ike the rest of New Orleans, Mid-City’s history is inseparable from the development of large-scale drainage. Naturally higher spots such as Esplanade Ridge was first used as passageways between the bayous and the old city, and the area’s oldest and grandest homes sit there. Surrounding areas were developed in the early 20th century, after engineer Albert Baldwin Wood invented the screw pump that turned low-lying swampland into habitable real estate.
Bayou St. John dates back much further, of course, and was used by Native Americans and early European explorers as a shortcut to the Mississippi River. Voodoo queen Marie Laveau is said to have performed rituals along the bayou’s banks.
City Park is built on the former Allard Plantation that once faced the bayou. The first parcel of land was acquired in 1854, and the park grew over time to its present size.
Many of its best known features date back to the Great Depression, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Works Progress Administration put people to work by building City Park (renamed Tad Gormley) Stadium, and installing bridges, lagoons, concrete benches, a rose garden, the eagles on Roosevelt Mall, and statues by famed New Orleans sculptor Enrique Alferez. The spurt of development that wouldn’t be matched until years later, after Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches caused $43 million in damage and forced layoffs of 90 percent of the staff. The park’s renewal is a testament to the scores of volunteers, donors and staffers who set out not only to reclaim the beloved park, but to make it better than ever.