Naval Air Station & University of New Orleans

In the fall of 1940, the Navy began improving its primary flight training facilities by building up its system of Naval Reserve air bases, including New Orleans. The lakefront base housed a steel hangar, barracks for 100 cadets, a small assembly and repair shop, storage for 50,000 gallons of fuel, and accommodations for 8,100 personnel.

In November 1942, the New Orleans installation was designated a Naval Air Station (NAS) and assumed the role of a primary training base for student naval aviators. By the end of 1943, the primary mission of the base shifted to the training of flight instructors for the duration of the war.

By July of 1946, the air station's mission changed again to training Navy and Marine Corps Air Reservists. In the late 1940s, the lakefront site was deemed inadequate due to urban growth in the area that made future jet operations unfeasible. A new site was located 15 miles south of the business center of New Orleans and across the Mississippi River in Placquemines Parish.

The Orleans Parish Levee Board acquired the site when the United States Navy abandoned the air station in late 1957. A quick renovation of barracks, service clubs, and other existing facilities made it possible to begin classes at Louisiana State University at New Orleans (LSUNO) in September 1958, a year ahead of the original schedule.

In September 1969, enrollment exceeded 10,000, making LSUNO the second-largest university in Louisiana. In February 1974, the LSU Board of Supervisors approved a name change, and LSUNO became the University of New Orleans. The new name more accurately defined the institution as the metropolitan campus of the LSU System. UNO joined the University of Louisiana system in 2012.

Images

Naval Air Base boundary, May 1941

Naval Air Base boundary, May 1941

The Naval Reserve Aviation Training Base was being constructed in part by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as well as by contractors hired by the Navy. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

Lakefront Naval Air Base, circa July 1941

Lakefront Naval Air Base, circa July 1941

Spreading asphalt for one of the two runways on the base. WPA labor built the runways and drainage structures while the Navy contracted the work of laying asphalt. An unfinished airplane hangar and UNO's iconic smoke stack are seen in the background. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

US Naval Air Station, 1948

US Naval Air Station, 1948

Above the airbase one sees the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. During World War II, the long factory building located above Pontchartrain Beach at Franklin Avenue housed the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Co., which built seaplanes. By 1948, the facility was converted to private industrial use by American Standard, which manufactured toilets until 1982, when a fire destroyed the building. The plant was rebuilt in 1983 but closed permanently soon afterwards. The Orleans Parish Levee Board currently occupies the building. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

Construction of the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park

Construction of the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park

The University of New Orleans purchased the site of the former Pontchartrain Beach amusement park and developed a Research and Technology park. Notice how far back the shoreline has receded. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the levees were fortified and pushed out further, making the beach much smaller. University of New Orleans Archives, Louisiana and Special Collections Department, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans. View File Details Page

UNO Alumni Center, circa 2005

UNO Alumni Center, circa 2005

The last remaining structure from the former Navy Base is the smoke stack, which was made the centerpiece of the Alumni Center. Former UNO Chancellor Homer Hitt was at the ground breaking ceremony in 2001. Courtesy of Patrick Stephen View File Details Page

Naval Air Base before runway was built in 1941

Naval Air Base before runway was built in 1941

This 203 acre tract of land on the New Orleans lakefront, once a swampy, unsanitary shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain, was graded and leveled by WPA workers to provide the US Navy with a landing field for its new base. Buildings of the base, still under construction, are shown in the background. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

Runway construction by WPA

Runway construction by WPA

WPA engineers estimated that the grading of the runways at the Lake Pontchartrain base was about 90% complete. The work also involved grading a vast area in addition to the runways. The base was constructed partly by the WPA and partly by the Navy. You can see the amusement park ride at Spanish fort on the middle right of the photo, and the barracks of the Naval Air Station on the left side. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

Naval Air Base unfinished runway, 1941

Naval Air Base unfinished runway, 1941

Contract workers spread asphalt for one of the two runways at the base. The runways were built to grade, and included drainage structures built by WPA labor. An unfinished hangar for the base is shown in the background. Courtesy of Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Patrick Stephen, Dr. Robert Dupont, “Naval Air Station & University of New Orleans,” New Orleans Historical, accessed May 26, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/143.

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