In its original form, Lincoln Beach typified the problems of the separate-but-equal era. Acquired by the Orleans Parish Levee Board in 1939, the site’s original 2.3 acres contrasted with Ponchatrain Beach’s easily accessible 50 acres and $100,000 roller coaster ride. Conversely, Lincoln Beach stood 12 miles from the Central Business District down a two lane road and just shy of Rogers Lagoon with no public transportation. Sandwiched between Lake Ponchatrain fishing camps, the site contained one building. Over the years its beach front fell victim to erosion and sewage.
Things changed in the late 1940’s. Social worker, union activist, and Civil Rights leader Ernest Wright and his People’s Defense League organized voter registration campaigns that increased Black electoral participation. Under the administration of Earl K. Long who Ernest Wright supported, the Levee Board unveiled plans for a million dollar renovation of Lincoln Beach. Pile driving ceremonies took place in
the spring of 1953.
On May 8, 1954, Ernest Wright chaired the new Lincoln Beach’s dedication ceremonies. On the dais sat Reverend Avery Alexander, Reverend A. L. Davis, Dillard University president Albert W. Dent, Orleans Levee Board president Louis Rousell, and top state and city leaders. Governor Robert Kennon viewed Lincoln Beach’s redevelopment as an example of Louisiana looking after “all of her citizens”. Mayor de Lesseps Morrison used the occasion to promise a trade school for African-Americans, and development of the Pontchartrain Park subdivision for the Black middle class. Ernest Wright saw the 17 acre expansion of Lincoln Beach as a “step forward in the Negro’s fight for first-class citizenship”.
On May 28, 1954, at 9:00 a.m., manager Walter Wright threw open the gates. Eleven-year-old Paul Castille bought the first ticket. He then led thousands onto a midway lined with shrubbery as Papa Celestine’s Dixieland Band greeted the crowd with lively jazz. In place of the barren landscape and solitary building of old, the new Lincoln Beach contained a bath house with two-thousand lockers. Pools matched the specifications of Pontchartrain Beach’s pools. Barges brought in
white sand to expand the beach front to a quarter of a mile in length.
Every week thereafter, advertisements in the Louisiana Weekly newspaper beckoned residents to “Take a Dip Day or Night” and “Relax in the Cool Summer Breeze on Lake Pontchartrain.’’ Families and church groups took advantage of picnic shelters, carnival rides, and supervised swimming activities. Couples dined on the Carver House restaurant’s outdoor roof terrace, attended the Friday night “Dance Under the Stars”, or took romantic strolls down the moonlit beach.
Outdoor entertainment over the years included the Bob Ogden Orchestra, the rock and roll Hawkettes, pianist Walter ‘Fats’ Pichon, the Ink Spots, Earl King, and Fats Domino. On Thursday nights, WMRY Radio’s Larry McKinley hosted free midway
On Friday mornings, scores of buses unloaded hundreds of day campers. They donned their swimsuits, raced through a cold water shower alley, and plunged into Lincoln Beach’s gigantic three to six foot deep pool. There, a generation of New Orleanians learned Red Cross swimming safety and engaged in swim meets.
The Lincoln Beach Development was designed and developed under the concept of celebrating location and history of Lincoln Beach and surrounding areas. The proposed development will encompass 25 acres of land bisected by Hayne Boulevard. To the northeast of Hayne and bordering Lake Pontchartrain is a 15-acre parcel that had once been the home of Lincoln Beach. Southwest of Hayne is a 10-acre parcel bordered by other properties on three sides and Hayne Boulevard to the fourth side.
The two parcels bifurcated by Hayne will be developed in fundamentally different manners reflective of the responding to the relationships of the parcels to the adjacent neighborhood, the physical relationship to Lake Pontchartrain, and the provisions of private and public spaces and building components. Hayne Boulevard, along with the adjacent levee and rail line, presents a natural division between a more private realm of lower scale residential related development to the southwest and a complex, urbanized, eclectic mix of public, entertainment, commercial, hotel and high-rise residential uses.
Norberto Nardi, AIA, development partner and conceptual designer of Lincoln Beach, traveled to the Netherlands to seek the services of the DHV Group in Holland. DHV is a leading international consultancy and engineering group which provides services and sustainable solutions for waterfront development.
Dick Kevelam, principal of DHV and manager of its Water Division and the Nolatown team had a one week workshop in New Orleans. The primary objective was to discuss the viability of the project as well as visit the site. Also in attendance was Greg Rigamer, president of New Orleans planning firm GCR & Associates, Inc. Mr. Rigamer is the local authority on the city’s urban planning and recovery. We have solicited the services of GCR to provide a comprehensive study for the project.
Soon after the workshop a Nolatown development team met with the Louisiana Office of Coastal Restoration and Management in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This was a pre-application meeting in effort to secure a Coastal Use Permit. The conversation with the agency; information retrieve from the Railroad requirements and the impact of comments shared by Kevelam at the one day workshop has triggered a revision of the initial conceptual plans. We are currently working on it. Mr. Jim Rives, managing director assured the team that we have their full cooperation as we move to secure the use permit.
With the consultation of DHV and GCR, NOLATOWN Development Group and its partners has taken significant steps toward bringing the much anticipated redevelopment of Lincoln Beach to fruition.