Reclaiming Land: Creating Shushan Airport

Stop 1 of 6 in the Lakefront Airport tour

All of the land now occupied by the Lakefront Airport was once marshland home to numerous fishing camps. In 1922, Abraham Shushan, President of the Board of Commissioners of the Orleans Levee District, pushed for a lakefront improvement project to 'beautify' and industrialize the shore.

Prior to undertaking this project, Shushan consulted with leaders of other waterfront improvement projects including the coordinator of the Coney Island redevelopment project in New York City. The lakeshore improvement project came with a $15 million price tag. Funds for the project came from the sale of bonds and land on the improved lakeshore. The airport portion of the project cost $4 million.

Shushan's lakefront project had the support of Governor Huey Long; both men saw the need for a modern airport in New Orleans. In the 1920s, a period sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Aviation, having an airport was imperative for the commercial success of a modern city. By erecting an airport, Shushan and Long hoped New Orleans would be able to compete with Chicago as a transportation hub while forming stronger ties between New Orleans and Latin America. Louisiana’s landscape of waterways and difficult land routes made the area a good candidate for air transportation.

The lakefront project was one of many improvement projects that Long supported to modernize the state. With the cost of land inhibiting airport construction, the Orleans Levee Board thought that it was a good idea to put the airport on land “reclaimed” from the lake. Law dictated that lands under bodies of water were under the public domain, which meant that anti-Long political factions in New Orleans could not easily oppose the project. During legal battles with Long's political enemies and the fisherman living on the lakeshore, Shushan showed his dedication to the airport project. After winning these legal battles, Shushan and the Levee Board started letting contracts to build the seawall and airport in 1931.

While the airport certainly brought commercial success to the lakefront area, it also displaced hundreds of individuals who had previously worked on and occupied the marshland. Newspaper coverage of the "beautification" of the lakefront often vilified the previous inhabitants of the marshland, referring to the "camps" erected there as "disreputable" and "dilapidated." [2]

To learn about the buildings and innovations incorporated in the airport, cross the street and head to the door of the Harry Williams Hangar.

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6001 Stars and Stripes Blvd, New Orleans, LA