300 Spanish Fort

A postcard depicts the Spanish Fort Concert Hall and Gardens in the late 19th century.

Historic New Orleans Collection

Spanish Fort, at the mouth of Bayou St. John, is probably better remembered for its amusement park than its battlements. In 1701, the French built a small fort, Fort St. Jean, where the bayou met Lake Pontchartrain. The Spaniards built a larger fortification on the site when they took control of the Louisiana territory. The fort, which never saw battle, was decommissioned in 1823 and the land was bought by private developers. park. At times the site was owned by John Slidell and the New Orleans City and Lake Railroad.

People would travel by rail for the day to the fort to enjoy cool breezes off the lake. By the 1880s, the site featured an opera house, a casino, several restaurants, a hotel and dancing pavilions. William Makepeace Thackeray, Gen. Ulysses S. and Oscar Wilde all visited the park.

Moses Schwartz bought the site and created an amusement park there, billing it as “Coney Island of the South.”

A rival amusement park at West End, that was served by the same rail line, and frequent flooding, sent the park into a decline. Rail service ended in 1903 and the park closed in 1926. Two years later just north of the fort, newly reclaimed beachfront land became the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park.

In the 1970s, Margaret “Sunny” Scherzo, wife of former New Orleans mayor Victor H. Schiro, mounted a campaign to restore the park. It was never fully restored, but it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, on Feb. 11, 1983.