Home sweet home: Pontchartrain Park and a new era of black homeownership in New Orleans
On June 26, 1955, the Pontchartrain Park subdivision marked its grand opening in New Orleans with no small amount of fanfare. At a time in which deeds in many of the city’s neighborhoods contained explicit language forbidding resale to black buyers, Pontchartrain Park was the first suburban-style New Orleans subdivision built for affluent and middle-class black citizens. Jim Crow was still the law of the land, but the subdivision gave black New Orleans a welcome, if still limited, taste of the American dream.
The picturesque neighborhood’s signature amenities — the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course, Wesley Barrow Stadium, basketball courts, the nearby SUNO — have all been restored after the devastating flooding caused by levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina. The total number of households represented in the 2010 vs. 2000 Census was roughly halved, but the neighborhood remains a bastion of black homeownership.
- The neighborhood’s two- and three-bedroom California Ranch-style homes with manicured lawns were built by the same company, and in a similar style, to the houses in the neighboring all-white Gentilly Woods subdivision. In all, 35 home models were available for buyers.
- A 1955 ad for the subdivision shows that home prices in Pontchartrain Park, which included the lot, ranged from $9,875 to $27,000. The average price was about $13,000.
- Notable residents of the subdivision include former mayors Dutch Morial and Marc Morial; jazz musician Terrence Blanchard; actor Wendell Pierce; Lisa P. Jackson, President Obama’s EPA administrator; and former District Attorney Eddie Jordan.
- The Pontchartrain Park golf course was renamed in 1979 to honor the legacy of African-American golf course architect Joseph M. Bartholomew Sr., who designed it. Bartholomew also designed Metairie Golf Course and City Park’s Courses No. 1 and 2, although he was not allowed to play on them due to Jim Crow laws.
- The grand opening of the development was carried via live broadcast on WDSU-TV and was attended by Mayor deLesseps “Chep” Morrison as well as three high-ranking officials from the Federal Housing Administration: George W. Snowden, William Ulman and Charles A. Sigety.
- Most of the area is a former swamp, which had to be dredged for development. The original homes were built atop concrete slabs, which made them particularly vulnerable to flooding.
- Two main streets, Press and Congress drives, run through the neighborhood. Interior streets are curvilinear, surrounding the bean-shaped park after which the subdivision gets its name.
A lot has changed in the 61 years since Pontchartrain Park first opened. Some of it has been good. Some has been not so good. Through it all, Pontchartrain Park has remained largely the same at its core, standing as a symbol of black affluence and homeownership, filled with residents dedicated to maintaining it as a cohesive and valued part of the New Orleans community.