JULIA STREET WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT
A MONTHLY PURSUIT OF ANSWERS TO ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Walter Parker’s home at 924 Moss St., on the shore of Bayou St. John circa 1951. He was among the waterway’s greatest advocates.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION
The Dumaine Street bridge that crosses Bayou St. John has a plaque on it indicating that it was built in 1951 as “The Walter Parker Memorial Bridge.” Who was this guy Walter Parker, and what did he do to get a bridge named after him? I am told that in addition to the bridge, the house at 924 Moss St., which I have always heard referred to as “The Sanctuary” was also once called “The Walter Parker House.” I would love to know more about this person who was apparently rather influential in the early days of the development of Bayou St. John.
Walter Parker was an economist, a journalist, an expert on the cotton industry and an authority on waterways development. In the first decade of the 1900s, he headed the Louisiana Boat Owners Association. In later years, Parker was a prominent member of the Association of Commerce, helped organize the Mississippi Valley Association and fought for flood control. In the early ’60s, Parker’s home, which had been built in the late 1700s, became home to the Sanctuary School.
Walter Parker lived on the shore of Bayou St. John and was among the waterway’s greatest advocates. He was one of the first people to pressure the city to address the issue of sewage flowing into Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John. Parker actively promoted beautification and encouraged community pride for neighborhoods fronting the Bayou St. John.
Walter Parker died in 1950 but his widow, Anita Hernandez Parker, continued to fight for the waterway her husband held dear. In ’66, it was she who rallied neighbors and the City Council in opposition to a zoning change that, had it been implemented, would have permitted high-rise apartments to replace single-family homes along the Bayou St. John waterfront.
My dearly departed husband and I lived in Gentilly for 16 years after our wedding in 1953. Last month, dear friends of ours took me back to the area hoping to find evidence of our home since Hurricane Katrina.
About a mile from Lake Pontchartrain (at Robert E. Lee Boulevard), there’s a newly placed plaque indicating the area is known as Milneburg. We also witnessed the destruction and lack of repair at the Milne Boys Home.
My question is could Poydras advise me of the name “Milne?” What is its origin and also history regarding this person or place?
Mary, Poydras has taken the month off to go to Miami to see the Saints play in the Superbowl. (He hadn’t heard that the game was played nine months ago, but at least he got good hotel rates.)
Alexander Milne (1742-1838) was a Scottish businessman and philanthropist who first came to New Orleans in the late Spanish Colonial period and made a fortune in the hardware and brick trades. The successful Scot assembled vast estate holdings along Bayou St. John and the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, where he established Milneburg, over his lifetime. Today, the University of New Orleans now stands on land that once formed the lakefront community of Milneburg.
When Milne passed away in 1838, his will contained generous bequests to aid existing orphanages, establish two new orphanages in Milneberg and establish a school in his hometown of Fochabers, Scotland. Litigation soon followed when Louisiana officials unsuccessfully attempted to deny the foreign bequest.
On the Winn-Dixie commercial, it says “since 1956.” I thought that Winn-Dixie took over or bought out the H.G. Hill stores. Was that in ’56? I remember a H.G. Hill store on Prytania Street at Upperline Street and, in the middle of the block on Prytania Street, one of the first, if not the first, McKenzie Bakery. Do I remember correctly?
What was known as Winn & Lovett can trace its roots to back to the Davis Mercantile store in pre-World War I Idaho, but it was in the mid-1950s that Winn & Lovett changed its name to Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., after buying out Dixie Home Stores. Soon thereafter, Winn-Dixie acquired H. G. Hill stores and opened its first Winn-Dixie-Hill grocery store in the New Orleans area.
The existing H. G. Hill store on Prytania near Upperline streets closed when, in early 1958, Winn-Dixie-Hill opened a new market across the street, where a CVS now operates. You recall correctly that the very first McKenzie Pastry Shoppe was located nearby, at 4926 Prytania St. Today that location is occupied by the Creole Creamery.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
Whatever happened to the “Chinaball trees” in New Orleans and the surrounding areas? I don’t know the botanical name, but it is also called an “umbrella tree.”
Margaret B. Anderson
I still see Chinaberry trees, also called Chinaballs, in some older neighborhoods, but they’re definitely not as plentiful as they were when I was younger. Somebody must still be planting them because they’re not among trees that the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center recommends in its current publication Trees for Louisiana Landscapes.
The National Park Service lists the Chinaberry among invasive species. Not only can the rapidly growing tree crowd out native species, but its leaves and roots produce chemicals which impede germination and growth of nearby plants as well.
A fast-growing medium-sized tree, the Chinaberry, Melia azedarach, grows up to 40 feet tall. Tolerant of dry conditions, it’s also a short-lived deciduous tree with a reputation for messiness. Not only does it shed its leaves in winter but it also produces fruit (the Chinaball), which is toxic to people and small animals.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
As a teenager in the 1950s, my sister and I often rented “peddle boats” and went all over City Park Lagoon. We saw many cement bridges and small statues with “WPA” engraved on them. At the time, some were hard to see due to weeds and vines. Does the park showcase these landmarks now?
Works Progress Administration architecture and art can be found throughout City Park. As the park continues to recover and renovate, perhaps it should consider producing a brochure and map describing and showing the locations of the Depression-era art and architecture to be found in the Botanical Garden, Tad Gormley Stadium and elsewhere throughout the park.
One of the few surviving examples of WPA public garden design, the Botanical Garden, originally known as the City Park Rose Garden, first opened in 1936. Architect Richard Koch, Landscape Architect William Wiedorn and artist Enrique Alferez were among the talents who contributed to the Depression-era public garden.