HISTORY OF LAKE VISTA
In 1698, two French-Canadian brothers, Iberville and Bienville led a French expedition to colonize the Gulf Coast and confirm the French claim to the Louisiana Territory. In 1704, Iberville built a small fort at the junction of Bayou St John and Lake Pontchartrain. The brothers went on to found the cities of Biloxi and Mobile and in 1723, Bienville returned to found the city of New Orleans on the Mississippi River on the portage route from Bayou St John. Today the ruins of the Spanish built fort on the site of Iberville’s original fort know as “Old Spanish Fort” is within the boundaries of beautiful Lake Vista.
Lakeshore and Lake Vista, which are adjacent to City Park and the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline, are two subdivisions that grew out of the lakefront reclamation. Residences in the area range from the comfortable to the luxurious, comprising one of the wealthiest residential areas of New Orleans (Census 2000).
Some of the Lakefront’s Early History
Spanish Fort was constructed at Bayou St. John and named San Juan by the Spanish in 1769. It was first used in 1793 under the authority of Governor Carondelet. During the Battle of New Orleans, Major Jean Baptiste Plauche’s battalion carried out observation from the fort under the direction of General Andrew Jackson.
In 1823, the government sold the Spanish Fort to Harvey Elkins. Elkins transformed the fort into a hotel. In 1874, a railroad was constructed between the Spanish Fort resort and downtown New Orleans. Spanish Fort was sold four years later to Moses Schwartz who built a casino with a restaurant and theatre in 1881. In 1903, the popularity of Spanish Fort declined as a result of the suspension of steam railroad services. The buildings burned shortly after that time. In 1909, New Orleans Railway and Light Company acquired and revived the Spanish Fort area.
Around 1932, the resort closed to facilitate the implementation of the Orleans Parish Levee Board’s plans for development of the lakefront from West End to the Industrial Canal.
New Orleans Lakefront Reclamation
Prior to the 1920s, the lakefront was largely marshy swampland comprised of scattered fishing shacks and camps. In an effort to develop strategies for eliminating unhealthy conditions that existed in the marshes and for providing improved levee protection from flood disasters, the Louisiana legislature named Colonel Marcel Garsaud to be Chief Engineer of the Orleans Levee Board in 1924. He was commissioned to plan and implement the reclamation and improvement of the lakefront.
Garsaud submitted a plan for a waterfront resort, a beachfront, an amusement park and several artificial lakes. Financing was a major problem with his plan. In 1928, a Missouri engineering firm presented two compromise plans. The compromise plan that was adopted included provisions for a public park area between the lake drive and the lake, recreational features and residential development with one section of homes fronting on the lake. The principal reason for the adoption of this plan was its potential for generating revenue to make the project self-supporting.
In 1926, prior to adoption of the compromise plan, pumping and draining of the swamps as well as seawall construction began. By 1930, work on the lakefront plan began. The new lakeshore consisted of a stepped concrete seawall built 3000 feet out from the shore with a filled area raised five to ten feet. Above the lake level were a beautiful public waterfront, beaches and parks. This transformation of the lakeshore allowed for the construction of the Lakeshore/Lake Vista and Lake Terrace/Lake Oaks neighborhoods.
Descriptions of Lake Vista and Lakeshore Subdivisions
Lake Vista was designed with the primary purpose of affording convenience and safety for its residents. Its most striking feature is its break from the traditional linear alignment of streets in favor of an arrangement of cul de sac streets all leading to a central community center. The design would result in diagonal parks accessible to all homes.
Homes would be built to face either lanes or parks and would be designed to have kitchens facing the streets and living rooms fronting on the parks. Lake development was completed in 1938 and building restrictions were introduced to insure a unique, high quality, safe residential area.
The west half of Lake Vista was placed on the market in 1938. However, when the nation entered World War II, sales and building halted until the mid 1940s. By 1946, all of the lots were sold. When building was completed, Lake Vista had a real community atmosphere that continues today.
The twin neighborhoods of the Lakeshore development are located to the west of Lake Vista. They are bounded by the New Basin Canal, Lake Pontchartrain, the Orleans Canal and Robert E. Lee Boulevard. Canal Boulevard divides West Lakeshore and East Lakeshore. West Lakeshore, former site of the LaGarde Hospital, opened for sale in 1951. East Lakeshore, formerly the site of Musser-Gorden Hospital, was opened in 1955.
The Lakeshore neighborhoods have a traditional design with linear streets that provide some privacy but extend to major boulevards. The area is comprised of single-family residences, apartments and a shopping center. Lakeshore and Lake Vista helped to transform the New Orleans lakefront from swampland into some of the city’s most valuable property.
Source: Neighborhood Profiles Project Document prepared by the City of New Orleans Office of Policy Planning and the City Planning Commission.