The elevated strip of land, known as Gentilly Ridge, that runs through this area was occupied by Native Americans before Europeans began to settle here in the eighteenth century. The surrounding swamps and marshes, however, were not drained until the early twentieth century. In 1909, the real estate firm of Baccich and de Montluzin formed the Gentilly Terrace Land Company and laid out Gentilly Terrace (now called Old Gentilly) for white homeowners. Today this racially diverse neighborhood is considered New Orleans’s California-style suburb because of its tree-lined streets of stucco-covered, red pantileroofed bungalows with Arts and Crafts details.
Gentilly Woods, also initially restricted to whites, was developed in 1951 by Hamilton Crawford, who hired architect J. W. Leake to design residences in thirteen different styles. North of it, the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood was laid out in the 1950s for professional and middle-income African Americans. Like Gentilly Woods it borders the Industrial Canal and was built on drained swamp, and thus was inundated by a levee break in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. These neighborhoods have largely recovered.
In the 1960s and 1970s, residential subdivisions continued to creep eastward, crossing the Industrial Canal onto former swamplands, hastened with the opening of I-10. This area, known as New Orleans East, suffered heavy flood and wind damage from Katrina and has only partially recovered. Joe W. Brown Memorial Park, at 187 acres the largest park in eastern New Orleans, was developed on vacant land in the mid-1970s (Charles Caplinger, landscape architect); the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center followed in 1980. Ninety percent of the park’s tree canopy was lost from saltwater intrusion due to Katrina. The park has been rehabilitated with basic recreational amenities (Billes Partners); the Nature Center reopened in 2017.
Alcée Fortier Boulevard forms the center of a Vietnamese community, which has expanded since 1975 when, following American withdrawal from Vietnam, the Orleans Parish Catholic Diocese provided housing in the neighborhood for approximately one thousand people.
Heading east, U.S. 90 follows a ribbon of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne to reach the waterway known as the Rigolets, which links Lake Pontchartrain with the Gulf of Mexico via Lake Borgne and divides Orleans Parish from St. Tammany Parish. Guarding the entrance to the Rigolets stand the ruins of Fort Pike. Constructed between 1820 and 1827, it was one of the first forts built under a national coastal fortification program that began at the end of the War of 1812 and continued to the Civil War in order to withstand attack from land or sea. Pointed, earth-filled brick bastions flank the land side of the structure and a curved wall faces the Rigolets. The fort was decommissioned in 1890; it now lies in ruins due to neglect and coastal erosion, and is open to the public by appointment only.
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