There is a substantial undeveloped green space across the London Avenue Canal from Dillard University, roughly bordered by Pratt Drive, Van Avenue and Virgil Boulevard. Is there a reason it has remained undeveloped?
Geographer and historian Richard Campanella refers to that area in Gentilly as an "accidental forest," since the mystery surrounding it is as dense as the wooded area you'll find there. It reminds us of the condition much of that area was in before the turn of the century.
Writing in The Times-Picayune, Campanella said the reasons those 27 acres of land have remained fairly undeveloped are "partly geographical, partly historical and largely accidental." Development in that area focused instead on Gentilly Boulevard, which was built on a natural ridge that made for less swamp-like conditions. A railroad line also was developed near what is now Gentilly Boulevard and Elysian Fields Avenue.
In the 1870s, when the London Avenue Canal was created, it followed the same path as Elysian Fields Avenue, which Campanella says left the "accidental forest" as an undeveloped area. Part of a nearby tract of land became Rose Hill Cemetery. In 1931, Dillard University purchased 70 acres of the cemetery land for its new campus, which was constructed after the bodies and grave markers were relocated.
Campanella surmises that the western portion of the "accidental forest" remained undeveloped because it was "too far from the boulevard and on the wrong side of the canal." In the 1960s, population shifts made the land less valuable. A public school, Francis W. Gregory Jr. High, was built on part of the site. It was demolished in 2011.