Remember the “thrilling rides?” What about the “laughs ‘til you split your sides” that the Pontchartrain Beach jingle promised? If you grew up in New Orleans, odds are you spent many a summer at the amusement park. The landmark spot opened its doors 75 years ago today – June 18, 1939.
The park along Lake Pontchartrain, owned and operated by the Batt family, was billed as “the biggest amusement park development in the history of New Orleans” in a special section of The Times-Picayune published on opening day.
“The splash into Lake Pontchartrain off the sand beach, shrill cries of merriment from children and adults swinging through the air on numerous rides, the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers, cool drinks under palm trees, and pursuit of pleasure in a hundred other ways will be a part of the beach,” the paper promised.
According to the New Orleans Public Library, the amusement park that is fondly remembered today was actually the second spot known as Pontchartrain Beach. The first beach opened in 1928, across Bayou St. John from the old Spanish Fort amusement area and 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 made by the Batt family, which took over the area 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,” according to the library’s website.
The Zephyr roller coaster that thrilled generations of New Orleanians was at the new beach from day one, and later kids and adults would line up to ride the Wild Maus, the Ragin’ Cajun, the Laff in the Dark, Musik Express, Haunted House, and more.
Fond memories were also made at the Bali Hai restaurant, along the amusement park midway and at concerts, aerial acts, fireworks displays, dolphin shows, dance revues, and beauty contests.
During the times of segregation, Lincoln Beach was the lakefront attraction for New Orleans African-Americans. Pontchartrain Beach was integrated following the nation’s Civil Rights Act in 1964.
The beach closed on September 5, 1983, but for many New Orleanians, the memories remain.
At the beach, at the beach, at Pontchartrain Beach
You’ll have fun, you’ll have fun every day of the week
You’ll love the thrilling rides, laugh ‘til you split your sides
At Pontchartrain, Pontchartrain Beach!