New Orleans Nostalgia: Touring Pontchartrain Park
Model homes are made available for inspection for hopeful new residents in Pontchartrain Park in the mid-1950s. After dredging the land to make it buildable, Pontchartrain Park Homes, under president Edgar Stern (a local philanthropist who also helped build Dillard University), hired Crawford Homes, who built the neighboring all-white Gentilly Woods, to handle construction. Most residents were first-time homeowners and the neighborhood grew to have one of the highest rates of owner-residents in the city; photo courtesy of The New Orleans Public Library.
In the days of legalized segregation, the demand for “separate but equal” housing was met with the creation of Pontchartrain Park, the first subdivision in New Orleans designed exclusively for middle- to upper-class black residents. With encouragement from then-Mayor Chep Morrison, the city sold land to the New Orleans Lakeshore Land Company to be used to develop this neighborhood.
In 1951, developer David Greenup drew plans for the 200-acre area that included 1,000 single-family homes, multiple recreational areas and an 18-hole golf course, which was designed by Joseph Bartholomew, a well-respected designer who had also designed the courses at City Park and Metairie Country Club – courses he wasn’t allowed to play on because he was black. (After renovations in ’79, the course at Pontchartrain Park was renamed in his honor.)
The first residents moved into their new homes in 1955. For many, these were their first homes, built in the ranch style with modern features and air conditioning. Doctors, lawyers, postal workers, teachers, nurses and those of many other professions were among the first to move in, as were military veterans taking advantage of low-cost federal loans.
Pontchartrain Park’s legacy can be seen most clearly through the people that have come from there: both Morial mayors were residents, as were District Attorney Eddie Jordan, musician Terrence Blanchard and many other successful businesspersons, politicians and entertainers.
Flooded badly after Hurricane Katrina, the subdivision has undergone extensive rebuilding, thanks in part to the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corp., a nonprofit founded by Hollywood actor Wendell Pierce, who himself grew up in Pontchartrain Park.