Below is a sneak peek of this content!Lake Pontchartrain seawall is the first level of flood protection in Orleans Parish. Lake Pontchartrain Seawall John Tibule Mendes photo of the Lake Pontchartrain Seawall, not long after its completion in 1932. The Orleans Levee Board (OLB) began the seawall project in 1930. Construction took about two and a half years. Land Reclamation Beginning in the 1920s, the OLB embarked...
Below is a sneak peek of this content!Benjamin Franklin High 1987 transitioned from Uptown to Lakefront. Benjamin Franklin High 1987. Dr. Everett C. Williams poses with OPSB member Mr. John Robbert and students of Benjamin Franklin High 1987. They stand behind an architectural model of the planned campus for the school, located on the University of New Orleans Lakefront Campus. (Students are unidentified; please comment if you...
Below is a sneak peek of this content!Maison Blanche Swimsuits 1956 for Memorial Day sale. Maison Blanche Swimsuits 1956 Swimsuits and other summer wear filled up almost an entire page of the Times-Picayune on 31-May-1956. Cotton swimsuits for $5.50, and in stock after Memorial Day? Whoa. Sixty-four years later, women stress over buying a swimsuit in January. Summering in the late 1950s Many New Orleans families packed...
Lakefront Drive-In Theater, in 1940.
Lakefront Drive-In Theater
Last year, I presented a lecture at the National World War II Museum, entitled, Winning the War on the Lakefront. The talk started at West End and the New Canal, then moved along the lakefront to the Industrial Canal. Every time I’ve presented this lecture, folks in attendance asked about a facility in what is now the East Lakeshore subdivision. Turns out, it was a Lakefront Drive-in Theater.
The Army and Navy hospitals.
The Orleans Levee Board reclaimed a great deal of land along the lakefront in the late 1920s. For reference, around 1910, the Mount Carmel Convent on Robert E. Lee Blvd had a fishing pier out front. It extended into the lake from almost the front door. The OLB reclaimed the area from there, up to where Lakeshore Drive is now.
The WPA made major improvements to the lakefront in 1938-1939. They built the seawall and Lakeshore drive. The reclaimed land belonged to the city. So, when the US Army and US Navy looked to build hospitals in New Orleans, the lakefront area appealed to them. The Army built Lagarde Army Hospital in what is now West Lakeshore. The Navy built Naval Hospital New Orleans on the other side of Canal Blvd. The breeze off Lake Pontchartrain cooled down the area at a time when air-conditioning was not ubiquitous. While the hospitals had different missions, they both benefited from the location.
What’s that thing?
I found some good aerial shots of the lakefront in 1940. They show the WPA improvements and the hospitals nicely. They also show a facility with a bunch of arcs, right behind Naval Hospital New Orleans. I dismissed it as maybe some kind of outdoor amphitheater, perhaps for concerts and other entertainment. Folks asked, “What’s that thing?” I replied with the outdoor entertainment answer.
Well, that answer wasn’t exactly wrong! I shared an Infrogmation photo of the bus stand at Canal and Robert E. Lee a couple of days ago. Arthur “Mardi Hardy” Hardy, musician, teacher, and local Carnival expert, replied to that image. Arthur said there was a drive-in movie theater, there on the other side of Canal Blvd, from the bus stand. He shared the ad (above) in the comment thread. The name of the place really was just, “Drive-In Theater.”
DING! That must be the “thing” behind Naval Hospital New Orleans. It makes sense, the quarter-circle pattern of the facility. Everything converges on the point of the right angle. That’s the screen. Public transportation to get out to the hospitals was limited (just the West End Streetcar). So, most folks drove out to there for work. Maybe stop and catch a movie before heading all the way home? Makes a lot of sense.
Movie Theater Project
I know Arthur has a book in progress on local movie theaters. So, I have yet another reason to buy it when it’s done. Thanks, Arthur!
Hurricane Betsy showed how resilient and strong the Third Coast is.
On 10-September-1965, Hurricane Betsy hit Grand Isle, Louisiana. The storm formed as a tropical depression on 27-August-1965, in the Caribbean, near French Guinea. After Grand Isle, Betsy crawled up the Mississippi River. The wind pushed “storm surge” water from Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. The monetary damage from Betsy surpassed $1B. Betsy was the first storm hitting that mark.
Damage to New Orleans
Betsy damaged New Orleans on three fronts. Water pushed by the storm’s winds topped the levees along the lakefront. That flooded the “levee board neighborhoods”, subdivisions between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and the lake. Surge in New Orleans East pushed into the Lower Ninth Ward. That surge, as well as flood walls from the south slammed St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes hard. Second, wind blew down trees, utility poles, large signs, etc. Those falling objects damaged houses and businesses. Roofs fell victim to wind as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Hurricane Betsy spawned tornadoes in Metairie and Jefferson. While tornadoes are more localized, they still inflicted tremendous damage in small areas.
Hurricane Betsy ran up a big tab. New Orleanians paid the bills. They city was wet but not defeated. The people were windblown, but fully intended to stay.
The US Army Corp of Engineers, along with the city, learned much from Betsy. They learned the levees along the lake needed to be much higher. The Corps raised the levees. We built new floodwalls. City Hall developed new evacuation strategies. All that work protected the city for almost forty years.
Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans on 29-August-2005. The preparations of the late 1960s and 1970s, for the most part, held. Some failed, most notably the levees and floodwalls on the city’s outfall canals. Evacuation strategies worked, particularly the “contraflow” lane configurations on interstate highways around the metro area.
The city got wet. The people got windblown. New Orleans and the federal government paid the bill. The people recovered from the damage. Others moved here, strengthening the city. Even the Superdome area came back strong, after serving as the “shelter of last resort”. The Katrina Diaspora continues to affect the city’s culture. While city wrestles with gentrification and “new” influences, groups and neighborhoods preserve what was here before Katrina.
Folks on the Florida Gulf Coast tell similar stories of wind and rain. National writers would be best advised to take a deep breath and consult history before writing off any town on the Third Coast as “gone”.
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