riginally envisioned in the mid-twentieth century as a suburb to serve city dwellers who wanted to live within city limits, New Orleans East underwent steady, dramatic expansion for decades. During this time hundreds of single-family homes were built, along with a bowling alley, several movie theaters, strip malls, and a gigantic shopping center (with a carousel and skating rink) called the Plaza. The East even had several amusement parks: Pontchartrain Beach (originally whites only), Lincoln Beach (the black beach) and Jazzland (later, Six Flags). Those three facilities closed over time due to general decline, the end of Jim Crow, and Katrina damage, respectively.
But Katrina was really only a dramatic end note to a much longer process. The East never reached the population that city planners expected (Note the two I-10 interchanges that were never put into use just beyond Paris Road). The oil bust of the 1980s, along with suburban flight, further contributed to contraction. By the 1990s, the East was a majority African-American area with unenviable crime rates and declining property values. Currently, the residents of New Orleans East are pushing hard for redevelopment, and by some measures, they are succeeding.
A new hospital is in the works, and there is talk of a new facility at the now-ruined Jazzland site. Perhaps the East experience is best captured by the view you get when leaving it. At the top of the Highrise Bridge heading west, you’re surprised by a panoramic view of New Orleans: Treme, the French Quarter, and the downtown skyline. And this is typical of the East, which has long been content to stay off the radar and take advantage of the fact that it is a neighborhood within the city limits of one of the country’s most storied towns.
History by Maurice Ruffin, a writer, attorney and native of New Orleans East