New Orleans City Park (Images of America)


On land that was an oak forest where Native Americans traded along the banks of Bayou St. John the Allard Plantation was carved. It evolved to become one of the largest and oldest public parks in the nation. Filling 1,300 acres it is 457 acres it is larger than New York's Central Park. Its age allows for the display of the many architectural styles which came into vogue during its history – neo-classical, art nouveau, art deco, arts and crafts, mission, and modern.

Dueling was outlawed in 1890 but a plaque in the park near what is called “The Dueling Oak” marks the spot some 120 years later. Under the same tree, according to local legend, lies the body of the plantation owner in an unmarked grave. Amid five-hundred year-old oaks a mule carousel once delighted local children. It was replaced in 1906 with mechanical “Flying Horses” – listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. A prominent widow bequeathed her jewels so that a fountain and wading pool could be built complete with sculptures of a mother and children of various ages; “She loved the beautiful and gave that all might enjoy" reads the inscription on the concrete and bronze pool which is still enjoyed by children today. During the 1950s Storyland was filled with Nursery Rhyme figures created by a young man who would become the most noted Mardi Gras float builder in the city; it was funded by an older man who owned and operated the most popular amusement park in the south.

Throughout its history City Park has not changed as much as it has evolved. Until the 1930s many improvements and additions were made at the behest of the city's wealthy philanthropists. After the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed roads, bridges, buildings, fountains, gardens, sculptures, sculptural reliefs, a stadium, and 10 linear miles of lagoons dug with hand shovels. Federal funding of over $12 million dollars allowed for the work and the employment of more than 20,000 people during New Deal Era. Since then the City Park Improvement Association (as it had done in the early years) along with the support of the non-profit Friends of City Park has undertaken many restoration projects and additions.

New Orleans City Park is the home of the largest collection of mature live oaks in the nation and is the ninth largest city-owned recreational park in the U.S. Its New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is widely considered one of the finest museums in the South. The park contains the largest recreation area for the entire metropolitan area and is the largest non-hotel caterer in the city. In its forest is the highest man-made earthen elevation in New Orleans. Running two miles along Bayou St. John it is a mile wide and three miles long with 11 miles of lagoons and lakes (the Big Lake in the shape of Lake Pontchartrain) stocked with a wide variety of fish. The park has had as many as 11 million visitors per year. Before Hurricane Katrina approximately 14,000 mature trees thrived with some 50 species including Bald Cypress, Southern Magnolia, Pine and oaks including over 3,000 Southern Live Oaks.

The oldest structures in the park are three stone bridges built in the early 1900s, including the much photographed Langles Bridge over Bayou Metairie. As this book went to press the park's architectural treasures over 100 years-old include the Dunbar Pavilion (1904), the Carousel (“Flying Horses” in the New Orleans lexicon) and pavilion housing it (1906), the Peristyle (1907), Pizzati Gate at City Park Avenue (1910), and Delgade Museum/NOMA (1911). Those over 90 – Janchke Fountain in front of NOMA (1912), Casino Building (1913), Monteleone Gate at Esplanade (1914), Hyams Fountain and Wading Pool (1914), and Popp Bandstand (1917). Ten bridges are designated Historic Bridges of the United States.

Located in what was the “French part of the city” it was first called “Lower City Park” (the “Americans” used “Upper City Park” – now Audubon). In its early years the park was remote and rural but is now surrounded by homes and businesses in Mid-City. The first entrepreneur to realize the park's potential to draw crowds was Jean Marie Saux who built and operated a coffeehouse in 1860 across from it. His building would become the area's oldest structure – older than any now in the park. We we will follow its history because it so closely reflects the times and the history of the park; we now know it as Ralph's on the Park at 900 City Park Avenue.

Victor Anseman is known as the Father of the Park, the City Park Improvement Association (CPIA) has long been known as the keeper of the park, and Friends of City Park (“Friends”, established in 1979) is now known as a group of dedicated New Orleanians who raise funds to maintain and refurbish the park. City Park 2018, a master plan adopted in March, 2005 with input from CPIA, Friends, and citizens is currently (at the time of this writing) being implemented and many components of the thirteen year plan have been completed despite the unplanned visit of Hurricane Katrina five months after the plan was adopted.

City Park is fond in the memory of New Orleanians who played there as children, competed there as student athletes, were entertained there as teenagers (the Beatles performed in the stadium in 1964), and returned as adults to appreciate art at NOMA, to surround themselves with sculpture in the Besthoff and Botanical Garden and throughout the park, to stroll through Celebration in the Oaks, to ride the “Flying Horses”, to walk through Storyland again, or to simply enjoy the lush and beautiful surroundings. City Park has changed through the years while retaining many of the beloved historic structures and features that New Orleanians have always loved and visitors newly discover.

The images in this book appear courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library (NOPL), Louisiana Digital Library (LDL), the Library of Congress (LOC), The Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC), Pictometry International (PI), and D.C. "Infrogmation" May (DCM). Unless otherwise noted, images are from the author's collection.

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~The Bayou, Road, Oaks, and Native Americans: 1400-1769~
~Plantation to Peristyle: 1770-1907~
~Expansion and Modernization: 1908-1928~
~The New Deal: 1929-1939~
~Children & Friends: 1940-2004~
~Rebirth: 2005-2010~
~The People Behind the Names: Donors, Benefactors, and Patrons~
Photo Gallery

The images in this book appear courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library (NOPL), Louisiana Digital Library (LDL), the Library of Congress (LOC), The Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC), Pictometry International (PI), and D.C. "Infrogmation" May (DCM). Unless otherwise noted, images are from the author's collection.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is dedicated to Friends of City Park.

Contact Catherine Campanella