Echoes Of Laughter – Episode# 001 10/10/2010 – Ponchartrain Beach Amusement Park, New Orleans, Louisiana
Welcome to Echoes Of Laughter Introductory Show. This is T. Mic and I will be your host on our journey through history as we explore the amusement & theme parks of yesterday. This will be a monthly podcast and will feature interviews and discussions with individuals intimately involved with these attractions and the people that enjoyed them. We’ll travel back in time to the heyday of these parks and emurse you in the experience of visiting these parks in a way that you will never have the opportunity to do physically today.
On this episode we’ll visit the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. Once located on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, Louisiana. We’ll feature interviews with John DeMajo and Mike Loisel.
Mr. DeMajo is a retired engineer and lived within viewing distance of the park for several decades and was a frequent visitor to the park. He shares with us his many experiences with “The Beach” from the 1940’s until the closing of the legendary park and some of the more technical aspects of the park from inside sources as well as his own knowledge as an engineer.
Mike Loisel experienced the park many times as a child and teen in the later years leading to the parks closing as well. He shares with us some of his more memorable experiences as well as some insights on how todays youth could benefit from experiencing life from the way it used to be done vs. living life through the virtual reality of video games and indoor entertainment.
The year is 1832 and the original Port Pontchartrain lighthouse begins operating near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. While this is not the “Milneburg” (often mispronounced as the “Milenburg”) lighthouse that still stands near the banks of the lake at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue on the current grounds of the UNO Technology Park, it is the beginning of a series of events that led to the creation on the beloved, and sorely missed Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park. As mentioned, the current lighthouse that still stands as a lone sentinel and icon for “the Beach” was actually constructed in 1855 and was actually located several hundred feet out in the lake itself along with the caretakers home and another structure built on pylons and shined until 1929. It was located in Milneburg, a once popular early resort area on the lake at the terminus of the Ponchartrain Railroad line often referred to as the “Smokey Mary”. The “Smokey Mary” also provided access to the many camps that dotted the shoreline as well as the hotels, restaurants, roadhouses, shooting galleries, bathing facilities and fishing piers. It has been said that it was at Milneburg’s dance halls and bars that much of New Orleans’ early jazz was first heard. During the depression in the late 1920’s and early 30’s the WPA (the Works Progress Administration) launched an ambitious project to reclaim almost a mile of land on the southern shores of the lake. Sand was pumped from the bottom of the lake to forma a new shoreline located behind a concrete seawall. Enter Harry Batt, Sr., businessman, showman, and entrepreneur. He sub-leased land from the original owners of Ponchartrain Beach Amusement Park, located near the old Spanish Fort at Bayou St. John and he became it’s sole proprietor during the depression in 1934. Reletively soon after the land reclaimation project was completed Harry Batt, Sr. moved the park to it’s new location at the end of Elysian Fields Avenue in 1939 and a legend was born… Ponchatrain Beach became New Orleans’, and Louisianas’ largest and most popular amusement park. It continued to grow over the years with the addition of larger and more thrilling rides and attractions . The Beach served hundreds of thousands if not millions of people over its’ 51+ years of existence under the Batt’s family ownership. Of course the people of New Orleans constantly visited “The Beach” but it was also visited and known by residents from around the state of Louisiana, the United States and from around the world. The Beach closed it’s gates forever in 1983…but it will forever live in the the hearts and minds of those who loved it so…