When the first span of the Greater New Orleans Bridge was constructed in 1958, the approach cut a path through the dense nineteenth-century neighborhood on the edge of today’s Lower Garden District. Several historic structures, including the Delord-Sarpy House, were razed during the construction of the elevated Pontchartrain Expressway. Most West Bank–bound commuters accessed the bridge via the Camp Street up-ramp, which began at the intersection of Melpomene and Camp streets and rose gradually along the strip of land connecting Coliseum Square and Margaret Place.¹
The original four-lane span of the bridge was already nearing its design capacity by the mid-1960s, and the Mississippi River Bridge Authority began preparing for a second span.² In 1972, a state-level planning commission study backed by Governor Edwin Edwards recommended locating the new bridge span near the Central Business District within a zone bounded by Felicity and Poydras streets.³ This scheme put the Lower Garden District neighborhood, already negatively impacted by the traffic and congestion of the Camp Street ramp, at further risk.
Concurrent efforts were underway to revitalize the historically rich but blighted neighborhood. In 1971, the Friends of the Cabildo launched its New Orleans Architecture Series with a focus on the Lower Garden District. The area was beginning to attract new preservation-minded individuals and families interested in renovating homes near Coliseum Square.⁴ Responding to the threat of the proposed bridge, residents formed the non-profit Coliseum Square Improvement Association (later the Coliseum Square Association) in 1972.⁵
The association adopted a multi-pronged strategy to prevent the new bridge and associated ramps from passing through the neighborhood. Member Henry Krotzer Jr. led the effort to successfully list the Lower Garden District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, thereby ensuring protection under Section 106 of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act.⁶ The association also raised awareness of the area by hosting public concerts in the park and initiating an annual Coliseum Square home tour.⁷
This combination of coalition building and advocacy eventually resulted in a double victory: the state agreed to a parallel span immediately downriver from the original span, and a binding agreement in the final environmental impact report (1978) stipulated that the permit to build the new span was contingent upon ten points, including the removal of the existing Camp Street up-ramp.⁸ It would take another twenty-six years, however, for that complete vision to be realized. While the new bridge was completed in 1988, work on the various river-bound approaches faced continued delays and funding shortages. The Coliseum Square Association participated in a letter writing campaign to urge the administration to fund the remaining phases of work.⁹ Following the state legislature’s passage of a bond issue in 1991, work recommenced in 1992, and in 1994 the Camp Street up-ramp was finally demolished.¹⁰ The impact was immediate, as the roughly ten thousand cars per day that previously traversed the neighborhood were rerouted to other up-ramps.¹¹
From the start, the Coliseum Square Association proved itself to be a powerful and effective neighborhood organization, willing to exert political pressure and leverage legal resources in the name of preservation while simultaneously building a strong sense of community. The group remains active and continues to advocate for neighborhood planning, blight remediation, park improvements, and the protection of historic resources.
1. Samuel Wilson Jr., “Early History of the Lower Garden District,” in New Orleans Architecture, Volume I: The Lower Garden District, edited by Mary Louise Christovich, Betsy Swanson, and Roulhac Toledano (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 1971), 11-12.
2. William Voelker, “N.O. Bridge Traffic Soars in Year Since Toll Ended,” The Times-Picayune, May 16, 1965.
3. “Edwards Backs Business Area for Bridge Site,” Baton Rouge Advocate, May 1, 1972.
4. Carleton Knight III, “Urban Pioneers–A Story of Restoration in the Inner City,” Preservation News 13 no. 7 (July 1973): cover.
5. J. E. Bourgoyne, “Residents Talk of Restoration,” The Times-Picayune, March 30, 1972; and Charlie East, “Save Residential Areas, Coliseum Group Insists,” The Times-Picayune, June 27, 1972.
6. Knight, “Urban Pioneers”; and John Pope, “Henry Krotzer, Jr., Architect and Preservationist, Dies at Age 86,” The Times-Picayune, September 11, 2012.
7. "Governor is Commended for Opening Bridge Talks," The Times-Picayune, July 21, 1972; Knight, "Urban Pioneers"; Lydia Schmalz, "The Downing of the Camp Street Up Ramp: A Preservation Victory In the Lower Garden District," Preservation in Print 21 no. 9 (November 1994): 28; and David Cuthbert, "Coliseum Square Site of Concert, Renovation," The Times-Picayune, June 12, 1972.
8. Schmalz, “The Downing of the Camp Street Up Ramp,” 30; and Lettice Stuart, “Camp Ramp’s Demise is Cheered,” The Times-Picayune, April 2, 1983.
9. Schmalz, 31.
11. Coleman Warner and Paul Atkinson, “Camp Street Up-Ramp May Be Coming Down,” The Times-Picayune, July 21, 1994; Paul Atkinson, “Camp Street Ramp to Be Eliminated – Move May Speed Up Bridge Work,” The Times-Picayune, August 6, 1994; and Coleman Warner, “Neighborhood Celebrates Today,” The Times-Picayune, October 2, 1994.
Suggestions for Additional Reading:
Campanella, Richard, and Marina Campanella. New Orleans Then and Now. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1999.
United States Department of Transportation, Eighth Coast Guard District. Final Environmental Impact Statement: Greater New Orleans Mississippi River Bridge No. 2, Orleans Parish—Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. New Orleans: Eighth Coast Guard District, 1978.
For Further Research:
"Renovation Saves Old Area of New Orleans" The Christian Science Monitor, 7-20-1976.
"Camp ramp's demise is cheered" The Times-Picayune, 4-2-1983.