Jefferson Parish Stories

Stretching over 60 miles from Lake Ponchartrain to the Gulf of Mexico, with the Mississippi River splitting the parish into the Eastbank and the Westbank, Jefferson Parish is a land of contrasts.

From Grand Isle’s rural fishing community to the hustle and bustle of Veterans Boulevard and the New Orleans International Airport, Jefferson Parish Stories explores the diversity of the people and places that give the parish its distinct personality. Through archival footage, photographs and interviews, the program chronicles some of the parish’s unique stories, from the incredible postwar growth of the parish and the produce and dairy farms of yesteryear to today’s booming suburban community. Memories of growing up in the burgeoning parish are recalled by such Jefferson natives as: actress-entertainer Becky Allen and her mother Myrtis Butzman; former Hope Haven resident and retired “seafood king” Al Scramuzza; Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Aaron Broussard; Gretna native and singer Frankie Ford; WDSU anchor and reporter Alec Gifford; and television producer Marcia Kavanaugh.

Local writer and TV personality Ronnie Virgets narrates.

In the post World War II era, open land and new opportunities helped make Jefferson Parish a classic American suburb. Baby boomers remember a new house with a big front yard, and their parents reminisce about the memories and traditions built by moving to a new neighborhood, in a parish that actually has a very rich history.

Transportation had a huge impact on Jefferson Parish’s growth. The Huey P. Long Bridge, built in 1935, first linked the Eastbank and the Westbank together across the Mississippi. Newsman Alec Gifford remembers riding across the nearly five-mile long bridge the day it opened.

Federal highway funds built the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the Westbank Expressway. Before these roads were completed, the only way across the river was by ferry. Later, Interstate 10 simplified travel through the city, while the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway linked Jefferson Parish to the Northshore.

And while concrete paved the road between the two banks, pavement was laid in Kenner for a runway. The Moisant Airport (now New Orleans International) opened in 1945, in a simple Quonset hut.

The main terminal was built a decade later, when the first jet airplane landed there. A favorite leisure-time activity of many locals, including entertainer Frankie Ford, was going out to watch the planes take off and land.

Retailing took on a whole new dimension in the suburbs.

When the open-air mall opened in 1960, Lakeside became the place to shop. It also was the place for local teens to ‘be seen’ and, for many, Lakeside Shopping Center’s parking lot was where they first learned to drive.

Another favorite destination was the drive-in movie theater.

One, the Do Drive-In on Metairie Road is fondly remembered as “the passion pit of Jefferson Parish.”

And while gambling was illegal, clubs and slot machines once were prolific in Jefferson Parish. Gambling clubs, such as Club Forest and O’Dwyer’s on Jefferson Highway, flourished until the 1970s.

But for those looking for the more family-oriented, not to mention, sanctioned recreation, Grand Isle (Jefferson’s southernmost community) offered sand and surf for weekend getaways. “That was our Disney World… that was our vacation,” remembers Jefferson native Daniel Alario.

Al Scramuzza reminisces about his time at Jefferson’s very own “Boys’ Town.”

From 1930 to 1965, Hope Haven served as a home for indigent boys. Monsignor Peter Wynhoven founded the home to give boys structure and teach them trades to prepare them for life.

Madonna Manor, which was built later, housed younger girls and boys. Today, the buildings’ unique Spanish Colonial architecture stands out in what is now the middle of Marrero.

In nearby Westwego, Seven Oaks Plantation stood as a Westbank landmark, until the Texas Pacific Railroad Company tore it down.

Mildred Harris shares stories of growing up in that historic home, once a sugarcane and indigo plantation. Many preservationists mourn Seven Oaks’ demise. Now they work to protect Jefferson Parish’s existing landmarks, such as Kenner’s Rivertown area, and historical districts in Gretna and Westwego.

Find out more about Jefferson Parish through these links:

Co-producers for Jefferson Parish Stories are Michelle Fouchi Esneault and Dominic Massa. Ronnie Virgets narrates the program. Philip Melancon composed and performed the original music. The program is made possible a cooperative endeavor agreement from The Parish of Jefferson, celebrating 175 years, and the WYES Producers Circle, a group of generous contributors dedicated to the support of WYES’ local productions. Corporate support is provided by Lakeside Shopping Center.

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