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NEW HOPE for Lincoln Beach City assesses the feasibility of reopening the historic site BY Susan Langenhennig | AS DESEGREGATION became law, Lincoln Beach, a once joyous and safe place for Black families during the oppression of Jim Crow, was shut down and abandoned by the city. For more than 50 years, the waterfront park was left to the elements. The pools, where a generation of New Orleanians learned to swim, slowly crumbled into the lakeshore, battered by storms, and weeds and wildlife crept over the park pavilions. Over the decades since, several proposals to restore Lincoln Beach have come and gone. Some were heralded with much fanfare. But all resulted in little more than dusty media coverage found in newspaper archives. This summer, though, there’s been a convergence of separate efforts to bring back the beach, with city officials in the midst of technical surveys of the property to assess its condition and to determine the cost of restoration, and a passionate community initiative bent on re- opening the property and frustrated by the long abandonment of a space they feel should be revered for its history and its environment. A group of volunteers called New Orleans for Lincoln Beach has been cleaning up the site without city permission, collecting more than 300 contractor bags full of litter. Though they were trespassing, co-founder Michael “Sage Michael” Pellet said the volunteers just couldn’t stand to see the area trashed. “We’re not trying to alienate the city, but we want to hold them accountable,” he said. This summer, New Orleans for Lincoln Beach received its 501©3 nonprofit status, and its private Facebook page, which was created in June, has nearly 7,000 members. Meanwhile, in May, Mayor LaToya Cantrell launched a compre- hensive assessment to “determine the kind of mitigation activities that would be necessary to clean the beach up and return it to public use,” according to a statement on the city’s website. City officials are conducting environmental, structural, topograph- 18 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • PRCNO.org PHOTOS BY Liz Jurey ic and bathymetric (underwater) surveys of the site, examining mul- tiple issues, including: • the condition of Lincoln Beach’s shelters, tunnels, swimming pool, concrete pads, parking lots and other historic structures • the current pedestrian, bicycle, vehicular and public transit access possibilities • the existing drainage, sewerage, water, gas and electrical systems • the depth of the water off the beach and “the location of un- derwater debris” that could pose challenges for swimming • the “suitability of the existing beach for recreational use.” City officials recognize Lincoln Beach’s historic importance. It was built during the Jim Crow era to provide a spot for Black families who were prohibited — often violently — from swimming in other parts of the lake and forbidden from enjoying the more lavishly equipped, whites-only Pontchartrain Beach amusement park. (After Pontchar- train Beach desegregated in 1964, the city shuttered Lincoln Beach.) If Lincoln Beach can be reopened, city officials hope to pay trib- ute to that history and salvage as much of the original architecture as possible. There have been discussions about nominating the site to the National Register of Historic Places. The first step, though, is to determine from the survey results what can feasibly be restored, said Department of Public Works Environ- mental Affairs Administrator Cheryn Robles. She points out that years of destruction — from theft, vandalism, storms and neglect — have taken a toll. “Several years ago, people broke in to steal all the copper wiring and electrical, and they threw all the transistors into the swimming pool,” causing major damage, said Robles, who is working on the site assessment. The possibility of reopening Lincoln Beach comes with many chal- lenges, not the least of which is bringing it into compliance with the SEPTEMBER 2020