1951 photo (top of page), we can see a former 1930s bus garage which later housed the Manual Training workshop for seventh and eighth graders. There was also a Home Economics "laboratory" in the basement of the school at the opposite corner of the building on Arts Street. Miss Clara Laticia Jackson was the school's last Home Economics teacher, and Mr. Harvey instructed seventh and eighth grade boys in carpentry and and manual training. The principal of Gentilly Terrace School at the time was Isaac Foster, who had recently been appointed to the position upon the retirement of the school's founding principal, Henrietta Keitz.

THE PHYSICAL PLANT

The School building was designed by noted New Orleans municipal architect Edgar Christy. The original design of the school was an eight classroom structure which comprised what is now the front of the present building that faces the playground and Carnot St. 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 recess congregating on bad weather days.

Until the summer of 1953, only the cafeteria, student rest rooms, 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, typical of early 20th Century public buildings.

On the second floor, the top of the grand staircase led to the principal's office, and an adjacent room that was used as a small auditorium.

Toilet rooms for boys and girls were located along the first floor hall in the center of the basement, just off north side of an open courtyard, with the girls' room being located closer to Arts Street and the boys' room to the right approaching the Painters Street side of the building. The "Patio," which was an open area formed and enclosed by the four wings of the building, was used as a safe play area for children in the lower grades.

Those students who attended in the 1940s and early 1950s may remember some of the earlier architectural features. For example, as mentioned above, stairways were open between floors, typical of early 1900s residential construction. They provided no fire spread protectionin within the heavily populated building. The areas under stairways were used for storage of such items as the surplus army cots that were used by napping kindergarteners, folding chairs used for meetings in the open basements, and in some cases, drums of cleaning supplies and janitorial equipment.

The idea of fire retardency was unheard of in those days, and the school's wood frame building, oak and pine floors in both the basement and second floor, and wooden interior and exterior doors fitted with with single pane glass, provided a building that could be considered a fireman's nightmare. There were no window screens with the exception of those mandated by the health department on windows in the school's cafeteria. The entire building relied on incandescent lighting with all light fixtures being the standard "school house" glass bowl fixtures which were used in many public facilities of that era. In order to provide adequate light for school activities, hundreds of incandescent light bulbs in the 150-200 watt range, illuminated the basement and classrooms, which resulted in high lighting costs for the facility.

Typical 150 watt incandescent lighting fixture used throughout the GTS building prior to 1953 renovations

As far as can be determined from available records, the school had no food service facilities until approximately 1927. Prior to then, it is assumed that children eithr brought bagged lunches to school, or that some may have been allowed to go home to receive lunch. A Times Picayune newspaper article indicates that Henrietta Keitz, the school's founding principal, brought forth a pilot program wherein she was able to acquire donations of cooking equipment. With the help of parents, she was able to set up a food preparation and dining area which was then staffed daily by volunteering parents.

School provided hot meals were unheard of at the time in the city's schools, so Ms. Keitz's program was probably necessitated by the isolated location of the school, surrounded by rural working farms and mud roads. While many of the students from the families who purchased the Gentilly Terrace development homes, were of means and could afford good meals, there were a number of children from the poorer farms and original families in the area, who were probably happy to have access to a hot healthy meal during the day. It was not until the Great Depression, and the availability of Federal and State money, that the Orleans Parish School Board instituted the subsidized school lunch program across their entire system. As the Depression took its toll, for many poorer students across the system, government subsidized school lunches were the only opportunity to be provided with healthy meals.

Despite the funding of lunch programs that began in the Depression, the status of the early 1950s cafeteria at Gentilly Terrace School, was still relatively crude and mostly void of modern food preparation equipment. The room was physically located on the first floor Arts/Mirabeau corner of the building, and was accessed through wood frame screen doors similar to those found on most corner groceries and small restaurants in the city at the time. Although most of the windows in the building had no screens, screening of the food service areas had been mandated during World War -II when the nearby Agriculture Street Landfill expanded as a result of the city's growing population. Flies and other insects from the landfill became a significant sanitation problem, and health regulators mandated that windows and doors of food service areas in all restaurants and schools, be fitted with screens.

The food preparation area extended along the Mirabeau Ave. wall of the cafeteria, with a serving counter placed parallel to the wall and several feet out into the dining area. Behind the counter were open unvented gas stoves and a large exposed gas water heater, all of which took their combustion air directly from the room. Open sinks were also located along the Mirabeau Street wall, and dish washing and sanitation were were all performed by hand by the staff. Due to the absence of vent hoods, the cafeteria yielded a distinctive odor that was a combination of food stale odors and chlorine bleach.

Students dined in the same room where food was being cooked and dishes were being cleaned. Furniture consisted of long wooden tables that were painted with brown enamel paint, with seating on detached picnic-table like benches. That alone should make any sanitation-aware person take notice, since proper cleaning and sanitizing of the porous wood tables, with their scratched painted surfaces, would have been impossible. Lunch trays were dispatched from a food line, and teachers and upper grade students volunteered their lunch hours to assist kindergarten and lower grade students in getting their trays safely to the tables. Of course broken glass milk bottles and spilled food and milk were common.

To their credit, the Orleans Parish Public Schools did offer good balanced meals, Freshly prepared hot food, bread and Gold Seal milk in glass half-pint bottles, was served to students on trays with divided beige military style bakelite plates. Milk was available not only at lunch, but at recess as well for those who wished it. Food menus for the entire school system were published weekly in the local newspaper, so parents could tell what would be served to their child each day of the week.

Here is an actual example of an Orleans Parish school lunch menu from the late 1940s. The cost to students, at the time this menu was published in the Times Picayune newspaper in 1948, was only 15 cents.

MONDAY: Hot Dogs with chili on bun, candied yams, green salad, apple sauce cake and milk
TUESDAY: Beans and Rice with sausage, Lettuce and tomato salad, fresh apples, dinner roll and milk
WEDNESDAY: Salisbury Steak with brown gravy, creamed potatoes, tossed salad, gingerbread with lemon sauce, dinner roll and milk.
THURSDAY: Lasagna casserole, buttered green peas, cole slaw, hot corn bread biscuits and milk
 
FRIDAY: Fried cat fish, buttered green beans, tossed green salad, bread, milk

The cost of lunches remained fifteen cents until late in the 1950s when it increased to twenty-five cents. Prior to 1953, lunch money was collected by the classroom teachers daily, and students were issued lunch tickets for collection by the cafeteria personnel. Children who failed to provide their lunch money would usually be extended credit by Ms. Newman, the principal's secretary. In 1953, as part of the school's major renovation, the cafeteria was modernized and enlarged. As part of that project, the food preparation area was moved to a newly constructed addition that replaced the former manual training wood shop, and an enclosed ramp was constructed on the Painters St. side to allow children to line up in an orderly manner to pay for their lunches prior to being served. Lunch money was then collected by cafeteria personnel stationed at the cafeteria entrance, thereby removing that responsibility from the classroom teachers. It should be noted that in the school's most crowded years of the mid-1950s, it was not unusual for the school cafeteria to prepare and serve as many as seven hundred hot lunches each day.

POST WORLD WAR II CHANGES

By 1950, new fire codes had been adopted. Architects and safety administrators were now aware of the potential for fire spreading between open floors in multi-story wood frame buildings. Fire ratings were being placed on building materials, based mainly on research learned as a result of the recent war. Owners of publicly occupied wood frame structures were ordered to enclose stairways and raceways between floors so as to prevent or slow the spread of fire.

There was also the danger posed by the fact that a large originally coal fired boiler, absent of many safety controls that are taken for granted in modern mechanical plants, was located in the middle of the building complex. In that era, boilers in large buildings required constant attention by trained and licensed stationary engineers, and boiler explosions were not uncommon. In November of 1936, Gentilly Terrace School was heavily damaged and almost destroyed by a fire which was directly attributed to the operation of the school's hand fired coal burning heating plant.

The resulting fire damaged more than half of the building, resulted in the collapse of the roof, and forced a year long period of repair during which students were housed in area churches and willing private homes. A detailed account of the 1936 fire is provided further down this page.

With an ever growing student body in a building that literally was a fire trap, there was ample reason for the school board to undertake a major renovation project to bring this and other older school buildings up to newer fire codes established after World War II. That major upgrade for the Gentilly school occurred over the summer of 1953, as the school board was also attempting to address post-war over crowding in the city's schools. Gentilly Terrace School reopened for the 1953-54 school year as a model modern grade K-6 elementary school. The former seventh and eighth grades were moved to newly designated seventh through ninth grade junior high schools such as C.P Capdeau and McDonogh 28, previously elementary schools that were now transformed into junior high schools. .

Preceding the 1953 renovation, a number of things had transpired. In addition to the system-wide changes already discussed, there were specific changes happening at Gentilly Terrace School.

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. Foster had taken sick during a pre-Thanksgiving student assembly, was hospitalized, and remained on leave until his death the following January. For the balance of the 1952-53 school year, Mrs. Pauline Johnson, an upper grades teacher with degrees from LSU, assumed the role of acting principal.

In addition to the death of Mr. Foster, the school's long time live-in janitor, who resided on the property in a caretaker's shack that was located on the corner of Mirabeau and Arts streets, was found dead in his residence when school staff returned from Christmas holidays that same year. During the previous summer, the school board had already decided to end the practice of live-in custodians at schools throughout the system, and plans had been already approved in September of 1952 to demolish the caretaker's quarters and require all custodians to live off-site. There are those who question the circumstances of the man's death, given that he was loosing his long-term housing, and that he was known to be a heavy drinker. Despite much research, we have not been able to find confirmation of the exact circumstances of what led to his death, nor the cause.

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 into the 1960s, and saw to the implementation many of the school's newer concepts including an organized school band and vocal music program, audio-visual learning experiences, well publicized and successful fund raising events, competitive sports, and a well functioning parent-teachers' association and "dad's club."

As the students returned from summer vacation that year, they came into an almost unrecognizable facility. The school's stately open oak and cypress stairways had all been enclosed with fireproof gypsum sheathed walls with UL fire rated doors at the bottom of each stairway. The previous heating system had been replaced with a less dangerous gas fired circulating hot water system. Modern baseboard level hot water convectors now replaced the original unsightly ceiling hung cast iron radiators that formerly heated the first floor open basement and kindergarten rooms. The updated heating system, removal of wood floors at the first floor level, and installation of modern lighting allowed the construction of eight new classrooms in the former open basement areas.

The principal's office had also been modernized and expanded into a suite of offices on the second floor opposite the grand staircase. The small assembly room, immediately to the Painters street side of the original office, now became part of the expanded principal's suite. With that change, a new modern auditorium, capable of seating a large segment of the student body at one time, had been constructed in what was previously the open patio that was surrounded on all sides by the original school and the 1926 building additions.

The 1920s wooden bus garage, that later served as the "manual training" workshop, had been demolished and replaced by a new cafeteria kitchen with modern food service equipment, sanitary restaurant style tables and chairs, and a stainless steel serving lime where students were served their food in true cafeteria style. Although the cafeteria renovation was not completed until several weeks into the Fall 1953-54 session, it was considered a dramatic improvement from the primitive facilities that it replaced.

The former Home-Ec lab, which was located on the Arts Street right hand corner, had been turned into a fourth kindergarten classroom, anticipating the expanding student body that resulted from post-war Gentilly development. A state-of-the-art fire alarm system, an IBM automatic clock and /bell ringing system, and an all classroom public address system had all been installed, making it possible for students to remain in their classrooms for the daily announcements that previously required classes to line up in the open basement each morning.

From the operations side, a safer gas fired hot water boiler and heating system had replaced the building's original manually operated heating coal- oil fired system. Much of the maintenance staff could now be freed up to perform other duties, and the daytime staff was reduced to one operating engineer/janitor, and a janitor assistant. Cleaning was also performed after-hours by a separate staff of custodians, which allowed the two daytime custodians to concentrate on operation of the heating system and maintenance of the building's other systems.


THE ANNEX

Those of us who attended Gentilly Terrace School in the 50s will surely remember the "Annex" which was located on the opposite end of the school grounds facing Carnot Street. It was a wood frame building, reminiscent of a military style barracks buildings typical of temporary construction through much of World War - II. The annex housed the school's fifth-grade classes, as well as an overflow third grade class. The annex had been constructed during the 1946-47 school year as a means of easing the over-crowding that resulted from a dramatic population increase in the Gentilly and Lakefront areas due mainly to the expanding post-war development of Gentilly. With the 1953 main building renovation, little was done to the Annex, and updates were mostly limited to installation of a fire alarm system. This reflected the view of the school board that the non-code compliant structure was merely intended to be a stop-gap measure to buy the board some time to complete construction of new schools in Oak Park, Lakeview and Gentilly Woods. The annex was literally a wood frame, wood floored fire trap, heated by individual gas fired space heaters installed in each classroom. It was lighted by antiquated incandescent light fixtures, and most furniture consisted of well worn 1920s attached pedestal student desks which apparently had been used elsewhere before they were incorporated into the 1946 project. Students assigned to the annex were forced to use unheated outdoor toilet rooms and water fountains that remained until the building's demolition many years later. Demolition occurred in the 1970s, at which time overcrowding had been reduced, to the point that all classes could again be housed in the main school building.

Please note that we are attempting to locate usable photos of the exterior of the Annex. If anyone happens to have photos showing the interior and exterior details of the Annex, please allow us to share them through this site.

It should be noted that the 1950s Post War era was the greatest period of residential development in the Gentilly and Lakefront areas of the city. The Great Depression and then World War II had delayed the eventual growth of the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood. It was only due to a heavy presence of military facilities along the lakeshore, that war-time housing construction on the undeveloped land between Gentilly Road and the lakefront, began the residential population explosion of the area, and thereby increased the student population of the area's only public school.

Following the War, exponential development and growth in not only the Gentilly and Lakefront area, but also 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 designed to handle the children of the one square mile area of the original Gentilly Terrace subdivision. With much of Gentilly's undeveloped area turned into housing for employees of the factories and military installations along the reclaimed lakefront, and later the families of returning military personnel, the population of Gentilly exploded in the late 40s and early 50s.

By the start of the 1953-54 term, the school, which originally was staffed by one principal and two teachers, had grown to a minimum of four classes for each for 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 management of a single teacher. A number of those teachers at that time were still 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. Later, as new public schools were constructed in the Gentilly, Lakeshore 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 approaching eight hundred students through much of the 1950s.

The following are photos from private collections, and from 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. We appreciate the use of photographs held by persons who posted to social media sites, and we have attempted to give photo credit wherever possible. We have also provided a list of the faculty from the 1950s, and have indicated their present status. whether alive or deceased. If anyone who views this site has additional information that would be of interest, we will be happy to incorporate it into the site. Thanks especially to those folks on the "I grew up in Gentilly" and "people who attended GTS in the 50s" Facebook sites for making available several photos and many memories of our old school and life in Gentilly in the 1950s.

 
 
ADDITIONAL HISTORICAL AND ARCHITECTURAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE
GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL BUILDING
NOTE: It was recently learned that all of the pre-2005 maintenance and contract records for Gentilly Terrace School were stored in a building at 4300 Almonaster Avenue in New Orleans, and were destroyed in the 2005 Katrina flood. We therefore request that anyone having specific information on contracts, renovations, plans, etc., involving the history of the school, consider sharing them with viewers of this site so that the information can remain available for historical research purposes now and in the future.

Above is a photo of the school building, believed to date to 1926-27, as it looked following the 1926 addition of the east and west wings that extend back toward Mirabeau Avenue. Noteworthy 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 late-1950s when PTA fund raisers made the purchases possible, and window air conditioners were only added well after the 1950s.

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, does not yet exist in the 1926 photo above. The suspected cause of the great 1936 fire was reportedly a defect in the original boiler chimney, so evidence supports that the original chimney probably terminated too close to the wood and tile roof, and that the chimney was necessarily 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 still visible. As stated previously, it was demolished just prior to the 1953 renovation, following the death of the school's last live-in janitor, Mr. Danna.

Photo above is courtesy of the LOUIS digital library-State of Louisiana. Photo below is from a 1956 school publication provided by Mrs. Joy M. Hopkins (Class of 58).

In the course of the researching the school's history, we discovered that the original school building, completed in 1914, was only the front section of the present school structure that is pictured above. In several Times-Picayune articles going back as far as the 1914 construction and 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. Each of the two wings added in 1926, contained four classrooms each on the upper floor, and an open basement on the lower floors. A lunch room was also included on the lower floor of the Arts/Mirabeau corner of the expanded building. Although we can find no supporting documentation, the portion along Mirabeau Avenue, which contains the student rest rooms and portion of the cafeteria food preparation area, were probably added at that same time, thereby forming a quadrangle around what became and enclosed patio yard at the core of the structure.

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


 
LOOKING BACK AT GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL
FROM ITS 1914 FOUNDING.
 

By the 1919-1920 school year, Gentilly Terrace School had already become a fixture as families began to build houses on the lots that the new development offered. While the school began in 1914 with only Miss Keitz as the principal, and two other teachers, the 1919-1920 roster of Orleans Parish School Board employees listed the following ten teachers and employees assigned to Gentilly Terrace School:

GENTILLY TERRACE— Boys and Girls.
Grammar and Primary.
District: Neighborhood.
Miss Henrietta C. Keitz Principal
Miss Fannie Tobin Assistant
Miss Claire Leefe Assistant
Miss Hermia Feraon Assistant
Miss Marion' Wadsworth Assistant
Miss Marion Phillips Assistant
Miss Amelia Masson Assistant
Miss Rita Sbisa Assistant
Miss May C. Nobles Kindergarten
Mrs. Clemence Raby Janitor

Note that no food service employees were listed in the 1919-1920 roster. As mentioned on this site, the lunch room did not exist prior to 1927, and only then as a facility staffed by parent volunteers.

 
We are deeply indebted to Gentilly Terrace School 1930s graduate Ms. Molly Harris, who graciously offered the use of these photos, and also to Ms. Maggie Douglas who scanned Ms. Harris' original class book and arranged to send us the photos.
Above: A 1930 era photo of Miss Henrietta Keitz, founding principal of Gentilly Terrace School. A graduate of the New Orleans Normal School for Teachers, Miss Keitz was a major figure in the school's history from its founding in 1914 until her retirement in 1948. The school opened in 1914-15 with a three faculty member staff that included Miss Keitz as principal and teacher.
 
Between the founding in 1914, and the early 1930s when these photos were taken, the Gentilly Terrace development and neighborhood had grown to the point where additional classroom wings had been added to the school. The number of faculty members was also increased as homes were built, and families with children sought the luxury of living in what, for many years, was the city's premier real estate development. The lady shown in this 1930s picture, is Miss Giblen, who was assistant principal at the time.
 

Shown here are a group of Gentilly Terrace School teachers and students from the 1930s era. They are identified as follows:
Miss Tobin in center of second row
Miss Louise Siedlock in back of Miss Tobin
Students shown are: (front row l-r) Estelle Mire and Ruby Jacobson
(second row) Caroline Muniz, Polly Zinzer, and Ruth Saunders.

Many of the GTS teachers spent most or all of their teaching careers at the school. Ms. Keitz was principal from the school's opening in 1914 until her 1947 retirement. Her connection as a former instructor in the Normal School, allowed her to hand pick the best of the Normal School graduates to teach at Gentilly Terrace. The article below confirms that career teachers Clara Mascara and Alma Flucke, both Normal School graduates who trained under Ms. Keitz, were teaching at the school as early as the late 1930s. Although Ms Keitz retired in 1947, Ms. Flucke and Ms. Mascara, and a number of other Normal School trained teachers, remained at the school through the 1950s and into the 1960s.

GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL TEACHERS INJURED IN AUTO ACCIDENT:

 

THE 1936 FIRE

As previously reported above, the building was involved in a major 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. At the time, Gentilly had no presence from the New Orleans Fire Department in the way of a fire station or engine company. In the event of fire, engine companies had to come from the closest fire house at Elysian Fields and North Robertson Streets, and fire fighters were often delayed to their destination by slow moving trains on the L&N and main line tracks that both intersected Elysian Fields Avenue. The experience of the Gentlly Terrace School fire, and resulting pressure on the city by residents of the area, was a major determining factor in bringing about the construction of the fire station which existed for years on the corner of Elysian Fields and Foy Streets.

A summary of a Times Picayune 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 begun for the day. 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, homes 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 school's boiler had been converted to burn oil instead of coal. By 1951, natural gas service had been brought into the school's cafeteria, however oil was still being used as heating fuel. In 1951, at the time this writer began attending the school, a large above ground oil storage tank was positioned just to the left of the Arts Street entrance to the building, and another tank existed in the patio just outside of the boiler room. During the 1953 renovation, natural gas was deployed as the boiler fuel for heating, and the entire building was converted from steam to circulating hot water in order to accommodate safer baseboard convectors used in newly constructed first floor classrooms and assembly areas. Some students may remember that many of the veteran teachers were still aware of the severity of the 1936 fire, and the ever present potential for fires and boiler explosions in the wood frame building. It was Miss Keitz's well practiced fire drill procedures that were credited with evacuating students from the building safely as the 1936 fire threatened to collapse the building's roof. We were therefore regularly cautioned, by our teachers and the principal, to take all fire drills seriously.

The boiler that was in use in the 1950s, from this writer's recollection, was a large cast iron sectional that resembled the boiler in the following photo.

There were open windows from the patio to the boiler room, prior to the 1953 closure of the yard in order to construct the auditorium, and I looked in those windows many times as a kinerfartener and first grader. My later discussions with boiler maker Bert Leaveau, confirmed that the boiler was probably replaced during the summer 1953 renovation. Not having blue prints available, or anyone still around who was aware of the mechanical situation in that era, I have not been able to determine if the system had been steam at some point, or if it always operated as a circulating hot water plant. Photos of ceiling mounted radiators, as shown in the boy scout assembly photo from the late 1940s, seems to show steam traps. Also, mounting the radiators on the ceiling would be consistent with being able to return condensate back to the boiler room. When the basement classrooms were added in 1953, and baseboard convectors were installed throughout the first floor, it is fairly certain that hot water was the heating medium at least for the first floor. If anyone has knowledge of whether there was a steam to hydronic conversion, please let me know. Presently, the system is definitely circulating hot water. In 2004, I visited the boiler room, and there was a newer single 10 million BTU cast iron sectional boiler heating the entire building. In the photos below, apparently that boiler was replaced with two smaller thermo-pak style boilers after Katrina, however these too are hot water boilers.

Unfortunately, from what I have learned, all documents and blueprints pertaining to the school were lost in the flood of a warehouse on Almonaster Avenue during Katrina. If anyone has info pertaining to the physical plant, and it's evolution over the school's history, we would welcome this information to complete the record on the architectural and engineering specifics.

 
 
PLACEMENT OF CLASSROOMS AND TEACHER ASSIGNMENTS
In response to inquiries, the following floor plans indicate, to the best of the memory of former 1950s students, the location of various classrooms and teacher assignments in the mid-1950s era. Please offer additions or corrections if you are aware of any. Remember that some classroom assignments and faculty members did change, so these drawings probably indicate a single point-in-time around 1955-56.
FIRST FLOOR PLAN
Note that prior to the 1953 renovation project, only the four classrooms at the left existed. The remainder of the classrooms shown, were built out in in 1953 in what was previously open basement area.
SECOND FLOOR PLAN
 
GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL ANNEX FLOOR PLAN
 
 

CLASSROOM PHOTOS

There are some interesting observations to be had 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 notable 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, school celebrations of these holidays are discouraged or not permitted in order to maintain present day political correctness. . The teachers shown are all 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.
 
A long standing member of the Gentilly Terrace School faculty, Miss Alma Flucke taught first grade from the 1930s until her retirement.
(photo courtesy of Barbara Stempel Smyth)
 
The second grade class of Mrs. Carolyn Babin, taken on Halloween day of 1953
(Photo above by seven year old John DeMajo)
 
The official class photo of Mrs. Carolyn Babin's second grade class from the 1953-54 school year.
(Photo above courtesy of Joy M. Hopkins)
 
Field trips were frequent in the 1950s. Shown here are second graders from Gentilly Terrace School attending a floral show at New Orleans' Municipal Auditorium during the spring of 54. The adults in the back row were parents who accompanied students on the outing, and teacher Mrs. Carolyn Babin is the second adult from the left. Note that Mrs. Babin, and several of the mothers are wearing hats, which was typical for ladies in that era when they went to public outings, church, or even downtown shopping. (Photo source unknown)
 
Ms. Doris Tognoni's second grade class from 1954. Her classroom was located on the second floor front corner of the Painters / 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. The lady to the right of Miss Fluke is third-grade teacher Mrs. Annabelle Garcia. 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 courtesy 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 (right). Based on the fact that several children are wearing masks, it is believed that this photo was taken at a class party on the Monday preceding the Mardi Gras holiday. Note the presence of operable transoms above the doors, which were used to provide cross-ventilation to the classrooms in the pre-air conditioning era.
(Photo above by John DeMajo)
 
Children in the third grade class of Mrs. Annabelle Garcia prepare for Christmas 1954.
(Photo above by John DeMajo)
 

Above: The first grade class of Miss Marian Sarrat
Miss Sarrat's classroom here is typical of the new first floor classrooms that were created during the school's 1953 summer renovation. In the photo below, Miss Sarrat had been promoted to teaching 4th grade by the end of the 1950s. She moved from her classroom on the Arts street side of the basement, and assumed the second floor classroom previously occupied by the 4th grade classes of Miss Betty Bernos.

(Photo above courtesy of Stephen Elmer and photo below courtesy of Barbara Stempl Smyth)

 
Veteran GTS teacher Miss Helen Donahoe with her 1963 first grade class.
This photo and photo below are courtesy of Randy Rosenburg
 
Miss Lydia Mickal's Third Grade class from 1965
 
Above: Mrs. Audrey Chatelain's Second Grade class from 1956-57, and below, her class from the following year. The photo above shows an example of the then modern fluorescent lighting that was installed in 1953 to replace the original four-to-a-room incandescent "school house" light fixtures installed at time of construction.
 
Miss Marjorie Wingerter with her fourth-grade class from 1957-58. Although she is sometimes remembered for her less than quiet speaking voice, Miss Wingerter was also one of the teachers who was universally loved and respected by her many students.
 

Miss Iva Smith's second grade class from 1956-57


Note the poster behind Miss. Smith. Celebration of Valentine's Day and exchanging of Valentine cards between students was permitted and encouraged in that era. The classroom, which was on the Arts St. end of the building toward Carnot St., was previously used as the Home Economics room prior to the 1953-54 changes. The door to the right of Mrs. Smith, in the photo, led to what was the pantry for food preparation products used in the 7th and 8th grade Home Economics courses.

 

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


Mrs. Wunder (the former Mildred Gonzales) was one of the remaining Normal School trained teachers. She was also instrumental in organizing the 1930 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. (Photo courtesy of 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) Mrs. Mildred Wunder, Miss Henrietta Keitz (Principal) and Mrs. Providance Schrenk. (Photo courtesy of Carol Burgard Crosby)
 
And the tradition continued in Jume of 1947, with the addition of caps and gowns, as shown in this photo submitted by Dennis Good.
 
This photo, from Hal Ellison, shows Mrs. Mildred Wunder with her class of 1950-51. Miss Marian Sarrat, who was a first grade teacher at the time, is also in the photo at right. 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. Providance DiMartino Schrenk and Mrs. Martha Gherke were the other teachers in that era. Shown below is Mrs. Schrenk'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. Schrenk can be seen at the left-rear, and Miss Keitz, who was still principal at the time, is at the rear-right.
(Photo courtesy of Mr. Bill Creevy)
 

Another photo of Mrs. Schrenk's class, this time from 1959, thirteen years after the photo above.
(Photo courtesy 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 courtesy 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 molding. 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 courtesy of Kathy Boothby Waller)
 
.
Mrs. L. W. Geary's 5th Grade Class of 1959> Mrs Geary is seated in at the desk to the left-rear of the classroom.
Photo courtesy of Deborah McShan
 
The Gentilly Terrace School Boy's Band from the mid 1950s. Pictured with the band are director Harry Morel, Sr. at left and principal C.P. Kessler at right.
(Photo provided by Roy Mark)
.
SCOUTING WAS POPULAR WITH MANY GTS STUDENTS IN THE 1950s.

A higher resolution version of this photo can be viewed by clicking on the photo displayed above

A rare photo of the school basement prior to the 1953 renovation and classroom additions. The photo was taken in the assembly area that was in the Painter's St side of the building's first floor. For those who remember this area, the front wall of the building that faces Painters Street was the left side of the photo, and Mrs. Gehrke's kindergarten classroom, which was on the front Painters/Carnot corner of the building, would have been at the rear of the shot. The doors and windows along the right wall, bordered on the play area that was known as the "patio." That was a yard, enclosed on four sides but open to the sky above, which was intended to be a safe play area for lower grade children. It was eventually totally enclosed and roofed, and became the school's auditorium after the summer of 1953. The group shown is the school's BSA Scout Troop 98. The photograph was provided by Mr. Bill Creevy.

For technical historians, the above photo establishes at least a couple of architectural/engineering points. First, this was the general appearance of the school's basement area prior to 1953. In the '53 renovation, this, and the similar open basement area on the Arts Street side, were turned into classrooms. The wood floors, which presented a fire hazard, were removed and fire resistant concrete and vinyl tile floors became the standard on the school's entire lower level. Also of significance are the radiators mounted on the ceiling. Careful study reveals steam traps at various points on these radiators. The reason for ceiling mounting the basement radiators would probably have been to facilitate steam condensate returning, by gravity, back to the boiler room where it was re-used in the heating cycle. When the basement was turned into classrooms, baseboard level hot water convectors, which were encased to prevent the children receiving burns, replaced these more primitive heating devices. The convectors allowed for more careful control of temperature in the smaller spaces of the enclosed classrooms, and were also less unsightly. That improvemet required that the system be converted from steam to circulating hot water, since the baseboard convector placement would have prevented the return of steam condensate to the boiler room without the addition of substantial pumping equipment. Additionally, removal of the ugly ceiling mounted radiators allowed for the installation of acoustic ceiling tile and modern fluorescent lighting.

 

The school's 1950s Brownie Troop (exact year unknown)
 
 
To see a larger version of this photo from mid 1950s, click on the photo above.
 
 

THE GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL KREWE OF HEARTS

Each Mardi-Gras season, students were selected from the various grades to participate in the annual Krewe Of Hearts celebration. The festivities included a street parade through the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood, often with the children riding on open convertibles. The court was then presented to the student body in scenes reminiscent of the city's adult carnival krewes. Several photos have been submitted by former students. We are trying to identify what year each photo represents. If you, or someone you know are in an unidentified photo, please let us know the year it was taken so that we can date the photo. We also will post additional photos if they are submitted to us.

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 above: property of Deborah McShan)
 
The date of the photo above is in question. We know that it is not 1957 or 1958. If you recognize the year, please let us know.
 
This one is also unknown date. Since it was taken on the school's front terrace steps, it pre-dates the construction of the new auditorium in 1953.
 
The photo above has been identified by a member of the court as being 1957
 
This one is believed, by the contributor, to be 1953, however it was still shot on the front terrace, which would indicate it may have been taken before the 1953 renovation and creation of the new auditorium. After the auditorium was completed in '53, all of the official Crew Of Hearts photos were taken on the stage of the new addition.
 
Another unidentified year of the Krewe of Hearts. This photo was taken at Mardi-Gras 1954 or later, however, because the location is the stage of the auditorium built in 1953
 
 
THE ANNUAL CHRISTMAS TRIP TO E. A. FARLEY FLORIST
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)
 

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 the concept of a student talent show to highlight the many 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.

 
 
Under Mr. Kessler's administration, and as part of his plan to adopt innovative extracurricular programs to make GTS more in keeping with modern educational practices, a school newspaper was instituted. A contest was held among the student body to name the school paper, and the winning choice was "Tilly-Talk".
 
The Arts Street elevation photo which was taken in later years preceding Katrina. Note that the outward appearance of the school had changed somewhat from earlier years. Here, window air conditioners can be seen in each classroom, and the "Craftsman style exterior doors, from Edgar Christie design, visible in the head photo on this page, have been replaced with UL Fire Rated steel doors. 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 Arts Street entrance above. The storage tank 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 its incorporation as a charter school. The beautiful, almost century old oak trees, which once adorned the campus, were lost in the 2005 storm.
Photo above by John DeMajo
 
 
TEACHERS AND STAFF OF GENTILLY TERRACE SCHOOL IN THE 1950s

To we children and students, our teachers were these ominous characters who dominated our lives for eight hours every school day. Some we loved, some we feared, but all were respected. Most of us never gave a thought to the fact that these ladies were dedicated educators who were, like our own parents, just trying to survive and earn a living. Some were splitting their time between their duties to their students, as well as raising their own children and caring for their families. Others, who were old enough to have been caught in the draconian regulation of not being able to marry, were on their own to survive, and destined to a home life deprived of the benefits of having husbands and children.

Realizing that many of us knew little about the personal lives of our teachers, we have provided the results of some in-depth research into who these people actually were, and what became of them.

NOTE: To see all available public obituaries for Gentilly Terrace School teachers from the 1950s era, click this link.
First name if known
Last name
Status
Grade taught
Henrietta Katherina
Keitz
Born July 21, 1879. Appointed in 1914 as school/s first principal. She retired in 1948 and died December 17, 1964.
Founding principal
Isaac R.
Foster
Died January 1953 at age 53 . Mr. Foster's final resting place is Shiloh Baptist Church Cemetery in Brookhaven, Mississippi.
Principal 1947-1953
Clifton P.
Kessler
Born Sept 18, 1897, Died October 10, 1981 at age 84 He is buried in St. Patrick Cemetery #1 New Orleans.
Principal 1953-
Clare M.
Newman
Died January 1979
School secretary
Ethel
Primeaux
Born Oct 1, 1918, died Jan 20, 2000. She is buried in St. John Cemetery in New Orleans.
School Secretary
Inez R.
Landry, LPN
Born January 8, 1918; Died Nov 10, 2012 at age 94 . She is buried in the church cemetery of t St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Paincourtville, La
School Nurse She was a graduate of Hotel Dieu School of Nursing
Emelda Agnes
Ziegan
Born Oct 22, 1913; Died September 23, 2005 at age 91. She is buried in Grenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.
Sixth
Marian
Sarrat
Born January 15, 1909. Died July, 1981 at age 72 She is buried in St. Louis #2 Cemetery New Orleans
First
Clara Louise
Mascaro

Born March 20, 1901; Died February 17, 1997. She is buried in Metairie Cemetery, Metairie, La

First
Elva Benson
Davis
Born November 13, 1906. Died November 22, 1993 at age 87.
Sixth
Marjorie Rita
Wingerter

Born Feb. 26, 1919; Died Jan 20, 2013 at age 93 She is buried in Hope Mausoleum in New Orleans

Fourth
Annabelle Mae Purnell
Garcia

Born Nov. 1m 1909, Died Jan. 12. 2004 at age 94

Third
Alma Catherine
Flucke

Born Feb 18, 1908, Died August 5, 1997. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans.

First
Isma
Zelenka (later Married Luquette)
Last mentionn of Isma Zelenka was in a 2018 real estate transfer in Jefferson Parish. It is possible she is still alive.
?
Amelia M.
Leake
Was born in 1934 or 35. Attended LSU in mid 1950s and was apparently a new teacher.
Fifth
Iva Thigpen
Smith
The June 13, 1913 Picayune listed Miss Smith as graduating from 8th Grade at Audubon School. She was born January 17, 1903 and died April 12, 2000 in Caddo Parish, La. She is buried in Centuries Memorial Park in Shreveport, La.
Second
Betty
Dean
She filled in for spring semester when Miss Ziegen transferred from 5th to 6th grade to take over Mrs. Bolton's class. After the summer of 1956, we believe this position was taken over by Mrs. Penton.
Fifth
Helen C.
Donahoe
Born Nov.5, 1902; Died April 21, 1982. Ms. Donahoe is buried in St. Patrick Cemetery #1 in New Orleans.
First
Clare
Nevel
To date, we have not been able to locate any biographical information on Mrs. Nevel other than she was an elderly retired teacher who filled in for almost the entire 1952-53 session as a first grade teacher who was replacing Ms. Helen Donahoe after Ms Donahoe suffered a heart attack on the job shortly after the school year began .
First Grade substitute filling absence of Helen Donahoe
Providance "Sue" DiMartino
Schrenk
Born September 8, 1915; Died May 10, 1994 at the age of 78. Burial in Lake Lawn Mausoleum New Orleans.
Kindergarten
Martha Bernissant
Gehrke
Born Jan 23, 1914; Died November 25, 2004 at the age of 90. She is buried in Lake Lawn Park Cemetery in New Orleans.
Kindergarten
Mildred Gonzales
Wunder
Born Dec. 31,1909; Died Nov 22, 1999 at age 89.
Kindergarten
Clara Letitia
Jackson
Ms. Jackson was a 1930 graduate of the New Orleans Normal School, and she attended Loyola University. She transferred from GTS to McDonogh 28 Junior High in 1953 when seventh and eighth grades were discontinued at Gentilly Terrace School. She was born in 1906 in Mississippi.
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
Born March 10, 1912; Died December 28, 2014 at age 102 She is buried in Metairie Cemetery Metairie, LA.
Fifth
Lillian Florence Weber
Geary
Born March 2, 1908; Died April 9, 1996 She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery New Orleans
Fifth
Betty
Bernos
Fourth
Ruth Edwina Molinaro
Devonshire
Born July 14, 1905- Died January 1, 1985 at age 74. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Third
Edwina Lucie
Suarez
Born Mar 1906,
Third
Frances Louise Lester
Creevy
Born June 2, 1909; Died Sep 27, 2001. Buried in Lafayette Cemetery #2 in New Orleans
?
?
Penton
Fifth
Catherine
Tuminello
Born Oct 17,1930; Died Aug 8, 1999 at the age of 68. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery New Orleans.
Second
Emma Weaver McGowan
McLendon
Born Dec.1, 1908; Died January 21, 1980 Buried in Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans
Sixth
Lydia
Mickal
Born July 12, 1907, Died April 17,1998 at age 90. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans
Third
Cora Nellie
Phillips
Born Aug. 10, 1905; Died April 1995
Fourth
Audrey Arnold
Pavlovich-Chatelain
Born Dec 26, 1915, Died June 28,1991

Second

Pauline Lehmann
Johnson
Died June 9, 2009 at the age of 98. She is buried in the Garden Of Memories Cemetery in Metairie, LA.
Sixth (also acting principal remainder of 52-53 session after Mr. Foster's death.)
Lucille S.
Wise
 
Fifth
Rita G.
Zerr
Mrs. Zerr went on to earn a PhD in education and taught at Tulane University until her retirement. In 2017, she was still listed as living in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Fourth
Harry J.
Morel, Sr.
Born May 8, 1919, Died May 12, 2013 at age 94. He is buried in Metairie Cemetery New Orleans.
Band
Doris Clark
Tognoni
Born on December 21 1917.
Lived in Metairie, Louisiana 70005, USA.
Died on October 22, 2000, at age 82.
Second
Carolyn Elma Fichtel
Babin
Living in Texas at this time.
Second thru 1958 then Third
B.
Warren
 
Fifth
Doris
Davis
  Kindergarten
Elsie Jane
McWhirter - Cornay
Born May 4, 1920, Died July 23,1995 at age 76 Buried in Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans
First
Eola Hallaron
Cucinotta

Born Apr 19, 1909, Died Dec 1987 (buried in St. patrick's Cemetery in New Orleans.

Special Education beginnning in 1958
?
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 Delia Crain
Bolton
(was replaced by Emelda Zeigan at mid-year when Mrs. Bolton's pregnancy with her second child required that she leave her teaching position) Born June 20, 1924, Died Nov. 28, 2000.

Sixth

 

Loretta Margaret
Burke
Born July 30, 1916, Died Mar 5, 1990 in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida
School Librarian/ Speech therapy
?
Allen (Mr.)
Janitor
Percy
?
Janitor
?
Danner (Mr)
Janitor (died late 1952)
BELOW ARE PORTRAITS OF SOME OF THE FACULTY MEMBERS FOR WHICH INDIVIDUAL PHOTOS WERE PUBLICLY AVAILABLE.
(Only photos available through public websites and public domain sources
are shown)
Miss Henrietta Keitz was the founding principal of Gentilly Terrace School. Her tenure at GTS ranged from it's opening in 1914, until her retirement in 1948 after having served forty years as an educator in the Orleans Parish School System. A graduate of the city's Normal School for Teachers, Miss Keitz opened Gentilly Terrace School as an eight classroom building with a staff of two teachers in addition to herself. The school, which at its opening was located in what was an undeveloped rural setting of farms and a few homes, grew under her guidance and innovative ideas, to become one of the premier schools in the city, and the laboratory for numerous school board programs many of which which she instituted.
 
.
Mr. Clifton P. (Kip) Kessler, third principal in the 100 plus year history of the school, served as principal of Gentilly Terrace School from 1953 through the early 1960s. He had previously served as principal of the OPSB's Wilson school, and prior to that was a coach and chemistry teacher at St. Aloysius High School. He was married to Mary Dempsey Kessler, and he died at the age of 84.
(Photo provided by Roy Mark)
 
.
Mrs. Pauline Lehmann Johnson was an upper grades teacher who taught sixth grade, and seventh and eighth grades prior to 1953. She was a graduate of LSU and held a Masters degree from Tulane University. She had two children. She acted as principal of Gentilly Terrace School for the period between the death of Isaac Foster and the appointment of C.P, Kessler. She was married to David Lee Johnson, and was active in her Baptist church as both a Sunday school teacher and a missionary. She lived to the age of 98,
 
.
Miss Betty Bernos, a beloved teacher who taught mainly fourth grade, eventually left Gentilly Terrace to become a teacher in the government's program to educate children in third world countries. She was featured in an article in the Times-Picayune when she embarked on her career as an educator in foreign countries. You can see a copy by clicking here
 
.
Miss Emelda Agnes Ziegan taught 5th and then 6th Grade, and was regarded by most as a strict disciplinarian. While her mere presence elicited fear, many of her students credited her with being a fair and inspiring teacher. Having never married, she lived in Mid City with her parents until their deaths. She came from a large family with three sisters and many nieces and nephews and she passed away at the age of 91.
 
.
Another well liked and respected teacher was Miss Catherine Tuminello who taught Second Grade. Miss Tuminello's teaching career at Gentilly Terrace commenced almost immediately upon her graduation from Loyola University. She passed away in 1999 at the age of 68.
 
Fifth Grade teacher Miss Amelia M. Leake at the time of her 1954 graduation from LSU. Gentilly Terrace was her first teaching assignment after graduation.
 
.
Miss Lucille Wise, 5th Grade teacher during the 1950s.
(Photo courtesy of Roy Mark)
 

SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS

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. There were also a number of substitute teachers that are remembered. Of course Clare Nevel, mentioned above, substituted in place of Helen Donahoe for almost the entire 1952-53 school year. We also understand that Ms Carolyn Babin's mother-in-law Celine Babin, also substituted for a time when Ms. Babin was on maternity leave. Other substitute names remembered are Mrs. Carla Magee, Ms. Ado, Ms. Lang, Ms Spiller, Ms. Miller and Ms. Schulingkamp, all who were regular subs during the 1950s.

 

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 close to 900 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.

Providance (Sue) DiMartino Schrenk was the sister of Mrs. Gertrude Meade who taught Spanish to many GTS alumni at John McDonogh Senior 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) once 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.

Time at the school was kept first by a large wall mounted clock in the hall across from the principal's office. As part of the 1953 renovation, it was was replaced by a system of IBM wall clocks in several areas of the building. The IBM clocks were networked to a master clock in the principal's office, and the master clock was set through a network from the National Bureau Of Standards in Colorado via Western Union and IBM networks. These new clocks were also capable of controlling the scheduled ringing of the school's bells, which were also strategically placed throughout the building. Prior to the installation of that system, the school had no electric bells, and the old hall clock, across from the principal's office, merely alerted the principal that it was time to have teachers ring brass hand bells, at each corner of the first and second floors, signaling the start and end of classes.

IBM double-face wall clock of the type used in GTS following the 1953 renovation.

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?

THE 1950's ERA PHONE NUMBERS FOR THE SCHOOL

Up until the early 1950s, the phone number for the office was FRanklin 9931

In the 1950s, when the FAirview exchange was placed on line, the number became FAirview 4012

The Annex had their own phone, which was a wall mounted Western Electric "space saver" phone located on the door between Mrs. Stewart's classroom and the multi-purpose room. The number for that phone was CRescent 1101. The Crescent exchange had been put into operation by Southern Bell at the end of World War II as Gentilly expanded. The Annex, which was opened in 1946, had probably been issued one of the first group of CRescent exchange numbers.


Phone style used in the GTS Annex.

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.

KINDERGARTEN SINGING EXERCISES PRIOR TO 1953

Prior to the 1953 construction of the school's auditorium, and the hiring of a part-time singing teacher that same year, children in the three kindergarten classes would go on Wednesday mornings into the classroom of Martha Gehrke to be taught simple children's songs. Mrs. Gehrke was a trained pianist, and she had an old upright piano in her classroom that she used to accompany the singing. Students from Mrs. Wunder's and Mrs. Schrenk's classes sat on the wood floor while Mrs. Gehrke's students remained at their regular table seats. In that era, kindergarteners were seated at a series of tables in each classroom. It was not until the 1953 renovation, that individual desks were provided to kindergarten classrooms.

 

 

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 devastating 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 its 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. Its 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 its 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, and the name has been changed. 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 firmly believe that we were the beneficiaries of the best era in the history of New Orleans and the United States, and that we were blessed to have attended the Orleans Parish School Board's premier school with some of the most dedicated teschers the system had to offer.

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.

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