Audubon Zoo’s Monkey Hill holds a special place in the memories of countless New Orleanians. For many who grew up in the city, it was the first hill they had ever seen, ran up and rolled down. Or on the rare snow day, sledded (or even skied!).  

Built in the 1930s, it was used for decades by youth groups, social clubs and new romances as a meeting place and for picnicking. In the summer of ’69, it was the site of a “Square-In,” hosted by the Square Movement (an anti-New Left political group), during which about 100 college and high school students were entertained by local rock bands Sons of Jesus and The Clockward Orange.

During the mid-1970s, it was fenced in and planned for use as a goat habitat. Letter-writing campaigns from school groups and complaints from the public flew thick, and Audubon scrapped those plans. Monkey Hill was renovated and once again made available for the public.

Once a year from 1982 through ’85, Monkey Hill took on the unlikely designation as a ski slope. To promote Canadian travel packages, Abbott Tours imported ice and invited the public to try their hand at skiing. Locals quickly found that water skis aren’t a substitute for snow skis, but everyone who tried skiing that first year received an “I Skied Monkey Hill” T-shirt.

Monkey Hill has even been memorialized in song. In 1986, local composer Jay Weigel composed an orchestral piece called “Monkey Hill” to commemorate Audubon’s 100-year anniversary.

A recent renovation of Monkey Hill has outfitted it with water features, lion statues and a five-level tree house, but the simple pleasure of rolling down its hillside is still its biggest draw. 

Built mostly by accident, Monkey Hill was formed when WPA workers dredged out swampland to expand Audubon Zoo. Dirt from the dig was piled nearby. Left unattended, it eventually became covered in grass and then claimed by adults and children both who couldn’t resist the novelty of a hill on which to play. At that time it was the highest point in New Orleans (28 feet tall). Photo of Monkey Hill as it looked in September 1966, provided courtesy of The New Orleans Public Library.