The Pontchartrain Beach Skyride was a popular 1970s-80s attraction.
Pontchartrain Beach Skyride
Photo of the “Skyride” at the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park.The attraction was a classic ski lift-style ride that carried folks from one end of the midway to another. The photo shows the elevated walkway that led out to the sand beach along the lake. A car traveling in the opposite direction carries three girls wearing jeans. To the right is the main concessions stand. In the background stands the Zephyr, the park’s large, wooden roller coaster.
Harry Batt, Jr., built his original amusement park along Bayou St. John in 1929. He moved it to Milneburg, at Elysian Fields and the Lakefront, in 1939. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a bath house at that location. They solicited bids for an operator to run the bath house and expand the site. Batt did just that. The amusement park stood between two large military facilities, NAS New Orleans to the west and an Army facility to the East. The navy base is now the University of New Orleans, and the Army base is now the Lake Oaks subdivision.
Main concession stand at night.
The main buildings of the park were in the Streamline Moderne style, a variant of Art Deco. The main concession stand sold JAX Beer, along with “Coney Island Hot Dogs” and other food items. The photo above shows the night lighting of the building.
The beach midway at night.
The Beach presented a symphony of incandescent and neon lights at night. The lights enticed park-goers to the rides and, naturally, to the food and beer. This photo shows the entrance to the “Wild Maus” coaster, a maze-like ride with many sharp turns and short, steep drops. The multi-disc light tower sits atop another concession stand and indoor arcade combination.
“Pontchartrain Beach” section of the Jazzland amusement park, courtesy Abandoned New Orleans.
This photo, courtesy of Abandoned New Orleans, presents the ruins of the re-created “Pontchartrain Beach” at the Jazzland/Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans East. The park closed after incurring flooding and damage in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Shushan Airport is now known as Lakefront Airport.
Art Deco administration building at Shushan Airport
2010 photo of the restored art deco facade of the Lakefront Airport administration building. Infrogmation photo.
Architectural drawing of the Administration building of Shushan Airport. The state built the airport on the eastern side of the Industrial Canal. Then-governor Huey P. Long authorized the construction of the airport in 1929. The airport opened in 1934. Airport visitors pull up to this splendid example of art deco style. The Army Air Corps hardened the administration building at the outset of World War II. While the original art deco design remained, the AAC covered it with a “bomb proof” exterior. The building underwent extensive renovations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Its original facade was restored, as well as the art deco fixtures, floors, etc., in the interior.
Shushan to Lakefront
architectural rendering of Shushan Airport administration building.
The state originally named the airport after Huey Long ally Abraham Shushan. Long rewarded Shushan’s loyalty (and financial contributions) with a position on the Orleans Parish Levee Board. Shushan became president of that board. That’s why the airport took his name. Shushan got caught up in several political scandals in the 1930s. Abe became a liability to his patron. The Long faction cut him loose and re-named the airport in 1939. It became New Orleans Airport, with the three-letter designation, NEW. When Moisant Field in Kenner evolved into the city’s primary airport, New Orleans Airport became Lakefront Airport. It still retains NEW as its code, with now-named Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport as MSY.
This rendering is part of the Franck Studios collection at THNOC. The architectural firm that created it is uncredited.
As tensions increased in Europe in the late 1930s, the United States Army Air Corps created antisubmarine aircraft squadrons along the Gulf of Mexico. One of these bomber squadrons operated from Lakefront Airport. While the planes parked at the airport, there wasn’t enough space to house the squadron’s personnel and offices. The Army acquired land on the west side of the Industrial Canal. They built the support facilities for the squadron there. Pilots and maintenance crew worked back and forth across the canal. The western base later became part of Camp Leroy Johnson, an army supply depot.
LSUNO lost the “LS” in the name in 1974
LSUNO gets a name change
Newspaper article from 3-February-1974 reporting on the passage by the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors of the name change for LSUNO. By an 8-2 vote, the university became the University of New Orleans. The article notes that students and alumni pushed for the name change for years. While LSU in Baton Rouge, the state’s flagship university, received the lion’s share of state funding, many felt that losing the “LS” in the name of the New Orleans campus would help change the branch school’s image. That push came to a head fifteen years after the school’s founding in 1958.
From Naval base to university
Official seal of the University of New Orleans
LSUNO took over the old Naval Air Station New Orleans, when the Navy moved to Belle Chasse. The school addressed the demand for “commuter” programs in the city. Men and women returning from World War II and Korea didn’t want to spend four years at a traditional school. They had jobs and families now. The GI Bill would pay for college, if they could make time for it. LSUNO offered them the opportunity to continue educations interrupted by war. Later, the school provided the same assistance to veterans returning from Vietnam.
In spite of its contributions to the community, the flagship school received most of the largesse. As the years grew on, New Orleans students felt less and less of an affinity for the “…Stately Oaks and Broad Magnolias…” LSU’s alma mater speaks of. They connected with a thriving international city.
Not everyone approved of the name change. Many on the faculty felt there was more to the “LS” than just a name. Louisiana State University was known internationally. Faculty members believed their opportunities for both government and private research funds would decrease without putting the relationship with Baton Rouge up front. The article cites the opposition of Dr. Mary Good to the name change. Dr. Good, a member of the Chemistry Department, was a Boyd Professor, the highest academic rank bestowed by the LSU system. She and a majority of the tenured faculty wanted to maintain the name link.
UNO in 1974
LSUNO cheerleaders pose on the Elysian Fields sign for the lakefront campus in the early 1970s
The students and alumni carried the day. After all, there were more of them than there were faculty, and they voted. State legislators voiced their opinions to the LSU Board, who voted accordingly. Once approved, the first outward sign of the change was when students covered the L and S in the sign at the Elysian Fields entrance of campus. A stone overlay with the UNO logo would come later, and the school’s official seal a few years after that.
Somewhere up in my attic are trophies from the last LSUNO Speech and Debate Tournament for local high schools. The tournament was held the following weekend. While the name change was official, the trophies still said, “LSUNO,” an amusing distinction for us at the time.
Full article below:
UNO celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1978.
Photo from The Privateer, the University of New Orleans yearbook, documenting the twentieth anniversary celebration of the school’s founding in 1978. In the center is Dr. Homer L. Hitt, UNO’s founding Chancellor. He would retire in the Summer of 1980. To Chancellor Hitt’s right, in the darker suit, is Lt. Governor James “Jimmy” Fitzmorris. To Hitt’s left is James Donelon. Now Louisiana’s Commissioner of Insurance, Donelon, a UNO alum, was a member of the Jefferson Parish Council at the time of this photo.
The students behind the dignitaries are a veritable rogues’ gallery of the school’s Student Government Association. On the left side, the two tall guys are Bernie Cyrus and then-SGA President George Vujnovich. Directly behind Fitzmorris and Hitt is Robert Quasius, SGA Vice-President. Directly behind Hitt and Donelon, with his head turned, is me. I was the director of the SGA’s Legal Aid Program that year, as well as a member of Student Congress from the College of Education. On the far right of the photo is Sal Lejarza, who would be SGA Vice-President the next year.
I’m sure I knew most of the other folks in the photo, but time has blurred my memory. Feel free to point out others in comments!
The state chartered the school as Louisiana State University in New Orleans, in 1958. The “LS” was dropped in 1974, and we’ve been the University of New Orleans ever since. Then-Governor Earl K. Long scored a coup over his biggest rival, Mayor Chep Morrison, with its establishment. Long and Morrison were bitter political enemies. So ugly was this rivalry that Morrison barred the Louisiana State Police from exercising their commissions in Orleans Parish. The tit-for-tat went on for years.
During World War II, the lakefront location that became the university was Naval Air Station New Orleans. The land was owned by the state, and administered by the Orleans Levee District. After the war, the Navy re-located NAS New Orleans to Alvin Callender Field in Bell Chasse. As Naval Aviation implemented jets, noise became an issue. With thousands of men and women using their GI Bill benefits, it made sense to open a satellite campus of LSU in the city.
Governor Long got on board with this idea, because it meant dropping a state-controlled facility in Morrison’s city. That was all the encouragement Long needed. His support of the school is why the library bears his name.
Having graduated from Brother Martin High School, just down the street, in 1976, I started UNO that summer. I joined SGA as a Student Congress member from Junior Division that fall. Such good times.Thanks, Angie, for sharing this photo and memory.
Abraham Shushan’s monuments marked Lakefront milestones.
New Basin Canal Lock monument, 1930
Two 1930 photos of lakefront monuments. The late 1920s were a time of major improvements to the lakefront. Lake Pontchartrain seawall improved flood protection. So, the Levee Board* erected monuments to the “New Basin Canal Lock” and the “Lake Pontchartrain Sea-Wall.” Board president Abraham “Abe” Shushan supervised their placement.
Abe Shushan inspects the seawall monument, 1930
The “Lake Pontchartrain Sea-Wall” was the finishing touch of a years-long series of land reclamation projects along the Orleans Parish lakefront. In 1915, the south shore of the lake went right up to Adams Street (now Allen Toussaint Boulevard). The Levee Board planned to drain the swampy ground and create new subdivisions. By 1930, the reclamation projects were completed.
The Levee Board built the finishing touch in 1929. Along with the stepped, concrete wall, they created Lakeshore Drive for access to recreational areas along the lakefront. Previous generations traveled out to the lakefront resorts at West End, Spanish Fort, and Milneburg via train/streetcar. With the completion of Lakeshore Drive, driving along the lake became a pleasant experience.
Both of Shushan’s monuments contain the same text, with the name as the only change:
Constructed During the Administration of
HUEY P. LONG, Governor
Board of Levee Commissioners
Orleans Levee District
The stones then list the members of the board and the various people who worked the projects. While John Riess built the lock, Orleans Dredging Company built the seawall.
Shushan’s Monuments display Abe’s name, as president of the board. Shushan is seen in the seawall photo, inspecting the massive tablet. Abe got his start in his family’s business, Shushan Brothers. Shushan Brothers sold dry goods wholesale. Additionally, they operated retail toy stores. Abe left the business founded by his father and uncle, entering government as a strong supporter of Huey P. Long. He moved up in the Long organization. They arranged his appointment to the Levee Board.. Accordingly, the board named New Orleans Lakefront Airport (NOL) for Shushan. In 1935, the government indicted and tried him for tax fraud. Furthermore, they charged him with money laundering. While Shushan was acquitted, the Longs cut him loose. Although he was cleared, the trial exposed massive corruption. So, his name was removed from just about everything it was visible on, including these monuments.
Harry Batt, Jr., promoted Pontchartrain Beach 1934 in the local paper.
Pontchartrain Beach 1934
A full-page advertisement in the Times-Picayune, 1-July-1934, offered readers prizes at Pontchartrain Beach 1934. Participating stores included White Bros. jewelers, Cary and Helwick Hardware, Oliver H. Van Horn, Arrow Family Outfitters, and The Pants Store.
Pontchartrain Beach on the Bayou
Entrance to Pontchartrain Beach, when it was located along Bayou St. John.
Harry Batt, Jr., opened Pontchartrain Beach in 1929. He placed his amusement park on the east side of Bayou St. John at the lake. The Spanish Fort amusement area occupied the west side of the bayou for decades. Those attractions declined in the 1920s. So, Batt leased the land on the other side and opened a new attraction. Additionally, Batt’s experience selling ice to Spanish Fort attractions gave him knowledge of the area. He promoted the park with ads in the daily newspapers.
The concept of “co-operative” advertising benefits small businesses. On their own, a business may not be able to afford a full-page ad. So, if they pooled their funds with other businesses, the all received better visibility. Notice that the advertisers here don’t really overlap in terms of products. The most common co-op ads were from a manufacturer, who then listed the stores selling their products. Here, Pontchartrain Beach worked with stores to offer prizes for events and contests at the amusement park.
Getting to the Beach
ad for New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated, 1-June-1934
The route to Pontchartrain Beach at this time was the Spanish Fort streetcar line. Initially, folks traveled to the Bayou via rail service. When electric streetcars came on the scene in the 1890s, the amusement area at Spanish Fort was in decline.
That changed in 1911. New Orleans Railway and Light Company, NOPSI’s predecessor, offered electric streetcar service back to the bayou. The line followed the route of the West End line. When it reached Adams Street in Lakeview (now Allen Toussaint Blvd.), the line turned right, ending at the Bayou. When Batt opened his park, all folks had to do was cross the bridge and go ride the rides.
Pontchartrain Beach moved from the bayou to Milneburg in 1939. That’s another story, but Batt continued to promote the park regularly in the newspaper. For more history on Da Beach and Lake Pontchartrain, check out Catherine Campanella’s books on the subject.