City Park History

A Look Back At Key Moments in City Park's History

Over 150 years old, one mile wide and three miles long comprising a total of 1,300 acres, New Orleans City Park is one of the largest urban Parks in the country. It is located in the heart of the city and is the largest recreation area for the entire metropolitan area.

Brief History
Once the site of Allard Plantation facing Bayou St. John, City Park’s 1,300 acres offer visitors a sample of the city’s riches both in fine art and natural splendor. City Park is home of the New Orleans Museum of Art and the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world. Trees in the oldest grove are over 800 years old.

Today’s City Park is distinguished by its large menu of recreational activities as well as by its natural beauty. City Park has a special place in the hearts of generations of New Orleanians and is a must for visitors to the city. A popular place to picnic, play a favorite sport, wander through its gardens or take a boat ride, the Park is visited millions of times each year.

Historically, the minutes of City Park board meetings have been written in great detail.  For an historian, they provide a treasure trove of revealing information.  Anything from the light-hearted – the exact cost to purchase a dozen squirrels, or a brief reference to a “Beatle Show” when the Beatles played at City Park Stadium.  They also reflect much more profound subjects such as yellow fever in the 1800’s and race relations in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Thanks to a generous grant from the Selley Foundation, the Park’s Board Minutes were scanned and preserved electronically in 2017. From 1891 to 1927 the Board Minutes were written by hand. From 1928 onward the minutes were typed. The typed PDFs can be searched with key words.

In addition to the scanned board minutes, we are also in the process of pulling together a brief timeline of each year.  We provide a snapshot of a dozen or so references from each year that we hope paint an accurate picture of the affairs of the Park in a particular year.  We have not “updated” the minutes to reflect modern lexicon (e.g. Negro v. African American).

You will also see several recurring themes:
- The Park has served as the primary recreation facility for Greater New Orleans for generations.
- It changes over the decades, but live musical performances from John Philip Sousa and the New Orleans Symphony to the Beatles and Pearl Jam are an integral part of the Park.
- The Park’s patrons love the trees, lagoons, and seasonal flowers.
- Securing adequate funding to operate and maintain the Park has always been a challenge.
- The Park’s serves many different constituencies:  student athletes, bikers, nature lovers, music lovers, folks who like to fish, golfers, walkers, botanists, and the list goes on and on.  The board and staff do their best to meet the needs of each constituency while recognizing that some conflicts are inevitable.

4th District Court pronounces the property a public park

4th District Court pronounces the property a public park.

4th District Court pronounces the property a public park

Peristyle opens

The Peristyle is an icon part of New Orleans City Park

Peristyle opens

Isaac Delgado Museum of Art is dedicated

The Isaac Delgado Museum of Art is dedicated, renamed in 1971 “New Orleans Museum of Art”

Isaac Delgado Museum of Art is dedicated

Dedication of Couturie Forest

At the center of City Parkís 1,300 acres is Couturie Forest. The Forest was designated a community arboretum in 1939 with a bequest of $50,000 for 6,000 trees. Since then it has grown and it a major part of City Park.
(year is correct, day is approximate)

Dedication of Couturie Forest

Picnics in the park

The number of picnics held in City Park show an increase of approximately ten percent over 1959, but a decrease of about 20% from 1958; the decrease may be attributed to park integration and closing of the swimming pool. Ten colored picnics were held in City Park during the summer months. There were no major racial disturbances in the park although several potential troublesome situations had to be resolved.

Increase in revenues in comparison to 1950

The following are some comparative revenues derived from park facilities during the first eleven months of 1950 and 1960.
Tennis: 7,954.52 (1950); 10,717.89 (1960); 2,763.17 (Increase over 1950)
Golf: 65,895.05 (1950); 102,964.40 (1960); 37,069.35 (Increase over 1950)
Driving Range; 6,873.00 (1950); 47,779.00 (1960); 40,906.00 (Increase over 1950)
Baseball: 1,964.50 (1950); 2,515.50 (1960); 551.00 (Increase over 1950)
Leased Concessions: 27,697.83 (1950): 31,032.85: 3,335.02 (Increase over 1950)

1960 park updates

Sodium arsenite used to control aquatic growth in Bayou St. John.

5,000 amaryllis bulbs were planted in the Park.

The board voted and approved the continued closure of the Park swimming pool.

The board authorized the General Manager to spend $325 to air-condition the Park automobile.

1960 sports in the park

The Greater New Orleans Invitational Open Golf Tournament featured a $25,000 purse. Mr. Dow Finsterwald of Tequest, Florida won with a score of 270 (18 under par).

Two integrated Professional Baseball games between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox were played in City Park stadium on April 9th and 10th and witnessed by an estimated crowd of 22,000 spectators; approximately 25% being Negroes.  There were no racial incidents during the game.

593 fishermen participated in the Big Bass Rodeo (fishing).  Top honors went to David Bellinger, age 11, who caught a 5 lb. 13 oz. bass.

Bids received for excavation

Bids received to excavate approximately 94,000 cubic yards of fill from Bayou St. John between Lafitte Street and the Southern Railway bridge, a distance of 8,190 feet.  Bids ranged from 129k to 272k.  The contract was signed in March between Charles Orlando & Sons and the Department of Public Works ($128,780).  The signing was attended by Governor Jimmie Davis and others.  The majority of the spoil was deposited between Filmore Avenue and Robert E. Lee Blvd.

1961 sports in the park

N.O. Open Invitational Golf Tournament in March was won by Doug Sanders of Ojai, CA with a total score of 272 (16 under par).  Mr. Sanders received $4,300 out of the $30,000 purse.

June 3rd – The first 9 holes of Course 3 were dedicated.  Cost:  $135,000.

1961 park updates

Commissioner LeCorgne stated that in a few years there should be 10,000 amarillis plants in the Park.

The Young Men’s Business Club presented a proposal for the erection of a Science and Industries Museum and Planetarium in City Park.  A special committee of the board was appointed to evaluate the proposal.

Live rabbits and other prizes were given to children under 12 years of age at the Children’s Easter program held in Storyland.

The park’s flock of swans increased with thirteen black and six white cygnets.  White swans valued at $100 per pair and black swans valued at $300 per pair.

The boardroom was air conditioned.

1962 sports in the park

July 9th – the 13th annual City Of New Orleans Soap Box Derby was held at 6:00 p.m. on the Wisner Boulevard overpass.

August 18th – 31,000 watched as the Houston Oilers battled the Boston Patriots at City Park Stadium.

Items removed from City Park lagoons

With two days of help from the New Orleans Scuba Diver’s Club and City Park’s Boating and Fishing Concessionaire, the following items were removed from the park’s lagoons:
9 – Garfish (6-36 inches long)
1 – Buffalo fish weighing 44.5 lbs
6 – Old tractor and truck tires
9 – Steel drums
12 – Park benches
1 – Roll (100 feet) tin foil
1 – Ladies purse containing $2.11 (The purse which was returned to the owner, Miss Joan Ann Richter, was lost in the lagoon in August 1960)

1962 park updates

$865 contract signed to remove aquatic material from Bayou St. John for the year.

The board voted to rigidly enforce speed limits for vehicle traffic within the confines of the park.

Efforts renewed to have a traffic light installed at Carrollton and City Park Avenue.

April 29th – Miniature Trains, Sea Lion Pool and Monkey Island dedicated.  Twenty Rhesus monkeys and six Sea Lions.

Completed Leisure Drive shelled road bed linking Harrison Avenue to Robert E. Lee Blvd., a distance of approximately 2,000 feet.

Completed the excavation of Parker Island with most of the spoil going to the No. 3 golf course.

370 Caucasian organization summer picnics and 62 colored picnics.

Dr. Mitchell on changing weather cycles

From the Park Executives Convention in Washington, D.C.: Dr. J. Murray Mitchell, Director of the U.S. Weather Bureau, Washington, D.C., in his address at the Park Convention on “Changing Weather Cycles”, stated that the coldness of recent winters is similar to the bitter winters of the 1890’s and 1930’s.  Dr. Mithcell attributed part of the earth cooling, not to Nuclear explosives, but to violent eruptions such as that which occurred in the Kamchatkan Peninsula of Russia in 1956.  These eruptions according to Dr. Mitchell, has caused the dust palls to intercept some of the sunlight that otherwise would have reached the earth’s surface.

1663 park updates

The name of the Casino Building was changed to the Administration Building.

Commissioner Dabezies suggested that when redesigning the park the Planning and Development Committee, the Horticultural Committee and the Grounds Committee give serious consideration to leaving out palm trees.

Rental of City Park stadium parking lot during Carnival Season to Wally Byam Caravan Club provided good publicity for City Park and a revenue of $2,312.00.  Participants in the Caravan were from thirty-six different States.  [The Wally Byam Caravan Club came to the park for many years.]

Mr. George Grundmann, a City Park Board Member since December 16, 1917, celebrated his 87th birthday.  [That’s 46 years in office in case you don’t want to do the math.]

The board President suggested that $1,200 from the proceeds of the concert held in the Stadium on May 8th be dedicated to erecting a lath house.  Adopted unanimously.  The lath house was completed later in the year.

After a lengthy discussion, the board approved the Police Department’s request for the establishment of Police Stables in the park.

Twin bridges constructed over Bayou St. John at Filmore Avenue by the City of New Orleans.

Consumated 16th Section land exchange.

December 22nd – The Albert F. Backer Senior Memorial Sun Dial behind the casino building was dedicated.

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

January in the park

Two freezes caused considerable damage to park property:  Palms, Golden Rain, and Orange trees, Camellias, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Cassia Alata, Nandianas, Amaryllis, and rose bushes.

The board started its meeting by standing for a “moment of prayer to invoke God’s blessing on all of the members and on their undertakings during 1963.”

18 hole golf course was dedicated

The park’s third eighteen hole golf course was dedicated on Saturday, May 16th.  Cost of the course was $295,227.25.  72 par – 6,885 yard championship course encompassing 128 acres of land and five acres of water.  276,250 cubic yards of fill were used to complete the course.

The Beatles play Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park

The Beatles play City Park Stadium.

The Beatles play Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park

1965 park updates

President Carrere reported that 75% of the area north of Filmore Avenue and east of the Ursuline Canal has been cleared.

In keeping with practices over the past several years, 15,000 pansy plants were planted throughout the park.

1965 park updates

President Carrere reported that 75% of the area north of Filmore Avenue and east of the Ursuline Canal has been cleared.

In keeping with practices over the past several years, 15,000 pansy plants were planted throughout the park.

1966 park events

Adam West (Batman) performed at the stadium on November 26th.

New Orleans Water Ski Club skiing program takes place in the Marconi Drive lagoon from May 22nd to September 30th.

Mike Douglas was the special guest at the park’s July 4th celebration.

1967 sports in the park

72 football games, 122 track meets, 125 tennis tournaments, 185,000 rounds of golf on the three golf courses, 500 school and organizational picnics, 32 dog shows, square dancing three nights weekly during Summer months, and 2 Military Passing Reviews.

1967 park updates

The new golf clubhouse on Filmore (necessitated by the demolition of the clubhouse due to the construction of I-610) was dedicated on May 4th. Cost to build: $501,080.30.

The entire park was sprayed with Benzine Hexachloride to combat the vast invasion of caterpillars.

Col. Worthington of the Flowers and Horticultural Committee reported that the flora of City Park has been more magnificent this year than in the past forty years.

1968 park updates

Completed negotiations with the State Department of Highways for the installation of approximately 2,346 feet of 60 inch sub-surface concrete pipe to drain the North section of City Park and I-610 bypass through City Park. Total cost of $146,159.02 with the park paying 58% and the State paying 42%.

April park events

April 5th – Vanilla Fudge played at Tad Gormley Stadium.

April 28th - Pageant and a Mass in the stadium in connection with the 250th anniversary of the City of New Orleans.

1969 park events

After temporary conversion to a baseball field, the New York Mets and the Minnesota Twins played a doubleheader at Tad Gormley Stadium on April 6th.

Sly and the Family Stone and Tommy James and the Shondels performed at Tad Gormley in addition to a show by the Bailey Brothers Circus.

1969 park updates

The Hospital Street Underpass was constructed at a cost of $651,855.57 with the City paying 85% and the Railroad 15%.  It was dedicated on March 29th.

The golf committee of the board reported that a “300 pound capacity scale was installed in the men’s shower room at the golf clubhouse.”

Completed the removal of debris caused by Hurricane Camille.  Sixty trees were completely destroyed and approximately 200 trees were damaged by the hurricane.

Dedication of the Pavilion of the Two Sisters

On this date, the Pavilion of the Two Sisters in the Botanical Garden was dedicated.

Dedication of the Pavilion of the Two Sisters

Conservatory of the Two Sisters dedicated.

On this day, the Conservatory of the Two Sisters was dedicated.

Conservatory of the Two Sisters dedicated.

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden opens

Located to the left of NOMA, the five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden holds more than 60 sculptures collectively valued at $25 million. These incredible works of art are nestled along meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, and 200-year-old live oaks inside the garden.

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden opens

Hurricane Katrina Strikes New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina hits.  Katrinaís wind and surge coupled with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faulty levee design, devastate the park and cause $43 million in damages.

Hurricane Katrina Strikes New Orleans

The Three Little Pigs debut in Storyland

The Three Little Pigs debut in Storyland

The Three Little Pigs debut in Storyland

Morning Call opens in City Park

In 2012, the coffee and beignet stand opened in City Park.

Morning Call opens in City Park

5,000th tree was planted since Hurricane Katrina

The Park lost over 2000 trees in Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath.

5,000th tree was planted since Hurricane Katrina

January – March

Baltimore Ravens prevailed over San Francisco in the Superbowl held at the Superdome.  The Benson’s held the NFL owners party at the Park and it was pretty much the party to end all parties.  The following night ESPN had a big blow out under a huge tent in Tad Gormley Stadium.

Country Roads Magazine bestowed the “Favorite Public Garden” award to the Botanical Garden.

12,000 participants strong, Hogs for the Cause was the first large event to take place within the new Festival Grounds.

January – March

Get to reading

A wonderful coffee table book on City Park debuted.  The book was photographed and written by Kerri McCaffety.

Amanda Erika Swan

Amanda Erika, one of City Park’s black swans was injured by a trespasser(s) early in the year.  After months of recovery and surgery, she was released to a safer environment at a family’s pond on the North shore.

Amanda Erika Swan

City Putt Debut

City Putt debuted on May 24th and features two 18-hole miniature golf courses.  Construction cost:  $2.7 million.

City Putt Debut

Award for City Park

Travel + Leisure Magazine rated New Orleans City Park one of the “World’s Most Beautiful City Parks.”

New Ride in Carousel Gardens

The new Wacky Shack opened within the Amusement Park.

New Ride in Carousel Gardens

New Rink

The new covered rink at Equest Farms was dedicated.  Cost = 600k

New Rink

Happy 3rd of July

7,500 people came to the Park’s inaugural July 3rd of July celebration.  Music by the Marine Corps New Orleans and the New Orleans Navy Brass Band.

Happy 3rd of July

The Madness!

Friends of City Park delighted one and all at the 10th annual Martini Madness fundraiser.

The Madness!

Run, Run, Run

2,100 students from 89 schools and 7 states participated in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Track and Field Meet.

Awarded to City Park

TripAdvisor awarded a 2014 Certificate of Excellence to City Park.  Reviewers from around the world consistently rate City Park with 4.5 stars out of 5.  Out of 643 New Orleans attractions, City Park ranked 4th place.

Awarded to City Park

They said YES!

Gondolier Robert Dula has witnessed 293 wedding proposals from his gondola perch.  Everyone has said yes!

They said YES!

It’s the new forest entrance!

A new 100-foot pedestrian bridge was installed at Couturie Forest.

It’s the new forest entrance!

The Beatles! (Say that in your best Ed Sullivan voice)

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles playing City Park Stadium, WYES hosted a “Beatles” concert in Tad Gormley Stadium on Tuesday, September 16th.  There was a lot of twisting and shouting goin’ on.

Lifetime Achievement

Park CEO, Bob Becker was the recipient of the prestigious “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Bureau of Governmental Research.

Lifetime Achievement

My love is like a red red rose…

Will Ryman’s “Icon” sculpture was installed temporarily at the Festival Grounds.

My love is like a red red rose…

Cast that line

Hundreds participated in the 67th Annual Big Bass Fishing Rodeo and Fishtival.  A new kayak and canoe category on Bayou St. John debuted and was a big hit.

Cast that line

Mensa Said So!

Mensa (the smart people) ranked their Top 10 Amusement Parks with City Park’s Carousel Gardens coming in at number six. Not bad considering that numbers one, two and three were Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Studios Hollywood respectively.
“The top three are wonderful parks, but you don’t have to be a member of Mensa to realize the great bargain offered at City Park’s Carousel Gardens,” said park Chief Development Officer, John Hopper.

Say Cheese!

The Park’s first ever photography contest elicited over 700 submissions. Dylan Barbier won the Best Overall photograph:

Say Cheese!

Inaugural Earth Day

City Park and the Botanical Garden jointly held the inaugural Earth Day event in the Botanical Garden to rave reviews.

Inaugural Earth Day

bonne anniversaire

City Putt celebrated its one year anniversary.

bonne anniversaire

Century Plant Blooms

One of the New Orleans Botanical Garden Century Plants (Agave americana) bloomed.  After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Botanical Garden one of the first plants to be replanted were a group of Century Plants that were roughly one year old. “Typically a Century Plant takes between 10 to 60 years to grow to full maturity and bloom. But it’s possible ours matured and is blooming at a quicker rate due to the past year’s weather with temperatures quickly moving up and down,” said Susan Capley, Education Director of the New Orleans Botanical Garden, “We are all very excited this is happening as it’s a great example of how far City Park and the Botanical Garden have come in terms of resurrection since Hurricane Katrina.”  

The Century Plant is a monocarpic succulent and has a spike rosette of gray-green leaves which can reach up to 30 feet. The plant flowers with small branches with small flowers on the ends. The plant blooms only once and at the end of its life. The next plant in line to start growing is called a pup. Stemming out of the original plant, this pup will start its journey upwards after the first plant flowers. The plant’s flower stays in bloom for approximately two weeks.
Attached are photos from mid-April, mid-May, and a bloom photo so you can see the scale of growth.

Century Plant Blooms

Groundbreaking Fore!

Folks gathered to break ground on the new championship level golf course.  While many were happy with the development, a committed group of people opposed the Park’s golf course plans.  Protesters were vocal at board meetings, and three people became “tree sitters” for a period of time.

Disc Golf on the move

The Disc Golf Course was moved from south of the railroad tracks to an area east of Diagonal Drive.

Disc Golf on the move

A New Visitor Center

We also dedicated the Oscar J. Tolmas Center which serves as the new entrance to both Storyland and the Botanical Garden.  (In lieu of police, we hired a large green alligator for security.) The Park’s endowment exceeded $4 million.  That may not sound like a lot for an institution over 160 years old.  But when you consider that the park’s endowment was $48,000 in 2001, it definitely shows we are moving in the right direction.

A New Visitor Center

She’s Back!

Katrina sent the old Ladybug to the dump yard, but the new and improved Ladybug Roller Coaster was dedicated in February, much to the delight of residents young and old.

She’s Back!

China Lights

The China Lights Festival transformed the Botanical Garden into a beautiful lighted display highlighting Chinese culture.  More than 75,000 people visited the event which ran from February 23rd to May 1st.

China Lights

The start of our MOON parties

A new fundraiser, June Under the Moon debuted.

The start of our MOON parties

All Hail Sir Cumference

New Orleans City Park cut the ribbon on a new playground at the already popular Festival Grounds. Located between Christian Brothers School and the Reunion Shelter on Friedrichs Avenue, the playground sits inside a paved concrete circle. It is that circle shape that lent its geometric details to the playgrounds name: Sir Cumference. The Sir Cumference playground includes climbing areas, monkey bars, a slide, balance beams, and musical instruments for kids to play. The playground is geared towards children ages 5 to 12 years old. 

All Hail Sir Cumference

Katrina + 10

Time flies when you are having fun?  It wasn’t all fun by a long shot, but August marked the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  The park remembered by planting 10 oak trees at the Festival Grounds, installing a number of temporary before and after signs at Big Lake, and by hosting a thank you event for donors, volunteers, and board members.

Katrina + 10

Tennis Time

The Allstate Sugar Bowl Tennis Classic will be held at the City Park/Pepsi Tennis Center this month. The Allstate Sugar Bowl Tennis Classic is a USTA Southern Tournament that hosts female and male players ages 12 to 18 years old in both singles and doubles divisions. The Southern Section is made up of the following nine states: LA, MS, AL, GA, AK, KY, TN, NS, SC. The top ranked 32 players in each division from the Southern Section qualify to participate.

Tennis Time