Local Residents Demand Closure of Agriculture Street Landfill in 1950s

Stop 3 of 7 on the Gordon Plaza tour.

Through the 1950s, residents neighboring Agriculture Street Landfill (ASL) suffered due to improper landfill operations. Numerous reports detail horrible stenches, pest infestations, and smoke emanating from ASL. Spontaneous combustion “commonly” occurred at the fill when incompatible wastes came in contact underground, garnering ASL the nickname “Dante’s Inferno.” [1] In October of 1950, police guided motorists through the streets surrounding ASL at 10 miles per hour due to thick clouds of smoke emanating the landfill. [2] In October of 1956, eight public schools were unable to serve hot lunches to students because of a fly infestation caused by the landfill. [3]

Residents living near ASL began to make public complaints and eventually organized legal and political action against the landfill. One resident stated that “the cost in depreciation of land in the close proximity of this land has been tremendous.” [4] In 1951, neighborhood residents made a failed attempt to sue the city for its negligent operation of the fill. [5] By 1955, residents of the Eighth and Ninth Wards picketed the operation of the “menacing” landfill and the “deplorable conditions” it inflicted upon the neighborhood.” [6]

While neighborhood complaints about ASL’s unsanitary conditions urged city officials to consider changes to the dump's operation, the landfill’s closure was ultimately brought about by its inability to accommodate anymore waste. City officials began to support the construction of an “odorless and smokeless” incinerator just ten blocks from ASL on Florida Avenue. [7] Outraged that the new incinerator would remain so close to the site of ASL, community members circulated an unsuccessful petition to bar the new incinerator. [8]

City officials celebrated the landfill’s closure and called for the redevelopment of the blighted site. Councilman Clasen asserted that the “land [would] be restored and developed to provide additional housing within a very few years,” aiding in the “progress and growth [of…] the rest of our city.” [9] While looking over the rubbish mounds of ASL during an inspection in 1955, Councilman Shiro proclaimed “I’d like to see the day when this is a beautiful subdivision.” [10] Despite public concerns regarding building over landfills, the Councilman's hopes for redevelopment would eventually be realized with the construction of Gordon Plaza in the following decades. A prescient newspaper article published in 1952 stated: “too many communities have tried to do landfilling entirely too cheaply, ignoring especially the sanitary precautions. New Orleans may be one of these.” [11]

Following the destruction of Hurricane Betsy in September of 1965, ASL was temporarily reopened to accommodate excess trash produced by the storm. [12] No restrictions were placed on deposits made at ASL and much of the refuse contained lead and arsenic. [1] Every day 300 truckloads of trash unloaded at ASL. [13] Though sanitation officials stated that “emergency burning of garbage in long-unused landfill locations [would] cease as soon as [was] practicable,” ASL did not close until the summer of 1966. [14]