Change and Contention: Palmer Park During the 1970s

Stop 12 of 14 in the Palmer Park tour

The 1970s was a period of contention over the future of Palmer Park as local residents opposed efforts by the city to incorporate the park and convert its use to a playground. Residents, labeling themselves “Concerned Citizens of Carrollton,” ran an advertisement in the Times Picayune in 1972 in opposition to the park being taken over by the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD), arguing the park would be turned into a playground and suffer the same fate as other NORD parks: disrepair, declining property values for nearby homes, and warning it would become a “public disgrace.”

In May 1972, a lawyer whose home was across the street from Palmer Park sued the City Parkway and Parks Commission over proposed playground equipment. He argued the equipment would not be used by small children as intended but instead would become a hangout for teenagers who would be “nuisances.” He asked for the proposed equipment to be moved and the commission complied, placing it in the center of the park instead of the periphery, and stating they never had any plan to turn the park into a major recreation area. Several small pieces of equipment were built in the park; one resident complained that the slide that was built by NORD was used by older teenagers who “intimidated” younger children.

The fight against the conversion to NORD was continued by the “Concerned Citizens” group, led by the local attorney. He argued the commission intended to use public funds to convert Palmer Park into a playground, when nearby playgrounds already existed; he threatened to report the misuse of the funds to federal authorities. The group was adamant the space be preserved as a “promenade park.” The battle was waged both at meetings of NORD and in the Times Picayune where both sides published letters to the editors. The dispute between the city and local residents became even more agitated when it was reported the park was also being considered as the new location of the Second District Police Station; the report was denied by the City’s Planning Commission.

In 1975, the Parkway and Parks Commission announced they had approved a $240,000 dollar “facelift” for the park. They argued the plan was a compromise with nearby residents. One half of the park would be preserved as a “passive area emphasizing quiet recreation such as walking, reading and jogging”; the other half would have “low-key play equipment” that “would blend into surrounding neighborhood.” The play equipment would be made of wood and the idea was for “children to use their imagination.” They also announced one spot of the park would be marked as an area for a small football game. The commission promised general improvements for the park including better drainage, raised sidewalks, improved lighting, more water fountains, and more trash cans. Residents were not pleased with the compromise; one letter to the editor argued the equipment that had already been placed had turned the park into a “howling, noisy place” made even worse by the fact that the children using the equipment were not from the neighborhood but rather “brought by automobile and dropped off and later picked up.”

The commission’s proposed plans became even more ambitious later that year. As part of an overall plan to green and beautify the city, they intended major improvements for thirty parks and squares in the city and the addition of new small neighborhood parks. In addition to the afore-mentioned playground equipment, several projects envisioned for Palmer Park were planned: regrading of the park to include new berms--small hills--with pedestrian bridges spanning the gaps; plants and small trees in the park; large trees along the perimeter; repainting the archway in bright colors; a new walkway from the arch to the center of the park that would be covered by a canopy of trees; and new paths throughout the park. The commission argued that public spaces in the city had been “allowed to deteriorate to become something less than inviting for people.” The changes would “enhance quality of city life, to make it a more pleasant experience for the city dweller.” They also stated that the people of the city had their say in the matter and were in favor of the new changes. In particular, neighbors of Palmer Park, they noted, wanted the park changed to make it more amenable for small children and adults; also, the berms would help cancel noise emanating from the park.

The issue was far from decided, however. The Times Picayune noted a “Battle a Brewin’” over the matter. City Councilman Frank Friedler, Jr., warned he would oppose the changes unless the commission also provided someone for daily maintenance and security. Similarly, during the August 1975 final meeting on the matter, local residents urged the money for improvement to be spent on security. They argued the park had been “invaded” by “winos” and other “undesirable characters.” They stated they were afraid of being assaulted or mugged in the park. The commission urged the residents to address the issue with the police and countered the proposed improvements would attract more “desirable” users. They approved the city’s proposed changes. Improvements were gradually carried out over several years.

In 1977 Palmer Park officially became part of the Park and Parkways Commission. A 1978 dedication ceremony, co-sponsored by the Carrollton Business Men’s Association, featured speeches by Mayor Moon Landrieu, Parkway and Parks Commission Superintendent Charles Nutter, and the “honorary” mayor of Carrollton J. C. Meynier, Jr., as well as a performance by the Tulane University Concert Band.

Images

Advertisement against Palmer Park becoming part of the New Orleans Recreation Department. <br /><br />
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Courtesy of the Times Picayune May 10, 1972.

Advertisement against Palmer Park becoming part of the New Orleans Recreation Department.

Courtesy of the Times Picayune May 10, 1972.

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Palmer Park Dedication Program, 1978, Winston Lill Papers, Louisiana Research Collection,  Tulane University.

Palmer Park Dedication Program, 1978, Winston Lill Papers, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.

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Audio

Audio File 1

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Cite this Page:

Kevin McQueeney, “Change and Contention: Palmer Park During the 1970s,” New Orleans Historical, accessed March 23, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/668.

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