Thursday, January 1, 2009

Levy Pants, Inc.

Levy Pants
At his mother’s insistence, Ignatius answered a classified ad in the newspaper and began working for Levy Pants, Inc. The ad told prospective employees to “Apply Levy Pants, Industrial Canal and River,” which places the building at the eastern border of the Bywater neighborhood.
Bywater is part of the Ninth Ward, and more specifically, the Upper Ninth Ward. The Upper Ninth Ward is “upriver” from the Lower Ninth Ward and both sit just east of the French Quarter.
Here’s a Google Map’s view of Bywater, and coincidentally, the “stick-pin” is probably pretty close to where Levy Pants would have been…

Ignatius entered and took in the building, and Toole describes it as such:
“Through the dusty windows of the office there was a gray view of the Poland Avenue wharf, the Army Terminal, the Mississippi, and, far in the distance, the dry docks and the roofs of Algiers across the river.” From this vantage point, Ignatius is looking towards the southeast.
Later, as Ignatius heads home, the taxi takes St. Claude Ave., which is one of the main roads through that part of New Orleans. It roughly parallels the River and would easily take him back to his own neighborhood and Constantinople St.
Toole described the building in more detail in another passage:
“Levy Pants was two structures fused into one macabre unit. The front of the plant was a brick commercial building of the nineteenth century with a mansard roof that bulged out into several rococo dormer windows, the panes of which were mostly cracked. Within this section the office occupied the third floor, a storage area the second, and refuse the first. Attached to this building, which Mr. Gonzalez referred to as ‘the brain center,’ was the factory, a barnlike prototype of an airplane hangar. The two smokestacks that rose from the factory’s tin roof leaned apart at an angle that formed an outsized rabbit-eared television antenna…”
He went on to say:
“Alongside the neat gray wharf sheds that lined the river and canal across the railroad tracks, Levy Pants huddled, a silent and smoky plea for urban renewal.”
Those are all very descriptive and clearly place the building in Bywater, near the river, and near the Industrial Canal. I’ve been all through this area and I cannot find a building that looks like the one Toole is describing.
Most of the wharfs are gone, but its easy to tell where they once were. They were usually named for the street that dead-ends into the river, and Poland Ave. does exactly that. The Poland Avenue wharf is one of the few still standing on this stretch of the Mississippi River and it sits right next to the Naval Support Activity.
Here is another indication of the time in which Confederacy is set.
In 1919, the US Army constructed several buildings on the site for use as a general depot during WWI. The base continued operations through WWII and, in 1955, became known as the New Orleans Army Terminal. The base changed its name to the New Orleans Army Base in 1965, and then was handed over to the US Navy in 1966. At that time, it became part of the Naval Support Activity, which already had a presence on the opposite side of the River.
If Toole is calling this site the Army Terminal, Confederacy must take place after 1955 but before 1965.
OK, back to the location of Levy Pants…
Here are a couple of photos of the NSA from Poland Ave. The first is from the southernmost part of Poland where it meets Chartres St. The second is a little farther north and it shows a ship docked at the Poland Ave. wharf…

Based on Toole’s description, we’re looking for a three-story building at Industrial Canal and the River, which has a view of the Army Terminal, the Poland Street wharf, and Algiers.
Like I said, I’ve been all through Bywater but I can’t find a building that looks like Toole described. However, I did find this building at the corner of Pauline and Dauphine that roughly fits Toole’s description.
Its currently being used as the Bywater Church of Christ.

I know what you’re thinking…The building is only two stories, not three. There is no mansard roof. There are no rococo dormer windows. There’s only one smokestack. I know.
However, it is “two structures fused into one … unit.” I’ll let you decide if its macabre. The “factory” part of the building looks like a hangar and there are a bunch of cracked and shattered windows.
If Confederacy was really set in 1962, then there could have been many demolitions and new constructions in between then and now. Or, it could have been completely fictional from the beginning.
On a completely different note, Bywater was one of the hardest hit areas when Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans. The Industrial Canal suffered two major breaches and flooded parts of the neighborhood with up to ten feet of water. Here is a photo of a home near the intersection of Pauline and Dauphine at 3805 Dauphine Ave.
In the close-up, you can see the spray painted symbol that has become ubiquitous with Katrina search and rescue operations. The “X” actually starts off as a slash from upper-right-to-lower-left. The team doing the search puts the date (and usually the time) at the top. In this case it’s 9-6, or September 6, 2005. They also put their team name. In the completed “X,” it’ll be to the left. Many search and rescue teams came from all over the country to aid New Orleans in the post-hurricane efforts. In this case it’s Texas Task Force 1.
When the search team leaves the location, they put the upper-left-to-lower-right slash which completes the “X” and they add the other information. To the right of the “X” you’ll find possible hazards, such as gas leaks, rats, or unstable walls. I’m not sure what “NE” means. At the bottom of the “X” they put the number of dead inside the location. In this case they found no one.
The reason they do the “half X” going in, and the “half X” going out is so that anyone coming to the house will know if it has been searched, is in the process of being searched, or has not yet been searched. Also, if you see a “half X” with yesterday’s date on it, the search team may be trapped inside.
The Times-Picayune website has a very good interactive graphic that explains how and why New Orleans flooded. Check it out here…
Here’s another graphic showing the extent and depth of the flooding…
Katrina Flood Depth


  1. Actually, the breach on the Industrial Canal was on the "Lower Ninth" side of the canal, the Bywater was largely unscathed.

  2. According to Thelma Toole herself, as told to me in an interview in 1983, Levy Pants was really Haspel, the makers of the Palm Beach suit. Figure out where they were located in the early 60s and you may have a clue. I know that by the 80s Haspel had a building on St Bernard just riverside of Broad, far away from Bywater.