Pontchartrain Park awaits approval of its nomination to the National Register

Visit the thoughtful renovation of a Pontchartrain Park home while enjoying happy hour drinks at Beams & Brews presented by Inhab goes to Pontchartrain Park on July 25. Did you or someone you know grow up in Pontchartrain Park? We’ll be collecting stories, photographs and memories for the Neighborhood Memory Project.

This story appeared in the June issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door monthly? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

When most people think about the National Register of Historic Places, mansions along St. Charles Avenue or a French Quarter Creole cottage likely come to mind. In recent years, however, many mid-20th century buildings and neighborhoods have become eligible for the register.

The Pontchartrain Park neighborhood is one of them. In 1955, ground broke on the community, which contained more than 1,000 lots. Over the past year, the Preservation Resource Center has been working with the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association and the state of Louisiana to nominate The Park — as the neighborhood is affectionately known — to the National Register of Historic Places. To qualify, a building or district must be at least 50 years of age.

When Pontchartrain Park was built in the 1950s, hundreds if not thousands of similar real estate developments were being constructed across the country, often from the same plan books and design guidelines. What makes Pontchartrain Park unique and historic is the politics of its development as well as in its strong community, which has proved resilient throughout the years.

Pontchartrain Park was conceived when segregation was strictly enforced across the South. Due to protective covenants and racially motivated redlining, new homes being built on reclaimed land near Lake Pontchartrain were not available to African-American families.

By the 1950s, however, there was enough political will to develop some land specifically for middle-class African-American families in the corner of the city bordering Lake Pontchartrain and the Industrial Canal. The design of the houses would share the appearance of the recently built and adjacent Gentilly Woods, then a whites-only neighborhood.

For the first families to move to Pontchartrain Park, the quality of housing was a marked improvement over where they had previously lived, offering contemporary appliances and large lots not available in older neighborhoods. Many of these houses were sold to World War II veterans through the GI Bill, creating a neighborhood filled with young families, whose children would grow up together, creating a community cohesion that continues today.

Beams & Brews presented by Inhab goes to Pontchartrain Park
July 25, 2019  •  5:30–7pm  •  5614 Press Drive

Visit the thoughtful renovation of a Pontchartrain Park home by Randall Duplessis and Brittney Jordan – both of whose families were among the original residents of this historic neighborhood in the 1950s. Learn more & RSVP.

The neighborhood was designed with a large park as the centerpiece, complete with a golf course. The designer, Joseph M. Bartholomew, was an accomplished golf course architect who had designed the Metairie Golf Club course, as well as both courses at City Park and numerous others across the nation. Bartholomew was African American, so Pontchartrain Park would be the first public course he designed at which he also would be allowed to play.

After the groundbreaking in 1955, advertisements for the new neighborhood touted several model homes, showing off amenities, such as drainage, central heating and paved streets. An office was set up in Pontchartrain Park to negotiate mortgages. Sales were immediate and numerous, creating a backlog while construction was underway.

Houses were first built in the northeast part of the neighborhood, then to the south around the park. During this era of construction, two of the three churches present today were built, as well as the Coghill School. By 1957, the golf course was completed, along with a clubhouse and Barrow Stadium for baseball games.

Though the neighborhood’s historic significance is clear, the process to nominate it to the National Register required a great deal of work, including documenting the condition of each building and determining whether or not each structure contributes to the historic significance of the community. Original houses that have seen little to no alteration over the years are considered ideal as contributing resources, and new construction or highly altered houses are determined to be non-contributing.

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Due to its low elevation, Pontchartrain Park took a heavy hit from the floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina. Eight to 10 feet of water inundated the area, and remained for some time. In addition to the physical destruction, the storm ripped into the social fabric of the neighborhood. Several houses were damaged beyond repair and were torn down, leaving only empty lots.

Some of these lots remain empty today, but much of the neighborhood has seen a rebirth. Newly constructed or repaired homes dot the landscape, and many original residents have returned. These were accounted for in preparation for the nomination to the National Register.

The PRC staff conducted a house-by-house survey. To organize this huge task, the neighborhood was divided by block, and thousands of photographs were taken.

1: Members of the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association pose with pose with PRC staff and board members at a weekend surveying event.

2: Austin Lukes photographs a house while surveying and gathering information for the National Register application. Photo by Becky Gipson.

 

In order to inventory each building in a neighborhood being nominated to the National Register, the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office has created the Louisiana Historic Resource Inventory form, which requires basic architectural information about a property. In order to fill out more than 800 of these forms for Pontchartrain Park, the PRC enlisted student volunteers from Tulane University who helped perform a complete survey of the neighborhood on a weekend.

After the photographs were taken and the forms filled out, the PRC team also wrote a narrative history of the neighborhood that described what makes the community deserving of inclusion on the register. The PRC submitted the full nomination to the Louisiana SHPO earlier this year, where it will be reviewed and amended to the satisfaction of the state’s interpretation of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. From there, it will be reviewed by the National Park Service and, upon approval, Pontchartrain Park will be listed on the National Register.

In the coming months, the PRC hopes to celebrate this success story with the community of Pontchartrain Park and its neighborhood association. As Carrie Mingo Douglas, a prominent member of the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association, says, “Being listed on the National Register is like an acclamation that Pontchartrain Park is historic and that it is a special place.”

Austin Lukes is a writer and historic preservationist who worked with the PRC on Pontchartrain Park’s National Register nomination.

 

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