The New Basin Canal
New Basin Canal construction 1831 – 1835
Well into the 20th century, schooners brought lumber, watermelons, charcoal, sand, and bricks from across Lake Pontchartrain into the heart of New Orleans by way of the New Basin Canal. Dug by hand, between 1831 and 1835, through the swamps that lay back of the city, the canal was sixty-feet-wide and six-feet-deep and almost seven miles long.
Wooden jetties were constructed along the course of the canal at the lake end and soil was dredged to create a man-made land mass near the entrance to the Basin.
At the lake terminus of the canal, a small harbor had been built, resulting in the U.S. Congress in1834,authorizing $25,000 for a lighthouse to be built.
A new wooden lighthouse replaced that one in 1855, followed by the most recent one as erected in 1890.
The rightmost building in the top photo appears to be the same building as seen here on the left.
The elongated extension going rightward is the early stage of West End Park before the landscaping and fountain.
West End became quite a renowned resort, developed between 1835 and 1876. It was originally called New Lake End, until the name was changed in 1880 to West End. The developers made additions of a hotel, restaurant and an amusement park that was built on piers extending out into Lake Pontchartrain.
1900 Mannessier's Pavilion, West End, ca. 1900.
The New Basin Canal reached the Lake at West End, a resort area that flourished from the 1880s to around 1920. Orleanians rode steam and later electrified trains or took the Shell Road to the site, where there were restaurants, amusement rides, musical entertainment, and movies shown outdoors.
Mannessier's, above, was a branch of Mannessier's Confectionery, a famous coffee, ice cream and pastry shop on Royal Street. The confectionery operated at West End from about 1899-1911. The Music Pavilion is at right.
At far left shows bridge crossing New Basin Canal to West End Park showing hotels and Pavilions in rear.
Shown below is the roller coaster that was raised on pilings which must have been a wonderful ride for kids as well as adults. Soon to be added was West End Park with pathways, a bandstand, pavilions and various entertainment features.
1930s Excursions from New Basin Canal at West End
Docked at the New Basin Canal at West End is one of the popular excursion boats that carried Orleanians across Lake Pontchartrain in the early years of this century. There were the "Susquehana," the "Camellia," the "Southland," and the "Madisonville."
Photo at Left -- shows the Southern Yacht Club on left and on the right is the Coast Guard Station. As the breakwater, constructed in the early 1930's, -- as seen in the rear -- appears to be blocking the entrance to the canal.
Photo at Right -- Plying between New Orleans and the North Shore, the boats provided an exciting outing. Aboard were first rate jazz bands for entertainment and for the tired and hungry, an assortment of beer, saucisson (sausage links), and German pretzels. The open decks provided a breezy relief from the hot summer. Once ashore on the far side, passengers picnicked or treated themselves to a sumptuous meal at Bechac's on the beach at Mandeville.
West End Park
The City of New Orleans constructed the harbor and railroad and streetcar facilities along the New Basin Canal and by 1921 had constructed a seawall 500 feet out into the lake and filled in this space to create the large oak lined West End Park.
As seen at far right, the West End Lake Shore Park fountain construction cost $20,000 in 1915.
When I was a kid, we frequently played at the fountain in West End Park. In my opinion, there was never a replacement for the wonderful display of dancing, colorful, water-spouts and the spiking torches of water that reached so high into the sky. It use to operate on Wednesdays, and Friday through Sundays. It was a beautiful gift for kids to enjoy hour after hour while having the falling spray create a mistful wonderland.
Not shown in either of the above photos were the huge Rose Arbors with hanging wild rose vines that were located at the far end of the park across from the seafood stands. These were torn down to provide for parking when more restaurants started building over the lake atop pilings.
In this 1948 photo, the New Basin Canal is on the left reaching downtown New Orleans.
When a kid, we use to jump the barges that carried watermelons being tugged up the canal. The Guards would shoot pellets at us, but that didn't stop the gang from Lakeview in their quest for fresh, quenching watermelon.
The Southern Yacht Club and marina are seen at bottom right and half of West End Park can be seen above it.
Now filled, and part of the Interstate Highway I-10, less than half a mile remains uncovered at the lake end, where a Coast Guard station stood until Hurricane Katrina on one side and Southern Yacht Club on the other. In the last 50 years, many changes and accesses have been made to the area to make it more comfortable for boaters rather than catering to the former throngs of people who sought out recreation and seafood restaurants.
The Southern Yacht Club
New Basin Canal as viewed from area where Southern Yacht Club was under construction.
Southern Yacht Club
Originated in Pass Christian in 1849
Established in New Orleans with first Club house built in 1879.
Top Left -- 1901
Top Right -- 1907
Bot Left -- 1910
Bot Right -- 1917
Below shows day and night in 1941 when seafood restaurants bordered both sides of the New Basin Canal.
There were dining and drinking establishments along both sides of the New Basin Canal as it opened into Lake Pontchartrain.
Above photos are dated 1940s, however, many of the places were still there into the 1970s
West End -- The Front
Fronting the Lake and fronting the West End Park was a strip of businesses during the 30s to 60s, called "Stands" which were located on the sidewalk with the seawall at their rear. These were Ellis' Stand, Rostropp's, and Rapp's and further towards Bruning's were Fontana's and Swanson's -- Bruning's was built over water on pilings, later followed by Old Fitzgerald's and then New Fitzgerald's, (later, the Bounty, Augie's DeLago, and Jaeger's and others) The Bounty was originally called The Pontchartrain Plaza, built as a gambling casino.
Below left shows the seawall that had been constructed in 1921. The work being performed in this circa 1930 photo
is possibly the breach in the wall that was made to start the Breakwater that was constructed to extend around to the Southern Yacht Club
to enclose the New Basin Canal and the Lighthouse.
The Photo at right shows the Breakwater accommodating two marinas.
The Restaurants and Clubs of West End in the 1960s can be seen at bottom right in above photo, below West End Park.
A portion of Bucktown and the 17th Street Canal can be seen at extreme bottom right.
Hurricane Katrina put the business establishments at West End into oblivion
Hurricanes always performed their critical damages upon the businesses built on pilings that rose above the water levels.
These were all State water bottom deeds that were gained by permit with annual renewals.
After a series of hurricanes and the turmoil of rebuilding,
the State put a hold, if not the end, on the water-bottom leases after Hurricane Katrina.
Note: In 1906 the State gave the City the right to administer and manage the area between the 17th Street Canal and the New Basin Canal, outside of the levee/floodwall. The State law provides that any revenues derived from the area must be used within the area. In 1915 the fountain was built in West End Park during one of several park improvement projects. In the period 1938 to 1940 Municipal Yacht Harbor (“MYH”) was built as a WPA project by the construction of the breakwater on which Breakwater Drive sits. Commencing in the 1950’s, the boathouses were built around MYH. The boathouses, until the lease term ends, belong to and are the responsibility of the tenants. The current leases run through 2030. In 1958 the City ceded its rights to the area that became Orleans Marina and the surrounding boathouses/businesses to the Orleans Levee Board, allowing Orleans Marina to be built.
Note: Jefferson Parish adjoins this area on the west bank of the 17th Street Canal, where a line runs through and includes water-bottom rights for such former places as Bruning's, the Bounty, and Augie's De Lago, etc.