Preservationists Try to Save Historic Fort St. John

Built in 1808, historic Fort St. John remains in severe disrepair despite a years-long preservation campaign led by Margaret “Sunny” Schiro.

Fort St. John, also known as Spanish Fort, is located on the west bank of Bayou St. John near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The successor to a number of earlier forts on the site, this structure was built in 1808, when Bayou St. John was at the height of its importance to the city as a transportation route.¹ In 1823, the fort was decommissioned and sold to resort developers, who incorporated the site into a new hotel complex named the Pontchartrain Hotel.² More hotels and restaurants soon followed, and the area grew into a popular antebellum destination for New Orleanians in the mood for gambling, bathing, and other amusements.³ Over the years, attractions on and around the site, which at the turn of the twentieth century included an amusement park, accelerated the historic fort’s deterioration. In the 1970s, Margaret “Sunny” Schiro, wife of former New Orleans mayor Victor H. Schiro, mounted a passionate campaign to halt the deterioration and vandalism of the fort and to restore it for future generations. Working with several lakefront neighborhood groups, including the Lake Vista Woman’s Club, Mrs. Schiro hoped to convert the site into a park and open-air museum.⁴ She did successfully nominate Fort St. John to the National Register of Historic Places, where it was listed on February 11, 1983, but her broader aims to protect and restore the fort were never fulfilled, and today it continues to decay.⁵

 

1. Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office, “Fort St. John,” Louisiana National Register of Historic Places, February 11, 1983.

2. Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office, “Fort St. John”; and James P. Baughman, “A Southern Spa: Ante-Bellum Lake Pontchartrain,” Louisiana History 3 no. 1 (Winter 1962): 7-8.

3. Baughman, “A Southern Spa,” 8-9.

4. Victor H. and Margaret G. Schiro Papers, various correspondence, boxes 84, 88, 89, 90, Special Collections, Howard Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University; and Larry Bartlett, “Gravediggers at Fort St. John,” The Times-Picayune, October 31, 1976.

5. Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office, “Fort St. John.”

 

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