Pontchartrain Park house welcomes neighborhood preservation
On Thursday, July 25, the Preservation Resource Center hosted an event in Pontchartrain Park to highlight the significance of this neighborhood.
The neighborhood is among the oldest planned African-American suburbs in the United States. For this reason, the PRC and Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association are nominating it to be on the National Register of Historic Places.
The “Beams and Brews” event was held at a home on Press Drive—currently under renovation by Randall Duplessis, built in 1958 by the parents of Ginger Baptiste. It was one of a few custom-built homes in the neighborhood, Baptiste noted. Soon after Hurricane Katrina, however, the Baptiste family sold the home to the parents of Duplessis because she felt they would cherish it like she did.
“I’m grateful. We took a long time making a decision on what we were going to do with the house after Katrina,” Baptiste explained. “There was water over the roof, and then there was lightning that struck then house even after the hurricane.”
“We’re very grateful that we’ve found somebody that’s going to make it their home,” she added, “and they are going to take care of it like my parents took care of it.”
Contractor and neighborhood resident Randall Duplessis, with fiancée Brittany Jordan, is in the process of renovating his family’s home. They created an “open” concept to modernize the three-bedroom house and comfortably host gatherings for their business clients and large families.
With an older cousin very active with the PRC, Duplessis was happy to host the event and show the unfinished house, he said. He has family indigenous to Pontchartrain Park and hopes it will join the National Register of Historic Places.
Duplessis said, “Growing up in this neighborhood wasn’t an individualized upbringing. My parents had friends, and all the friends looked out for the children. It was a group thing—a large family feel throughout the neighborhood—and it will always feel like it’s historic to me.”
The identity is palpable to the Preservation Resource Center’s executive director, Danielle Del Sol. The center conducted oral histories of current and former residents of the neighborhood as part of its Neighborhood Memory Project.
“We work in neighborhoods all over the city,” Del Sol said, “but I’ve got to say there is more love for Pontchartrain Park than in any neighborhood that we have ever worked in. It is incredible.
“Whether they grew up here, or whether they grew up visiting friends here, whether they live here now, there is just so much love for this community,” Del Sol said. “That has been so wonderful for us to learn and for us to help share.”
Gretchen Bradford, president of the Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association, talked about how their sense of community was so tight that it even felt a bit isolated from other parts of town.
“This was just a type of atmosphere where we lived in our own world,” Bradford said. “We didn’t know about other neighborhoods. We didn’t know there was Uptown and all that great stuff, which is a great part of New Orleans.”
State Rep. Royce Duplessis thinks the neighborhood is important because of how it stuck out in the time period when it was constructed, in the Jim Crow South. He said this neighborhood was a chance to thrive in this era.
“Personally, it means a lot to me because my grandparents were among them, that first group of black families who purchased a home,” Duplessis said.
“It’s a story that needs to be told, and having it on the Register will help tell that story and help preserve it. “
The PRC submitted the full nomination of Pontchartrain Park Louisiana’s State Historic Preservation Officer earlier this year. Once reviewed and amended, it will go before the National Park Service and, upon approval, be added to the National Register. Learn more here about the work between the PRC and Pontchartrain Park.