Pontchartrain Beach
As New Orleanians remain scattered across the land, it seemed like a good time to remember a New Orleans of a kinder, gentler time. For those of us who grew up in the Crescent City during the middle of the last century, no fonder memories exist than those of Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. The Beach was our answer to Coney Island or Balboa Park, and many happy memories were made there. I hope that this page will bring some pleasant memories of the old New Orleans that once was a great place to live, play and raise your family.
Approaching the entrance to Pontchartrain Beach from Elysian Fields Avenue. (Photo by John DeMajo)
 
PONCHARTRAIN BEACH was a popular attraction in New Orleans in the years between 1929 and 1983. The beach at the end of Elysian Fields was actually the third amusement park in the city's history to be located along the New Orleans Lakefront. In the late 1800's West End featured a board walk with mechanical amusement rides, live concerts, dining establishments and an outdoor theatre featuring silent films. Later, a new park and resort evolved on the site of the old Spanish Fort at the location where Bayou St. John meets Lake Pontchartrain The Batt family, owners of a New Orleans ice manufacturing plant, began their involvement in amusement parks as a provider of ice for the Spanish Fort park. Later, Harry Batt formed Playland Amusements, a company which owned and operated several of the city's amusement parks including Pontchartrain Beach.
 
Many "Boomers" will remember this animated 7up Sign at the entrance to the Beach. The sign featured swimming fish, fashioned in neon lighting, with lighted bubbles surfacing as they swam. Note that the beacon is missing from atop the Zephyr in the top photo. The original beacon was destroyed in Hurricane Betsy and it was later replaced with a new larger beacon. The 7up sign disappeared in the late 1960's, but after years of searching for a photo of it, these photos, courtesy of Dennis Persica, should bring back some memories for New Orleanians of that era.
 
THE HISTORY OF PONTCHARTRAIN BEACH
A view of the previous amusement park at Spanish Fort
(Historic photos courtesy of the LOUIS Digital Library- State of Louisiana)
 
The resort town of Milneburg as it appeared around 1890.
(Note that the Milneburg Light was a half-mile out in the lake prior to the WPA land reclamation project of the 1930's.)
Milneburg, unlike it's more upscale neighbor West End, was popular with working class New Orleanians. The resort catered to average New Orleanians of all races, and many of the city's legendary jazz bands became popular due to their public performances at The Midway Bar, which was the most notable entertainment establishment in the area. It was the success of this model, and the entertainment traditions that it sparked, that prompted the WPA to provide for a continuing amusement and sand beach swimming area in the design of the land reclamation project.

 
Milneburg became a popular resort thanks to the creation of the Pontchartrain Railroad. The photograph above shows the railroad's "Smokey Mary" as she prepares to depart from the depot near the Mississippi River wharves at what is now Elysian Fields Avenue.
 
This is a view of the the camps at Milneburg dating to around 1905. Most of the camps perished in a fire that occurred around 1923. In 1921, the boardwalk at West End had been replaced and the land under the original boardwalk park was reclaimed by the City of New Orleans, through a process that involved dredging sand from the lake bottom and pumping it behind a retaining bulkhead. . The plan was so successful that developers began to envision an entire new development extending along the 10 mile lake shore from the Southern Railroad bridge at the Industrial Canal, to West End. The 1923 fire that destroyed Milneburg was looked upon with suspicion by many for that reason, as the removal of the formerly successful camp resort would have represented a major political hurdle. A financial slump in the early 1920's, followed by the Great Depression of 1929, saw the plans placed on hold for ten years following the fire, however, the WPA recovery effort, funded by the U.S. Government, made it possible to restart the project in the early 1930s.
 

In the photo above, area along the lakefront had been reclaimed. Note that the Milneburg lighthouse, which was located well out into the lake in the preceding picture above, stands well behind the shore line in the photo directly above. Shortly after this photo was taken, Harry Batt, Sr., whose ice manufacturing company provided ice to the Spanish Fort park, purchased the assets of the old Spanish Fort rides, and moved the park to this newly available location at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue. During the 1930's, the Orleans Levee Board, with funding by the Works Progress Administration, reclaimed land along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in what was originally the resort town of Milneburg. Milneburg was accessible by the old Pontchartrain Railroad which ran from Elysian Fields near the river, out to the resort which was off of the shore at what later became the location of UNO and Pontchartrain Beach. As part of that land reclamation project, several features were designed into the federal project, including a concrete bath house, provisions for concessions, and a sand beach that stretched almost a mile in length. Harry Batt saw the opportunity to further develop this tract of newly created land, and he and his company proceeded to move their recently acquired amusement park from it's previous Spanish Fort location, to the new beach at the end of the developing Elysian Fields Avenue corridor.

Later, in the 1940's, war-time facilities began to utilize the large amount of new land that had been created between West End and the Industrial Canal, and the city saw the creation of the original Naval Air Station (on what is now the UNO main campus, Camp Leroy Johnson, the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft plant, and a huge military hospital which was located along the lake shore between Canal Boulevard and West End. The improvements and traffic created by these War developments, caused patronage at Pontchartrain Beach to skyrocket, assuring the park's continuing success well into the 1970's.

 
A view of the Pontchartrain Beach location, circa 1935. In this photo, WPA workers were completing the bath house, and the sand beach had been created. At this point, however, the amusement park was still located at Spanish Fort had not yet been moved to this location (Photo courtesy LOUIS Digital Library)
 
The Ferris Wheel, a signature ride at the Beach, whisked riders seventy-five-feet above the Midway, providing an outstanding view of the city and the lake. The Zephyr, however, was probably the beach's most famous ride through most of its history. (Photo by John DeMajo)
 
The landmark Milneburg Lighthouse became the center piece for the beach's "Kiddieland," an area of scaled-down rides for smaller children who could not safely ride the full-scale rides. Below are photos of the lighthouse in 1936 prior to the amusement park moving to the location, and again in the 1970s when the "Kiddieland" portion of the park was in full operation.
 
Pontchartrain Beach boasted some of the most modern and daring rides manufactured by American and European builders. For many years, Harry Batt traveled the world in search of wilder and more attractive rides for the park. At the rear of the photo is the aircraft beacon, atop the Zephyr's highest hill, that could be seen from miles around. The beacon shown in this picture, replaced an original and less ornate beacon from the Zephyr's earlier days, which was destroyed in Hurricane Betsy. (Photo by John DeMajo)
 
 
The beach Carousel dated back to the late 1800's. Although music was later provided by recordings, the carousel contained a beautiful example of an air powered pipe organ built by the Wurlitzer Company. (photo by John DeMajo)
 
The German built WILD MAUS was one of the first rides that Harry Batt procured after World War II. For many years, the Maus was a major drawing card for beach thrill-seekers. (photo by John DeMajo)
 
This late 1960's photo, submitted by Dennis Persica, shows the base and structure of one of the Beach's more popular rides, The "Wild Maus".
 
While most of the younger set went to the beach to enjoy the rides and the water, there was no shortage of food, drink or entertainment at the park. Whether one's taste was for hot dogs, cotton candy or fine gourmet dining, the Beach had something for everyone. (photo by John DeMajo)
 
When it arrived at the Beach, the Galaxy was touted as one of the most exciting rides ever built. (photo by John DeMajo)
 
The Haunted House was a popular attraction with the younger set. As the cars snaked along the semi-dark halls lined with ghouls and creepy characters from the our worst nightmares, many a kiss was stolen amongst the riders. (photo by John DeMajo)
 

The beach's bath house as it appeared upon completion by the Works Progress Administration. When Playland Amusements acquired the lease to the one-mile stretch of the newly created Lakeshore Drive sand beach, this fixture became part of Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. The photo below was a publicity photo used to illustrate the great works being created by the WPA. It shows the interior lobby of the bath house. Later, when 1960's lake water pollution scares surfaced, the Batt's constructed two huge in-ground pools at this site so that bathers could continue to swim at the beach without having to chance becoming infected by the high polution counts in the lake. (Photos courtesy of LOUIS Digital Library, State of Louisiana. )

 
Another ride brought in by Harry Batt in the 1960's heyday of the Beach was the Music Express which featured cars that spun in a circle while on a platform that spun in the opposite direction. It was definitely not a ride for the faint of heart, or stomach for that matter, (photo by John DeMajo)
 
While somewhat milder than the Haunted House, the Kooky Kastle dealt it's own variety of ghoulish sensationalism, (photo by John DeMajo)
 

This unique outdoor stage, located at the center of the Midway, hosted some of the world's most famous talent. From concerts to circus acts, to beauty contests, to Elvis Presley, the Beach Stage was unparalleled for entertainment in the New Orleans area. And the shows were FREE. Throughout the beach's history, and particularly following World-War II, the Batt Family brought some of the world's most famous high wire and circus acts to this stage. Also notable were the Miss New Orleans and other such beauty contests presented from the beach stage. Later in the 1970's the stage became the scene of open air concerts featuring popular rock bands of the day, and sponsored in conjunction with some of the city's radio stations such as WNOE and WTIX. (photo above by John DeMajo)

Below, one of the many beauty contests held on the beach stage over the years. (photo from LOUIS Digital Library)

 
Like the Galaxy, Music Express and Wild Maus, the Trabante tested the courage, endurance, and digestive system of the rider. (photo by John DeMajo)
 
When Putt-Putt Golf became popular, Harry Batt added a championship miniature course to the Beach. It was one of the finest Putt-Putt courses in the nation. (photo by John DeMajo)
 
Below is a map of the layout of the rides, buildings and fixtures at Pontchartrain Beach.
 
BALI HAI AT THE BEACH
Almost as popular as the Beach itself, was the Bali Hai, an upscale Polynesian Restaurant which Harry Batt opened later in the history of the park. This famous trademark drink container (shown below) was familiar to those who frequented the restaurant and ordered the signature drink. (Photo of actual artifact housed in the Museum Of Yesterday's Pontchartrain Beach collection.)

For many New Orleanians, the Bali Hai was a place fondly remembered for special dining occasions, prom night dinners, parties, and family gatherings.
 

Exterior (above) and interior (below) of the Bali Hai as it appeared in the 1970s.
 
This is a photo of the West End boardwalk amusement area and restaurant, which became a model for the development of Spanish Fort and later the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park..(Historic photos courtesy New Orleans Public Library)
 
Throughout it's history, the Beach offered many promotions designed to draw patrons. Pay-One-Price was a popular promotion during the era when the park was trying to boost attendance after instituting it's gate admission charge in response to court-forced integration of the park in the 1960's. The wrist bands shown below served as proof-of-purchase of beach admission in the pay-one-price promotion.
 

PLEASE NOTE: I am interested in obtaining copies and "rights of display" of additional photographs of Pontchartrain Beach, the old Steer-Inn restaurant which was located on Elysian Fields Avenue, as well as any other interesting Gentilly or Lakefront related subject material.

If you are viewing this site and happen to have interesting photos to share, I will be happy to display your photos, provided that they are your property to legally display, and to give you credit here on the page if you wish.

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This web site is maintained by John DeMajo, and is the property of The Museum Of Yesterday, Richmond, VA.