City Park is a topic about which I am hardly neutral. My father was superintendent of the park for about 30 years. Until his retirement in the 70’s he was at the park practically every day including, by choice, drive- troughs on Sundays and holidays.
As a kid, living nearby, I and my friends sometimes rode our bikes to the park. We would play in the thickets alongside the railroad tracks as we looked for lost worlds and treasures, though finding neither.
As an adult I spend as much leisure time as I can at the park’s tennis courts looking to develop an overpowering serve and a strong backhand return, though finding neither.
Even before Katrina, City Park sufferd from financial problemms, I know because that was practically a daily household discussion when I was growing up. While most kids my age saw the park in terms of swing sets and ball diamonds, I got to know it as the conflict between those who wanted to preserve green space versus the need to generate more income my converting some green space into golf courses. Then there were the park’s neighbors who claimed that the loud speakers at City Park stadium made too much noise. Green space wasn’t noisy. But it didn’t pay bills either.
Despite its name, City Park is not really a city park. It is a weird political hybrid that is legally more state than city but that gets little support from either. One of the major crises I witnessed while growing up was when the state legislature voted a pay raise for all employees under the state civil service system. That included the workers at City Park. Only, the state did not fund the park’s raises. That proved to be devastating. Park officials had to find ways to pay for mandated raises for which there was no money. Out if necessity, services were cut. Then a local television station did a report complaining that the grass was too high at City Park. They just didn’t understand.
Things were improving in City Park during recent years. In my father’s day, the Friends concept did not exist, now many non-profits are supported by such groups, including a very strong Friends of City Park organization. Celebration in the Oaks was brining people and income to the park during what would usually be the slowest time of the year. Many private parties were paying rent to use the picturesque Pavilion of the Two Sisters building located in the equally picturesque rose garden.
City Park has suffered from being a big space with a small budget. Across town Audubon Park is far smaller and has the advantage of the zoo as a money machine. Audubon also has a neighborhood population base of long-time New Orleans families some of whom helped lead the effort to remake the zoo into a national level facility.
City Park does not have a similar cash generator nor as strong of a neighborhood tradition. Now Katrina has mae the situation worse. The nighboring population base, including Lakeview, is depleted. The money making golf courses are not open. Still, the imagination is free to specualte on what can be done with help from grants givers and FEMA. I am back on the tennis courts, for example, thanks to the benevolence of the United States Tennis Association which helped fund a repairs.
Even in its recovery stage, locals should at least try to rediscover the park.
Its gems are many including:
€ Magnificent live oaks.
€ Statues and facilities designed by artist Enrique Alferez.
€ Art Deco bridges and monuments built during the WPA era.
€ Popp Fountain, recently restored, though needing it again.
€ A rose garden as impressive for its designs as for its flowers.
€ Ducks gliding past the graceful Peristyle, a Grecian pavilion.
€ Picturesque scenes both framed on the walls at the New Orleans Museum of Arts and alive in its outdoor surroundings.
There were four 18 hole golf courses in the park. Its tennis complex was considered one of the finest public facilities in the country. (Though the nets sometimes seem to be hung a bit too high so as to block my returns of serve.)
Large urban parks are the lungs of a community. They deserve more financial support. As a kid I searched for treasures in the park, not realizing the treasures that were there all along.
Let us know what you think. Any comments about City Park? Write to elaborde@renaissancepublishingllc.com. For the subject line use CITY PARK. All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this newsletter. Please include your name and location.