Today in New Orleans History

March 7

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Pontchartrain Beach at Spanish Fort
March 7, 1939
The first Pontchartrain Beach opened in 1928, across Bayou St. John from the old Spanish Fort on filled land newly reclaimed from the lake by the Orleans Levee Board. The "Old Beach" featured a boardwalk, a bath house and rides. But the hard times of the Depression hit the new amusement park hard, in spite of improvements (including a seawall to replace the boardwalk and a vehicular bridge over Bayou St. John) made by the Batt family, which took over its operation in 1933. In 1938, when development (with the help of the WPA) of Lake Vista began just next door, the Batts took advantage of the opportunity to move the park farther east along the lakefront to Milneburg, and the "Old Beach" was demolished. This photograph of the entrance to the park was taken on March 7, 1939, shortly before demolition began.  (From the New Orleans Public Libary)
Before becoming involved in the amusement business, Harry Batt, Sr., born in New Orleans on June 20, 1903, worked at Home Ice Company, founded in 1893 by his grandfather.  His father, John William Batt, had built the first ice manufacturing plant in New Orleans, according to Marquerite Batt, his wife. Educated at Danneel Elementary and Warren Easton High School, he dropped out of high school after the first year to help in the family business during WWI. He married Marguerite Spraul on September 2, 1924. When home refrigerators were becoming popular appliances in the upper-class homes in the areas serviced by Harry (University Section near Tulane and Newcomb Colleges), he foresaw a decline in his business and began to entertain the thought of entertainment as a career.  In 1927 he met and befriended the merry-go-round operator at Audubon Park whose business was already suffering.  Harry and his father invested an interest in this small endeavor. Harry's interest was peaked.  A neighbor owned arcade equipment -- he and Harry leased the newly created lakefront land in front of what would become Lake Vista and opened an arcade there under the corporate name of Playland Amusements, of which his father was also an investor.  The seawall had yet to be built but a wooden boardwalk was in place as well as a bathhouse and other facilities owned by Lakeshore Amusement Company.  Playland owned and installed rides there on pilings.  The park opened in 1928.  In 1930 Harry became Playland's general manager and his father was no longer active in the business. In 1931, Dorothy Lamour was crowned Miss New Orleans there before becoming a top movie star.  Lakeshore Amusements fell on hard times and in 1934 Playland successfully bid to become the sole operator of the park. "We never intended to [take it over], but when the Depression hit and the company which ran the park folded we took over", said Harry.  The business was named Pontchartrain Beach.
In 1938 a vehicular bridge was built over Bayou St. John, residential development of Lake Vista began, and Playland, Incorporated a well as Pontchartrain Beach moved to a 50 acres site in front of what was the town of Milneburg.  The "Bug" was transported to the new location and used until the last day, September 5, 1983.  Harry's father, who died shortly after the move,  told him, "You'll never make it.  You put too much money into this" but it lasted 45 years until "the beach" closed in 1983.  During the early days of the park at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue, Marguerite worked hard filling in at any positions which needed help.  The family with two young sons, Harry Jr. and John, lived in town until Harry converted an old bathhouse into an apartment in which they lived for 22 years (until moving to Lake Terrace shortly before Harry retired in 1970) -- Marguerite said, "It was like living in a big, posh estate".  Harry Jr. and John worked in the family business as boys, doing everything from manning the snowball shack to  counting money.

Harry's hands-on management style led him to personally hire many of the famous animal acts, magicians, tight-rope walkers, high-diver, daredevils, and entertainers. He introduced fire-works shows and dolphin acts. He hired celebrity guests including Lex Barker (the screen's Tarzan), Rudy Valee, Roy Rogers, Walter Pidgeon, Mike Douglas, and a very young Elvis Presley whose advertising and entertainment bill was topped by an animal act. Harry sponsored many charity events at his venue but his favorite thing to do at the beach was to host beauty pageants.  "If there was anything I loved, it was a beauty contest", he said. Sharon Brown and Euyne Howell went on to become Miss USAs.  The beach also hosted the Miss Louisiana pageant.
TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1937Zephyr.gif On April 23, 1939, the Zephyr first whisked New Orleanians into the sky along its winding path around the park.  Harry Jr. remembered, when he was a twelve year-old, "It was fantastic to get on top of the Zephyr and see nothing but cow pasture as far as you could see in Gentilly".
Kiddieland opened in 1947, surrounding the historic Milneburg/Port Pontchartrain light house.  Bali Hai began serving Polynesian food in 1958, closing in 1975 with the exception of private catering functions.
1964 brought the introduction of POP (pay-one-price) Days but the attendance fell to an all-time low from 1964 through 1969.  Harry Jr. and John added a new sky ride and the Calypso.  In 1978 the $1.3 million Rajun Cajun was the last ride installed at the beach. 
Harry Batt, Sr., retired in 1970 as president and managing director of Pontchartrain Beach, and Harry Batt, Jr., and his brother, John Batt, served as President, and Vice President, respectively, until the lakefront park closed.
Well known and respected in the amusement industry he was a co-director of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair  and directed the installation of a model railroad at St. Louis Zoo in 1963.  He was a member of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
At home he helped organize the New Orleans Recreation Department, was instrumental in establishing a burn center at Charity Hospital, and was active in raising funds for victims of multiple sclerosis, the Crippled Children's Hospital, and the New Orleans Council of Jewish Women. He was a member of International House, New Orleans Chamber of Commerce education committee, Housing Authority of New Orleans, Salvation Army, and Variety Clubs International.
Mr. Batt was chairman of the board of managers of Delgado Museum (now New Orleans Museum of Art), director of the National American Bank, was honored in 1976 by the Young Men's Business Club for the annual outing he sponsored for poor children at his amusement park, received the Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award from the art museum in 1976, and reigned as king of the Louisiana Society of the Washington Mardi Gras ball in 1972. Harry Batt Sr. died of a heart attack during a trip to Hong Kong with his beloved Marguerite on November 5, 1977 at the age of 74. 

 Related reading: Lake Pontchartrain (Images of America) by Catherine Campanella

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On March 7, 1981, Fats Domino performed on the Riverboat President.

Photo of Basin St., widening, from St. Louis to Lafitte St., March 7, 1954. [Photograph by Leon Trice, for Public Relations Office, City Hall]

New Orleans Item, March 7, 1916 -- The newspaper headlines on the evening of Mardi Gras gave no indication that a major hurricane had hammered New Orleans just five months earlier. News of the war in Europe dominated the press just a little more than one year before the United States declared war on Germany. (NOPL)

Photo of the Comus Edition, Carnival Bulletin, March 7, 1916 -- The Bulletin announced that "Comus the King of Mirth, this year presents in his own inimitable fashion a pageant of unusual artistic splendor entitled 'Glimpse of the Modern World of Art.'" The twenty-float procession on Mardi Gras night. Comus sought "...for a few brief moments, to restore that loved memory of untouched joy which he and his Mystic Crewe [sic] have ever lightened the hearts of the people." It was not, however, the recent hurricane from which Comus promised relief, but rather the "era of world-wide upheaval and stirred emotions" that had led to the great war in Europe. (NOPL)

Dave Hennen Morris and Miss Hazel Ellis ruled as King and Queen of Carnival on March 7, 1905. Morning temperatures that day were in the mid-60s and the skies were overcast with a trace of rain falling over the course of the day. The weather appears to have had no ill effect on the day, though, as the Daily Picayune proclaimed that, “There has not been an unpleasant incident in the whole Carnival, and that of 1905 will pass into history as one of the most successful ever known.”  Photo of a Group of Maskers on St. Charles Avenue, 1905. (NOPL)  Carnival Day was also celebrated on March 7, 2000.

According to the New Orleans Public Service Riders' Digest, the Knights of Electra first used electricity, in a Carnival parade on March 7, 1889.

Jacques Philippe Villere was born in St. John's Parish, Louisiana on April 28, 1760. His education was attained in France at the expense of Louis XVI. Villere served in the French Army, as first lieutenant of artillery, stationed in Saint Domingue. After returning to his native state, he served as a major general in the territorial militia and fought in the Battle of New Orleans. Villere entered politics in 1812, serving as a member of the first State Constitutional Convention. He was elected governor by a popular vote on July 1, 1816, and then confirmed by the legislature. This was the election procedure according to the 1812 State Constitution. Villere was sworn into office on December 17, 1816. During his tenure, legislation pertaining to the Black Code was sanctioned, the death penalty was imposed on anyone who killed a person in a duel, limitless immigration was banned, and negotiations between the American and Creole populations were conducted. After completing his term, Villere left office on December 18, 1820. Four years later, he ran unsuccessfully for reelection to the governor's office. He later served as a presidential elector in 1826. Governor Jacques P. Villere passed away on March 7, 1830. According to Buddy Stall, Villere, as governor, gave the shortest inauguration speech on Louisiana record. Sources: Dawson III, Joseph G. The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards. Baton Rouge: Lousiana State University Press, 1990. From


BIENVILLE, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de, French explorer, administrator, governor.  Born, Montreal, Canada, February 23, 1680; eighth of eleven sons of Charles Le Moyne and Catherine Tierry (Primot).  Spent youth on the family's extensive Canadian holdings, and later joined elder brother, Iberville (q.v.), in the king's service on the expedition of settlement that arrived in Louisiana in 1699.  Explored the lower Mississippi and was instrumental in establishing settlements on the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi, including New Orleans.  Served in Louisiana as commandant and was governor between 1701-1713, 1718-1724, and 1733-1743.  These years of colonial service brought him few rewards and insurmountable problems that included:  the indifference of the home government; the colony's constant drain on the French treasury; the dearth of population; the dual system of government that pitted governor against commissaire and ensnarled the colony's government; and a protracted series of Indian wars.  He requested retirement in 1740 and returned to France in 1743.  Died, Paris, March 7, 1768.  C.E.D.  Sources:  Grace King, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville (1892); Glenn R. Conrad, ed., Readings in Louisiana History (1978); Charles E. O'Neill, "Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville," Dictionnaire Biographique du Canada, III; Charles E. O'Neill, "The Death of Bienville," Louisiana History, VIII  From

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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