Can you explain how I-10 was situated along Claiborne Avenue? Some have suggested that it was the alternative to the Riverfront Expressway, yet it was under construction while that battle was being fought. Many locals believe it was pure gentrification. My research suggests that it was mere efficiency. How could I find out?
You could go to the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library and read on microfilm all of the stories that appeared in the newspapers during the construction of the New Orleans section of Interstate 10 in the 1960s. While you're there, you could also check out a book by Tom Lewis titled Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life. It has a good section on New Orleans. Then you could decide for yourself whether the creation of the Claiborne Avenue segment was the result of a desire to restore and upgrade deteriorated urban property. Whether one calls the decision to build the I-10 in that particular location "gentrification" or "efficiency" seems to be determined by who benefits and who loses.
There are many who say that a stable, economically viable neighborhood was destroyed. For many years before it became what we have today, North Claiborne Avenue was a busy center of minority-owned and -operated businesses, and the neutral ground was like a neighborhood park. However, because the residents of the predominantly African-American community lacked the political power to prevent the construction, their beautiful neutral ground was demolished and more than 200 oak trees were removed.
The Riverfront Expressway was in the planning stage in the early 1950s. The Chamber of Commerce and a committee of powerful and influential citizens decided that a new highway had to be built to save the Central Business District. But it was in 1964 that Louisiana congressman Hale Boggs announced that the expressway in the Vieux Carre would be designated Interstate 310. The highway would connect with Interstate 10 at Elysian Fields Avenue, rise at Esplanade Avenue five stories over the railroad tracks that ran along the riverbank, and dip at Iberville Street into a tunnel under the proposed Rivergate convention center. Then it would go back to ground level to connect with the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the Pontchartrain Expressway.
Many who learned of this plan were horrified at the thought of a giant, six-lane obstruction that would be built between Jackson Square and the river. After all, you could go and have a look at what was happening on Claiborne Avenue to get a clear picture of the devastation that the construction of the expressway would cause.
State highway planners were also proposing another bridge across the river at Napoleon Avenue. They envisioned eventually turning the entire riverfront into an expressway. As an extension of the Vieux Carré Expressway, the highway would cut through the Lower Garden District and Audubon Park. So you can understand how a powerful opposition grew as residents of the more affluent neighborhoods united with residents of the French Quarter to prevent this atrocity.
Finally, after years of studies, legal action and protests, the highway was cancelled in 1969.
Where was the Navy Hospital located at the lakefront in the late '40s to early '50s?
The U.S. Naval Hospital was located on the eastern side of the Orleans Avenue canal, and next to it was the U.S. Army General Hospital.
In fact, the entire lakefront was transformed almost overnight beginning in 1942, and just about the only construction that went on during World War II was connected to the military and its operations. From Shushan Airport in the east to the lighthouse at West End, everything -- much of it behind fences -- was war related.
Among others, there were a National Guard Hangar, Camp Leroy Johnson barracks, the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Company, the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, the U.S. Maritime Commission building, and a Coast Guard Station. There was even a German POW camp.
All of this was built on reclaimed land that was intended to be five residential sections, and after that the war plans resumed. The Navy and Army hospital sites were eventually transformed into East and West Lakeshore drives by 1955.