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The ranch-style houses that characterize many of the twentieth-century suburbs on the Lake Pontchartrain side of New Orleans are typical of those in residential neighborhoods throughout the United States. The oldest remnants of this area’s history are the fragments of the walls of the Spanish Fort, built in 1779 on the left bank of Bayou St. John where it entered Lake Pontchartrain (now Beauregard Avenue and Jay Street). For much of the nineteenth century a lakefront hotel and a pleasure garden were located here. In 1831, the New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain Railroad, the nation’s first interurban line, began to transport pleasure-seekers from the city to the hotels and restaurants along the shores of the lake. Also here are the 1855 Milneburg Lighthouse (OR203) and the frame New Canal Lighthouse (1890; rebuilt in 2013) at the lake end of West End Boulevard.

Suburban growth in this area began after Canal Boulevard was extended toward the lake between City Park and the New Basin Canal (now beneath West End and Pontchatrian boulevards). The neighborhood known as Lakeview was the first to develop on newly drained land. Architect H. Jordan MacKenzie built his house here at 6339 West End Boulevard in 1908–1909; the house is recognizable by its steep blue roof with a clipped gable front.

At the lake’s edge the Orleans Levee Board began an extensive landfill project in 1926 (completed in 1929), pumping sand from the lake to create over 2,000 new acres along its southern shore for residential subdivisions and building a stepped seawall about eight feet above sea level along with beachfront public parks. The entire area on the lakeside of Leon C. Simon Drive and Robert E. Lee Boulevard, now residential neighborhoods, is landfill. Much of this land was given over to military installations during World War II. In 1956, the University of New Orleans (formerly Louisiana State University in New Orleans) held classes in some of these buildings until its new campus was begun in 1961. Curtis and Davis prepared a master plan and, along with several other New Orleans firms, designed the buildings.

The residential subdivisions were named for their location: Lake Vista (1936; OR201), West Lakeshore (1951), East Lakeshore (1955), Lake Terrace (1953), and Lake Oaks (1964). These neighborhoods were intended for middle- to upper-income white residents and the houses were individually designed. Among the noteworthy modernist houses in West Lakeshore are the Ricciuti House (1957; 7341 Beryl Street) by Ricciuti Associates, and the Valle House (1956; 423 Topaz Street) by John Rock. Lee Ledbetter and Associates designed the two-story house at 1324 Oriole Street (2003), a large structure of geometric intersecting volumes providing sufficient wall surfaces for the original owner’s art collection. A levee breach of the 17th Street Canal beside West Lakeshore in the wake of Hurricane Katrina submerged much of that neighborhood and Lakeview and many houses have been replaced. Lakefront Airport (formerly Shushan Airport; OR204) was completed in 1934 on a separate landfill east of the Industrial Canal (OR56).

Just north of these subdivisions is an open space (also commonly known as the Lakefront) defined mainly by Lakeshore Drive that runs west from West End Park to the Industrial Canal between the subdivisions and Lake Pontchartrain. Between this meandering drive (roughly five miles in length that generally follows the southern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, defined by the concrete, stepped seawall from the 1930s) and the levee adjacent to the lakefront neighborhoods is a scenic lakefront linear green space popular throughout the year among locals but few tourists. The space is largely unprogrammed and has minimal amenities—a few shelters, paving and benches, picnic tables, plantings, the “Mardi Gras Fountain”—that have been added over time by different local designers and engineers.

Writing Credits

Karen Kingsley and Lake Douglas

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