Podcast #4 – Pontchartrain Beach

Podcast #4 – Pontchartrain Beach

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Pontchartrain Beach, 1940

Labor Day is considered the traditional end of summer. In New Orleans, that meant it was the last weekend of the year for Pontchartrain Beach, the beloved local amusement park.

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Main Gate of the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, 1929

Pontchartrain Beach opened on the east side of Bayou St. John in 1929. Harry J. Batt, Sr, had observed the highs and lows of the Spanish Fort venues on the other side of the bayou. His family’s ice manufacturing business supplied ice to many lakefront businesses, and Batt decided to start his own amusement park.

At Pontchartrain Beach

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Bath House built by the WPA at Pontchartrain Beach

The Great Depression actually gave Pontchartrain Beach a customer base, as locals didn’t have a lot of money to take out of town vacations. Works Progress Administration construction projects helped improve the infrastructure of the city, including a new bath house on Lake Pontchartrain at the end of Elysian Fields. That bath house prompted Harry Batt to move his amusement park from the bayou to Milneburg.

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Works Progress Administration badge in the sidewalk at Marigny St. and Gentilly Blvd.

Not only did the WPA build the bath house at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue, but they also improved many streets in Gentilly. The WPA turned Elysian Fields Avenue from a shell road into a 4-lane boulevard with a wide neutral ground, leading right to Pontchartrain Beach.

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Lincoln Beach

Because Pontchartrain Beach was a segregated facility that used Federal funds, the city was required to build a “separate but equal” facility for African-Americans, Lincoln Beach, in what is now New Orleans East.

War Effort

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NAS New Orleans, on Lake Pontchartrain

World War II saw a huge amount of development along Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. One of the big facilities on the lake was Naval Air Station New Orleans. It was right next to Pontchartrain Beach. While the base was important to the war effort, it was not very useful for the Cold War. The base is now the main campus of the University of New Orleans.

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Margie Johnson Thienemann, 3-June-1949 (Courtesy K. G. Thienemann)

While the Batts traveled the world to find quality rides for The Beach, the mile-long beach area was one of the main attractions. Hanging out on the beach was a great way to relax on a summer weekend. Margie Johnson Thienemann was one of many folks who soaked up the summer sun at the Beach.

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The Bali Hai at Pontchartrain Beach

Since food at The Beach was basically carnival-midway fare, the Batts also operated the Bali Hai, a “Tiki” restaurant next to the amusement park.

A Plan Book for the Spanish Fort Amusement Area, 1911

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Plan Book of Spanish Fort, New Orleans, drawn in 1911.

This is a “plan book” from 1911 of the area around Spanish Fort, at Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain. I got the illustration from the New Orleans Notarial Archives website, where it’s one of a number of sample plan books they’ve got up. A trip down to the Archives office and a look at the original would give us the full story. Therefore, naturally, I’ll have to do just that!

A Plan Book for Spanish Fort

Plan Books were part of the official record for real estate transfers prior to color photography. They’re the equivalent of the form an appraiser would do now to describe a property. When the property in question was a residence or commercial building, the plan book would include detailed architectural drawings of the building, along with a layout of the block surrounding it. In this case, the plan book is for the sale of Fort St. John and the surrounding land. A view of the overall area, rather than a detailed drawing of the ruined fort was more in order.

The amusement area at Spanish Fort is part of the latest episode of the NOLA History Guy Podcast. The area was initially accessible by steam train, and you can see the station, just above the top left corner of “Spanish Fort Park”. That building was still in place at the time of this drawing, but electric streetcars replaced the train line by 1911. The streetcars ran from West End, down what is now Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and ended on a pier extending out into the lake. The dashed line running into the lake marks the streetcar tracks.

Waning Days

While Spanish Fort was called the “Coney Island of the South”, it was past its heyday in 1911. It held on going into the 1920s. Pontchartrain Beach started there, in the 1920s, but moved to Milneburg, at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue. After that, Spanish Fort was never a big amusement destination.

Screenshot from 2016-07-31 20-26-32

The Office of the Clerk of Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans maintains the Notarial Archives office for the Parish. On a day-to-day basis, the Notarial Archives is where title insurance companies send researchers to verify that someone who claims title to a piece of property in the Parish actually has the right to make that claim. Since these companies sell a home buyer insurance guaranteeing that someone won’t come along and claim they really own the property after the buyer(s) have paid for it, they want to be sure they get it right. In addition to all the records of real estate transfers and other civil legal documents, the Notarial Archives has all the old Plan Books. These Plan Books range from simple drawings to masterpieces of architectural drawing.

Contact info

The Research Center is located on Poydras Street, not far from the Superdome:

1340 Poydras Street
Suite 360
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
(504) 407-0106
Fax (504) 680-9607
E-mail: civilclerkresearchctr@orleanscdc.com

Hours:
Monday – Friday 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

Podcast #3 – Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Podcast #3 – Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Podcast #3 – Day trips out to West End and Spanish Fort, by train or streetcar. Beating the summer heat is an ongoing challenge in New Orleans!

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“The Coney Island of the South” – Spanish Fort

Introduction

Welcome to NOLA History Guy Podcast! We’re back, talking about our hot New Orleans summers with an edition we call Beating the Summer Heat in Old New Orleans

Hot summers in New Orleans are certainly not a new phenomenon. Staying cool in the Summer months has been a challenge since the French and Spanish explorers came Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. These days, we run from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned offices, then back again in the evening.
Now, think about doing that at a time when there was no air-conditioning! Every work day, riding the streetcar or a bus to the office, and home again. Older homes were designed to maximize air flow, and electrification provided power for fans in any rooms in the house. Still, it got hot. You know how that goes, when the a/c is broken and you have to rely on ceiling fans!
The men who went off to work had to deal with the same heat and humidity as the women, but they were on the move more. Mom was stuck at home with the kids. Day in, day out, doing the housework, cooking the meals, supervising the kids, Mom needed an escape!
The easiest escape route for mom and the kids, sometimes even dad, if he could take a day off, was on the streetcar, heading out to the Lakefront. There were two popular escape destinations, West End and Spanish Fort. We’ll talk about the attractions at both, and how folks got out to Lake Pontchartrain.

1860 – 1880 – Summer Heat at West End

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Lake House Hotel, 1860s

1880 – 1900

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West End Resorts, 1892 (Charles Franck photo)

1900 – 1920

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West End Lighthouse, 1910 (courtesy NOPL)

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Entrance to the West End Garden, 1911 (Charles Durkee photo)

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1912 Postcard of West End

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Mugnier Photo (stereo), bridge connecting New Basin Canal with West End Amusement pavillions, 1900s

Spanish Fort

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Confederate Submarine at Over the Rhine at Spanish Fort, 1895 (Mugnier photo)

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Casino at Spanish Fort New Orleans, 1890s

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Barney & Smith motorized streetcar pulling dummy cars, 1911

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Spanish Fort Casino, 1890s (Mugnier Photo)

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Spanish Fort midway, 1900s (Franck photo)

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End of the Spanish Fort Streetcar line, at the bathhouse, 1912 (Franck photo)

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Swimmers at Spanish Fort, 1900s (Franck photo)