The Lakeside effect: How a shopping center helped put Metairie on the map
In 1960, a motorist on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie wouldn’t have encountered a single traffic light for the 4.4-mile stretch between Causeway Boulevard and Transcontinental Drive. Then, on March 24 of that year, Lakeside Shopping Center opened on a 50-acre lot previously used as hunting grounds. An outdoor mall with space for 32 stores, all of which opened onto a central court featuring pools, planters and benches — as opposed to a standard strip mall — the arrival of Lakeside was a big deal. Other amenities included 5,000 parking spaces, covered walkways providing shoppers with shelter from the elements and, perhaps most importantly, a central location intended to draw people from throughout the area. That’s exactly what it did, too. Billed as the biggest mall in the region at the time, it was a genuine destination, jump-starting development on Veterans.
Even as other malls have come and gone amid shifting retail tastes, Lakeside has proven to be a retail survivor. Part of the reason is because the mall’s managers apparently weren’t ones to sit still. In 1968, the mall was enclosed, in keeping with emerging trends at the time. It later added a movie theater on-site. Today, Lakeside covers 1.2 million square feet — nearly triple the 415,000 square feet it covered on opening day 1960 — and still serves as a retail beacon for shoppers from throughout the New Orleans area.
- Only 13 stores were ready for official ribbon-cutting ceremonies on opening day. They included such local fixtures as D.H. Holmes, Kreeger’s and Godchaux’s, as well as a Winn-Dixie grocery store. Most of the mall’s 15 or so other initial tenants opened over the several weeks that followed.
- Of those original stores, only J.C. Penney is still a mall tenant.
- A second opening, held after the remainder of the stores were ready, was held over a three-day period in September 1960. In addition to live broadcasts of WDSU’s popular “Midday” show, a helicopter dropped ping-pong balls on the crowd, redeemable for a total of $3,000 in merchandise.
- Plans for the mall were first announced in October 1957. It took more than two years for developers to acquire all the necessary land for the mall, cobbled together from plots belonging to 24 landowners.
- Among the innovations greeting shoppers at Lakeside: a drive-up banking window at the First National Bank of Jefferson, believed to be the first such system in the greater New Orleans area.
- The D.H. Holmes location at Lakeside featured a third-floor auditorium that the local department store made available at no charge to local church and civic leaders.
- The opening of the mall was such a big deal, The Times-Picayune published a 24-page special section that included features about the mall, its construction and all of its initial stores.
- “Every establishment in Lakeside Shopping Center is completely air-conditioned,” chirped a Times-Picayune story in that special section. Eight years later, when the central courtyard was enclosed, it required more air-conditioning — prompting a helicopter-assisted airlift operation to install 22 rooftop units estimated at the time to be worth an estimated $50,000.
- Much was made of the shopping center’s modernistic outdoor lighting, anchored by four 150-foot-tall light towers that each boasted 47 “moonglow” florescent spotlights. “The total effect of these four intense light sources will give the feeling of strong moonlight to the entire shop area and will be visible from aircraft north of Lake Pontchartrain,” read a write-up in The Times-Picayune. The lighting towers, billed as the first of their kind in the country, have since been removed.
- Adults shopped liked Lakeside for its convenience. Teens, however, liked it as a great place to hang out. “I don’t think there was a weekend that went by that, for entertainment as high school kids, you would go in the mall to see who you could see. … That was really a primary destination point for high school kids back in the ’60s, was Lakeside,” former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said in the WYES documentary “Jefferson Parish Stories.”
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago that parts of Veterans Memorial Boulevard were shell roads leading seemingly to nowhere. Lakeside Shopping Center helped change that, not only turning Vets into the primary east-west commercial thoroughfare on Jefferson Parish’s east bank, but also giving local residents a place to shop, to meet or just to hang out. As the saying goes, “if you build it, they will come.” In Jefferson Parish, the developers of Lakeside Shopping Center did just that — and more than 55 years later, the adage is still proving true.