Where did the Rockery service station and Rockery Ace Hardware on the corner of Robert E. Lee and Canal Boulevard get their names?
They were named for a legendary Lakeview teenage hangout called the Rockery Inn that once stood at 7039 Canal Blvd., on the corner of Conrad Street, on the other end of the commercial strip that now includes Gauchet's Rockery Service Station (corner of Canal and Robert E. Lee boulevards) and the adjacent Rockery Ace Hardware.
Rockery Inn boasted it was "famous for fried chicken," but from the 1930s through the '60s it was even more renowned as a hangout for teens. They would gather to show off their cars and order hamburgers by curbside service, which they could do by flashing their headlights. The inn got its name from the exterior construction of the building, which was made of ballast stones used to help ships and barges stay balanced on the trip downriver. The stones were discarded once the vessels reached port. The stones gave the Rockery its distinctive look, as well as its name.
The Rockery Inn closed on New Year's Eve in 1969. "The day we closed, the liquor license expired at midnight," recalls Vincent Signorelli, whose father John Signorelli acquired the property in 1941 and ran the Rockery Inn. "At midnight we closed the doors, but the customers who were regulars stayed in there and we partied until daylight. I was 29."
The Rockery Inn was torn down to make way for the modern Signorelli Building (named for John Signorelli) and a Hibernia Bank (now Capital One Bank). In addition to being a touchstone, so to speak, for several generations of teenagers, the Rockery Inn helped launch the career of iconic Italian restaurateur Tony Angello, whose namesake eatery has operated in Lakeview for more than a generation. Angello got his start as a waiter at the Rockery in the early 1940s and later became a manager there. Years later, Angello returned the favor by hiring Vincent Signorelli as a waiter at Tony Angello's Restaurant. Vincent says he still maintains a close relationship with Angello, and other Signorelli family members have worked at the restaurant. "From 1941 to present, four generations have worked together," he says.
As for the service station and hardware store, Arthur Derbes opened the Rockery Shell service station in 1939 and operated it for about three decades. The current proprietors, Stan and Dan Gauchet, have operated Gauchet's Rockery Service since 1978. The station offers a full-service mechanic and convenience store as well as gasoline. The adjacent Rockery Ace Hardware is another Lakeview mainstay, and together the hardware store and the Gauchets carry on the Rockery name.