Edited by Edwin Buggage Editor-in-Chief Data News Weekly
The Making of History
The rich history of this New Orleans Black community was on full display recently when the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood in New Orleans was officially listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that recognizes the 65-year-old community’s significant contributions to Louisiana’s history, not just for Black New Orleans, but all New Orleans.
“The acknowledgment of Pontchartrain Park on the National Register of Historic Places is significant because it is an additional contribution to African American history. This moment for the residents of Pontchartrain Park is powerful because our history is finally being recognized,” said Gretchen Bradford, President of the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association and Pontchartrain Park Community Outreach.
Breaking New Ground and Showcasing Black Excellence
The National Register of Historic Places is the “official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.” To qualify, buildings, sites and other historic resources typically must be at least 50 years old.
Pontchartrain Park, which broke ground in 1955, was conceived when segregation was strictly enforced across the South and in Louisiana. Due to racially motivated redlining and protective covenants, African Americans were not allowed to purchase homes in many neighborhoods. By the 1950s, however, there was enough political will to develop land specifically for African American families among the new neighborhoods that were being constructed near the New Orleans’ lakefront. Houses in Pontchartrain Park would share the appearance and amenities of the adjacent Gentilly Woods, then a Whites-only community.
Many of the Pontchartrain Park homes 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. In addition to newly constructed homes Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) was built and have educated generations of leaders that has impacted New Orleans and the world. The neighborhood also featured a golf course designed by accomplished architect, Joseph M. Bartholomew, who worked on courses at Metairie Country Club, New Orleans City Park and 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.
Preserving a Rich Legacy for Future Generations
To recognize this extraordinary history, the Preservation Resource Center (PRC), at the invitation of residents, worked alongside the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association to nominate the community to the National Register. The nomination required the PRC Staff to document the condition of each building in the neighborhood.
This work was made possible thanks in part to a Historic Preservation Fund Grant with federal funds from the National Park Service administered through the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Office of Cultural Development, Division of Historic Preservation. PRC was assisted in this work by Tulane University.
The Pontchartrain Park Historic District is bounded by France Road, Dwyer Canal, Norfolk Southern Railroad, Campus Boulevard, Emmitt W. Bashful Boulevard, Press Drive and Hayne Boulevard.
According to the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development’s Division of Historic Preservation, the National Register designation may make property owners of commercial or residential rentals “eligible to apply for and receive federal tax credits for historic rehabilitation projects, provided they agree to certain federal guidelines.”
“A place on the National Register of Historic Places says to the community — and the nation — that this neighborhood has true historic significance,” said Danielle Del Sol, Executive Director of the Preservation Resource Center. “PRC was honored to work with the residents of Pontchartrain Park to have this community’s history officially celebrated.”
Since it opened, Pontchartrain Park has been home to many notable New Orleanians, including Mayors Dutch and Marc Morial, Grammy-winning Musician Terence Blanchard, Actor Wendell Pierce and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, among others.
“Pontchartrain Park was very instrumental in shaping the lives of many,” Bradford said. “We pay tribute to our Pontchartrain Park pioneers who led the way for us. And a special thanks to the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association Historical Committee for their hard work, including Carrie Mingo Douglas, Wiletta Ferdinand, Gaynell Lawrence, Patrick Clementine, Wilfred Arnolie and Elder Delereze Perkins. In addition, we would like to say thanks to the Preservation Resource Center for supporting us and helping us to get to this moment.”
Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans and ALY Media contributed to this report.