New Orleans’ City Park, larger than New York’s Central Park, is a must-visit. This outdoor oasis not only fosters the world’s largest mature live oaks collection (some more than 900 years old) but is also home to an antique carousel, stables, a farm, an art museum, an amusement park, a minigolf course, a dog park, two stadiums, soccer fields, a botanical garden, a sculpture garden, tennis courts and nature trails. Discover everything you can do, see and eat inside NOLA’s green giant in Culture Trip’s guide to City Park.
City Park – originally the Allard Plantation, a dairy farm where slaves also grew sugarcane, cotton, indigo, rice and corn crops – was once land owned by brothers Robert and Louis Allard until 1845. After defaulting on their mortgage, the Allard brothers had their property seized and it was sold to businessman John McDonogh, who allowed Louis to live there until his death. McDonogh, who passed away five years after his purchase, left the land jointly to his native city, Baltimore, and his adopted city, New Orleans. His will stipulated that the 654 acres should be reserved for recreational purposes only. (Baltimore gave up its undivided half to New Orleans in payment of taxes.)
Even though City Park has been rebuilt and restored many times since its mid-19th-century establishment, there are two major events that shaped the park’s life history: the Great Depression and Hurricane Katrina.
As part of the Works Project Administration (1935-43), a New Deal work program designed to provide useful work for victims of the economic depression, the Roosevelt administration employed more than 20,000 men and women to plant 100,000 trees. The government invested $12 million to develop the parkland, build roadways, fountains, gardens, a golf course and the Tad Gormley Stadium. WPA architecture in City Park today includes: the Peristyle, the Hyams Fountain, the McFadden Girl Scout Cabina, the New Orleans Botanical Garden and nine bridges.
At the other side of City Park’s course-shaping history is Hurricane Katrina. After one of the five deadliest natural disasters in US history made its historic Category 5 landfall in New Orleans, 95% of the mid-city public space sat under floodwater, inflicting $43 million in damages to the park alone. About 2,000 trees in the 1,300-acre space were lost as a result of the storm; however, the public rallied around the park, and more than 60,000 volunteers planted 6,500 new trees and rebuilt and revitalized the park with even more facilities than it had to begin with.
Today, City Park stands among the largest (approximately 50% bigger than New York City’s Central Park) and most-visited urban public parks in the nation.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Rebeca Trejo.