Sandwiched between St. Charles Avenue and the Mississippi River, is the lush urban oasis- Audubon Park. Named after naturalist John James Audubon, the park is used for outdoor recreation of all kinds. Purchased by the city in 1871, the site has played host to several notable historical events and has undergone numerous changes.

The site of Audubon Park today was once a twelve and one-half arpent plantation bought and owned by Pierre Foucher. Foucher abandoned his plantation before the Civil War and fled to France, never returning to Louisiana. The abandoned plantation was used by both the Confederate and Union sides during the war. It was used as a campground for Confederate troops and as a site for a Union military hospital that existed for five years. For almost a decade following, the eye sore of a plot was sold back and forth between wealthy citizens, legislators, and park commission boards. The city of New Orleans purchased the park in 1871. Originally dubbed Upper City Park, a commission was established in 1879 to maintain the land, however the only financial assistance given for operating a park on the site came in the form of revenue from leasing the grounds for grazing. [1]

The early history of the park’s development begins with the site being chose for the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884-85. To learn more about the exposition see visit our other tour “Audubon Park: Site of the 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition.”

Following the exposition, New Orleans City Council created a new park commission to operate the park in May 1886. In 1900 John Charles Olmsted was hired as the park’s designer. His master plan took twenty years to implement, mainly due to a lack of funds. Plans were further delayed and altered by the board’s decisions to lease the park’s riverfront to the Corps of Engineers, and allow the constructing of railroad tracks along the river and the operation of a sugar experimentation station. [1, 2] Much of the original Olmsted design was compromised to evolve the neighborhood park into a place where “people from varied backgrounds wanted to come for recreational pursuits.” Such compromises included the addition of various structures for active recreation such as swimming, tennis, and softball. Most of these were financed by private donors as memorials. Numerous memorials erected during this time (1916-1920s) still stand in the park today. These include Moise Goldstein’s neoclassical St. Charles Avenue entrance, the numerous gazebos, Emile Weil’s Newman Band Stand, the Gumbel Fountain, the Hyams wading pool, and the Popp floral gardens. [3]

In the year 1924, the park’s visitors numbered over a million each year. New Orleans native Mary Lou Widmer recalled her childhood outings to the park during the depression years:

“A day was set aside, the family was collected, and the long ride began. Our old car wove in and out of those unfamiliar uptown streets, loaded with kids, a picnic lunch and our cooler full of root beer…What a pool Audubon Park had! […] The bathhouse was a wonder in itself. I remember the endless row of lockers, the changing booths, and the huge, mirrored room with hairdryers in the wall. I loved the various facilities. I enjoyed changing my clothes in a private booth, wearing my jingling locker key pinned to the belt of my bathing suit, and running through the hallway of shower jets that sprayed me just before entering the revolving door-way to the pool. These were all spiffy new things we did not have at the City Park pool.” [1]

Today, the park continues to thrive, as it has for over a century, as a mecca for outdoor recreation of every kind. People continue to visit the Park to take full advantage of “the alleys of ancient live oaks, the tranquil 1.8 mile jogging path, the lagoon, picnic shelters, playgrounds, tennis courts, and soccer fields.” [4] The park has been the site of numerous cancer walks, charity events, golf tournaments, and various fundraisers. [5]

Images

Map

St. Charles Avenue, between Walnut and Calhoun Streets