I was born in Buck Town, USA. That little fishing village on the once shell road along the 17th Street Canal from the bridge-crossing at Bruning’s and the Big House to the Old Hammond Hwy. . . . At that time, Buck Town was just a couple of blocks square.
Buck Town USA
Just across the 17th Street Canal from West End, at Jefferson Parish's East End, the rustic fishing village called Bucktown developed during the late 19th century. By the early 20th century, wooden camps built on stilts with wide galleries covered by shingle or tin roofs lined the canal. There were also stores, a schoolhouse, and a jail, as well as saloons, gambling houses, dance halls and clubhouses for sportsmen. Bucktown's restaurants were notable attractions, serving plentiful seafood from the lake and wildfowl and game from the surrounding swamps and marshes.
When I was a kid, another friend and I would ride my Cushman's motor skooter out on Old Hammond Hwy. following the lake westward along the levee. We encountered several dairy farms where we had to open and close the gates to pass through. Out on the lake were at least 3 building sites on pilings that were remnants of former Gambling Casinos and sportsmen clubhouses. Several miles out was an abandoned World War II shooting range that had many left over casings and shells and other discarded military items.
Years later, I recall being driven out the same route by a real estate salesman who stopped and pointed out in the near distance covered by trees and brush, "There, that's about where your lot is. All you need to do is sign right here."
Little did I realize that even more years later, that I would own a 3-story house that backed up to the levee and yet a few years later, a 3-story Mediterranean Villa facing and overlooking Lake Pontchartrain.
17th Street Canal
Below, are three photos of the 17th Street Canal in Buck Town. At left an older picture before the widening and paving of the old Shell Road as shown with the old homesteads removed at right. The larger photo at bottom shows the "Big House" at the mouth of the Canal as taken from the new foot bridge crossing. The pilings at right is where Bruning's was situated before Hurricane Georges demolished it after its 100-plus year history.
Buck Town, Jefferson Parish had developed on Lake Pontchartrain in the 1880s as a result of the digging and dredging of the 17th Street Canal to provided drainage for Uptown and Carrollton Section. Before the canal, a Shell Road had been laid to provide access to West End's Amusement park.
Brunings Restaurant served as headquarters and founding venue for the annual "BAT Club" which met every Holy Thursday. It was a Men-Only club that derived its name from Butchers And Titty-Pullers representing the Buck Town area Dairy men and Butchers having their beginnings sometime around 1880.
As it grew, it became the loose knit organization where Jefferson Parish and New Orleans businessmen and politicians got together to let there hair down. John Boutall held forth introducing all the cast of players including judges, D.A.s, mayors, councilmen and other leading dignitaries who were all invited to the mic to tell a Dirty joke. If no joke, they got booed. The Drinking was heavy, the Eating was most savory, and the Card Tables continued through the wee morning hours.
My Dad had the first place (called Ellis's Stand) at the beginnng of the line of Seafood stands along the seawall when Brunings was the only restaurant built on pilings where the old wooden bridge crossed the 17th Street Canal to Bucktown. Next to Ellis's Stand was a large cement restroom for men. The next stand was Rostrop's, then Maggie's, then there was another large cement restroom for ladies. Behind, was Brunings Restaurant. In the bend of the Park was Fontana's and Swanson's. Encroaching on the levee was a long wooden structure where the Wonder Bar (Female Impersonators) performed nightly. During the 1940's, every night was a party because there was a naval facility in the lake where the New Orleans Yacht Club Marina is now located. The sailor's frequented all of the places along the Front.
My Step-father, Gus Werner, owned a third of Brunings, the Big House on the Point, the Pontchartrain Plaza Casino, and the Wonderland, a stand filled with gaming machines that was erected between the Men's Restroom and Ellis's Stand.
Fitzgerald's had built his first place over the Lake and after being demolished by a hurricane, built his second restaurant over the lake behind Ellis's Stand. When Hurricane Camille damaged Ellis's Stand, not having insurance, my dad sold his place to Maurice Fitzgerald, which was rebuilt as a Storage Facility.
My brothers, Augie, Ed, and George Werner built Augie's DeLago next to Fitzgerald's which later, had been purchased by Allen Jeager.
For a short period of time, I operated the place that was formerly Rostrop's Stand while teaching school. I also operated the Pontchartrain Plaza after gambling was illegal as a Cocktail Lounge and when the My-O-My burned down where the Wonder Bar used to be on the 17th Street Canal, I negotiated a rental lease with them for my mother. They operated there until Hurrican Camille severely damaged the place which remained dormant until it was leased out and rebuilt as the Bounty. The Bounty lease was eventually defaulted on. It continued under several names and management until Hurricane Katrina obliterated the whole Front at West End.
Above is approximate location of former Ellis's Stand - this side of the Parish Sign
Above is site of Augie's DeLago pilings
Above is site of Fitzgerald's pilings
Above is range of pilings from Bruning's #2 to Fitzgerald's
This is site of former Swanson's and Fontana's from driveway into Bruning's #1