More than a half-century ago, when Wade Wright began dating his future wife Barbara, he remembers turning his car toward the lake on Canal Street, following the same route as the public buses labeled “Cemeteries.”

On their drives, the young couple would talk about their future. Their destination was usually the neighborhood known, then and now, as Lakeview.

So when they reached what had once been the outer edge of New Orleans, Wright would bear right, as Canal Street curved past Greenwood Cemetery’s tall granite monument to volunteer firemen, past the bronze elk marking the Elks Lodge #30 tomb. Then the couple would drive the streets of Lakeview, wishing.

“We dreamed of living there,” he said.

In 1975, an elderly widow sold the Wrights a Lakeview home on Louis XIV Street, named for the French king who gave his name to the state of Louisiana .

As is typical for the neighborhood, a fireman lived next door and a police officer down the street. But most neighbors seemed significantly older than they were, a trend that continued through 2000, when nearly 1 in 5 people in the neighborhood were 65 and older, twice the proportion of the city as a whole.

Almost 70 percent of Lakeview residents owned their homes, much higher than 46 percent citywide. That high homeownership rate may have helped the area rebuild relatively quickly after Hurricane Katrina, when torrents of water from Lake Pontchartrain came through the gashed 17th Street Canal, killing dozens and sending others to the roofs of two-story houses in some of the city’s worst flooding.

Like other neighborhoods that were galvanized into action after the storm, Lakeview formed a block-captain system that tracked every house and its progress. The neighborhood now has a brand-new public library on Harrison within blocks of three rebuilt schools — Hynes, St. Dominic, and St. Andrew’s – that are attracting an influx of young families.

Less seniors, more snowballs
Folks with white hair are fewer in number these days in Lakeview. But they have held onto key strongholds like Belle Vista Hair Salon, which has a beauty salon in the front with a family pest-control business in the back, past the pedicure station. The salon is run by Connie Bruno, 71, who has worked there since she was a young newlywed.

“Some of our customers have been coming here for 30 years. Now they come and they bring their kids and grandkids,” Bruno said, as she coiffed the hair of Ernestine Olliges, 88.

Over the years, Wright made regular stops a few blocks from the salon, at the hall for the St. Dominic Knights of Columbus, where he served on the board. After he and his neighbors decided that the neighborhood needed a prominent public flagpole, he helped design its base. It still waves over Lakeview’s main street, Harrison Avenue.

“No matter where you live in Lakeview, you’re within walking distance to Harrison Avenue,” said Joanna Eckhardt, as she bought snoballs for her two daughters and a niece at Nola Snow on Harrison.

When Eckhardt, a New Orleans native, moved back from Florida about a year ago, Lakeview seemed like the obvious choice, because it’s as peaceful as some sought-after suburbs but within the boundaries of New Orleans and, by Interstate 610, a few minutes from the heart of the city, she said.

“When my Uptown friends say they’d never live here, I don’t understand,” Eckhardt said, noting how every day after work, she and her neighbors pull up chairs and watch, as Lakeview pulses with children on bikes and scooters.

Sitting by the dock of the lake
Lakeview neighbors say that they like to have the city at one elbow and Lake Pontchartrain at the other. So it should be no surprise that JoAnn Burke also recently bought a house in Lakeview, not far from her beloved lake and neighborhood namesake.

Burke, education coordinator for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, spends so much time in the New Canal Lighthouse that her grandchildren call it her lighthouse.

There, at the historic, wedding-cake-shaped structure, Burke stands on a deck that overlooks the massive brackish lake and explains how it was brought back from near death in the early 1970s, when it was severely polluted with raw sewage, runoff and chemicals.

Today, regular tests show that the lake is clean enough to produce edible fish, like the ones 12-year-old Jake Cohen catches for dinner while his mom is at work. Sometimes his mother joins him for awhile when she clocks off. He casts his bait into the lake; she unwinds. “I love the serenity on the lake,” she says. “It’s just peaceful.”

The lake itself created sections of Lakeview, Burke said, since areas of the historically swampy neighborhood were built up with soil dredged from the lake. But the lake’‘s importance is even broader. Without Lake Pontchartrain, Burke says, there would be no New Orleans.

More than 300 years ago, French explorers were searching for an easy path from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River so that they could trade with the interior of the country. “Lake Pontchartrain provided that path,” Burke said, noting that Native Americans living in the area showed French explorers how Bayou St. John connected the river and the lake. Soon afterward, New Orleans was born, on the high ground near the river.

As hurricane-force winds blew in from the Gulf in 2005, the Wrights drove to the solid brick Knights of Columbus hall to weather the storm. “The next day, we were on a 30-foot roof, trying to survive,” he said, his voice cracking. The couple spent a few days there, trying fruitlessly to hail down helicopters, before they were saved by his next-door neighbor in a fire-department boat.

The Wrights returned, and they rebuilt their house on Louis XIV, though they worried at the time that much of the neighborhood would remain vacant. It looked spotty for several years. But now the couple’s dream home is being dwarfed by larger, more extravagant new structures that are popping up around them. “My house looks like the caretaker’s house,” Wright said. “It’s just booming.”