Monday, September 24, 2018

The Mandeville Miracle

The Old Mandeville Historic Association met Sunday night at Nuvolari's Restaurant, and I was privileged to speak to them about "The Mandeville Miracle." Here are the text and pictures that went along with that talk.

Speaking to the Mandeville group

It was a three-part talk. The first part was about the Battle of Lake Pontchartrain during the American Revolution. You can read about that by clicking on THIS LINK.

The second part was about the building and repairs to the Mandeville lakefront seawall. You can read about that by clicking on THIS LINK

The third part was about how small town Mandeville became a nationally-famous lakeside resort, and then over the years, gradually went back to being a small town with a family-oriented lakefront. You can find that portion of the talk below.

Forty-five years ago, in 1973, some Mandeville friends and I put together a slide show entitled “Legacy of a Small Town.” The slide show was created during a time when multiple proposals were being made to build high-rise apartment buildings on the Mandeville lakefront. 

Click on the images to make them larger.

Above are the only three pictures I could find in my files from that original slide show.  It featured about 20 to 30 pictures taken around Mandeville showing people working in their garden, kids playing, trees, moss, old buildings, everything that told the story of Mandeville's small town lifestyle.

It's interesting that today, 45 years later, you can go out and still take 20 to 30 pictures showing that Mandeville is still, in many ways, a small town. How can that possibly be? It's been four and a half decades. Well, perhaps it’s a miracle. 

Mandeville by all measures was doing great in the early 1900’s. There were lots of summer homes, weekend retreats, and thriving community improvement organizations. The movers and shakers of the parish were becoming aggressive in their efforts to draw attention to the beauty and great lifestyle offered by the north shore.

 A real estate advertisement from 1913 illustrates the local land promotional efforts.

More people began moving over to Mandeville, Abita, Covington….

Dozens of flyers, brochures, and advertisements began going out telling the nation what a great place Mandeville was. A Chamber of Commerce was formed…

Mandeville was not just for residents any longer. Visitors were pouring in by the hundreds. Here are photographs of some of the several large bathing house piers.

This water slide looks like fun.  

From a Chamber of Commerce brochure in 1929

“Louisiana's only all year water resort hotel, The St. Tammany, on the 100 mile shore line of Lake Pontchartrain, is located at Mandeville.“

"Mandeville has unrivaled facilities for Bathing, Yachting and Fishing. The Sportsman's Paradise.“

“Louisiana's Riviera: the superb climate makes Mandeville, in the heart of the famous Ozone belt, a delightful recreation ground and health resort. Sunshine and artesian waters abound. In Mandeville, flowers are always in bloom, delicious natural food supplies always available.”

“We are developing, cultivating and beautifying what will within the next decade, be known as the American Garden of Eden.... Mandeville."

The Mandeville lakefront was a fun place, for residents, for visitors, and even for companies from New Orleans who had their own camp retreats…

All across the lakefront, there were things happening…..

Jackson Park became a tourist camp for people traveling by car, there were dances, picnics….

Quotes from "Fair Mandeville on the Lake Shore," an article in the Friday April 4, 1902, New Orleans Daily Picayune, says that "Jackson Park is a private property where picnics and lawn parties are frequently held. It is filled with great magnolias and oak trees, which are festooned with quantities of the longest moss to be found in this section. It is there the mocking birds hold high carnival, and hold spellbound all who chance to pass that way,"

According to the Mandeville City website, the expansive piece of property was purchased by Jules Manaud in 1870 and covers a quarter of the square beginning at the corner of Coffee and Jefferson Streets and bounded on the south by the Ravines aux Coquilles. By the 1880's the park figured heavily in the social life in Mandeville. There were balls held for members of various organizations and dances held for the public most weekends. A variety of bands and musical groups arrived for the festivities via the regular steamer traffic.

Lakefront Hotels

Across the lake front were several large hotels. All throughout town were boarding houses and rental cottages. 

A map of the hotels, restaurants, and other atttactions 

Early Mandeville not only was the vacation haven for New Orleans residents, but the railroads also had big plans for bringing thousands of visitors down from the North each year to vacation on the north shores of Lake Pontchartrain in a number of big hotels...

Hotels, bars, swimming….

Three or four boats daily crossed Lake Pontchartrain bringing people to Mandeville and beyond. On weekends there were hundreds of people arriving, during the summer there were thousands coming to Mandeville, Abita Springs and Covington. 

The social life was dizzying….

Mandeville’s success in attracting visitors, offering hotel and restaurant services, and promoting itself nationwide was a shining example of how to publicize a community’s assets.


 Newspaper Editorial Extolling Virtues of Mandeville
St. Tammany Farmer, Nov. 20, 1920

Below is an article where a group of promoters from Biloxi, Mississippi, came to Mandeville to promote the idea of calling the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Mandeville  “America’s Riviera.” This was a big deal, and several joint promotional efforts were proposed and taken advantage of linking the Mississippi Gulf Coast with Mandeville’s outstanding resort attractions.   

Mandeville even had its own casino in the late 1800’s. This building was to later become Bechac’s restaurant. Casino gambling was outlawed in 1895, and 100 years later, in 1991, it was re-instated by the state. Almost immediately there were 15 riverboat casinos established statewide.  If Mandeville had a lakefront casino 130 years ago, why doesn’t it have a lakefront casino today?

Because the people didn’t want it. The St. Tammany parish government at first turned down a casino proposal for the marshlands southeast of Slidell, then in 2021, a casino proposal made it on the voter's ballot. The voters turned down the idea with 63 percent against, in spite of a massive million-dollar campaign promoting it, a campaign that included numerous mailouts,media and billboard advertising and door to door contacts. If that casino had gone through, casinos would probably have been on the agenda in Mandeville and Madisonville.

Above is a picture of Biloxi, Miss., back in the 1930’s when it was just a small fishing village. Remember the promoters who came from Biloxi and tried to claim the title of America’s Riviera for Biloxi, Mandeville, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast? 

Today the Biloxi gulf shore strip offers flashing neon signs, high-rise casino hotels with thousands of rooms, night clubs, and franchise fast food restaurants. 

Biloxi, 2016 (Source: Biloxi City Facebook Page)

In comparison, this was Mandeville in the early 1900’s.

Below is an aerial photograph of the Mandeville lakefront in 1975. The commercial activity had diminished considerably over the years between 1926 and 1975. There were fewer commercial businesses and more residential homes being built where the big hotels were formerly located.

One by one, over the years, the big Mandeville lakefront hotels closed. Hurricane storm surges repeatedly devastated some of the businesses, causing some of them to close permanently. The Lake Theater closed. The night club located in the Lake Theater building closed. The Seafood Festival stopped coming to the Mandeville harbor.  
The photograph below is the Mandeville lakefront today.  

What’s missing from this picture? Where are all the high-rise apartment complexes that were proposed,  the multi-story hotels and casinos? Today there are only three or four restaurants and a couple of bars. There are several low-key bed and breakfast accommodations in historic residences near the lakefront. Most of Lakeshore Drive is residential now, and the lakefront itself went from a nationally-promoted resort to small-town family-oriented jogging trails, tranquil gazebos, and children’s playgrounds.

So after considering all the public relations hype years ago about Mandeville becoming America’s Riviera, being transformed into America’s Garden of Eden, being promoted as a year-round resort paradise with thousands of visitors flocking to the lakefront every day, what happened? 

 It turned out that the legacy of Mandeville is that it would prefer the lakefront to be a family-friendly, safe and relatively quiet small town community recreational place instead of the grandiose visions of what its early promoters promised it would become. And that, in itself, is The Mandeville Miracle.