New Orleans Lakefront Airport Terminal Building and Original Hangars

Construction of the New Orleans Lakefront Airport began in 1929 and was completed in early 1934. In the preceding years, aviation had begun making speed records upwards of 250 mph, and pioneer pilots were making flights with photographers to exotic places such as the arctic poles, Mount Everest, Bali and Egypt as well as famous cities like New York and Paris.  It was a time when courage and innovation were rising to new heights as our nation pulled itself from the ashes of the Great Depression.

More than 10,000 visitors attended the Pan-American Air Races which were held at Lakefront Airport during its opening dedication on February 10, 1934 (then called Shushan Airport), where the airport was touted as the "Air Hub of the Americas"  The airport had a runway 3,000 feet long, earning it the US Department of Commerce's highest rating for airfields. Built in 1932 on a 300-acre  man-made arrowhead-shaped peninsula jutting into Lake Pontchartrain, the airport's  construction required a 10,000-foot retaining wall drilled into the lake and six million cubic yards of fill.  But the real treasure was the airport's public Terminal building.  Commissioned by Governor Huey P. Long and designed by architects with Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth (designers of the 34-story Louisiana State Capitol), it featured a two-story atrium surrounded with exquisite murals by local artist Xavier Gonzalez, friezes and sculptures by Enrique Alferez, inlaid terrazzo flooring, and beautiful marble, stone, metal and wood work throughout. A large compass rose inlaid in the center of the atrium's terrazzo floor points to exotic destinations depicted in the Gonzalez murals.

In its heyday, the Lakefront Airport Terminal had a fully operating surgical suite, post office, kitchen, cafe, restaurant, a station for immigration and customs, and offices for the federal departments of Agriculture and Commerce.  The level of detail given to its architectural design and artistic beauty was unparalleled.

The 1950s and 60s saw a different priority for the airport, as the art-deco features were ordered to be covered in concrete and steel and the terminal building was re-designed to serve as a nuclear fallout shelter.  When the building succumbed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, restoration to its original beauty began in conjunction with repairs.  The restoration was a feast of artistic discovery, and much credit is given for the care that was given to minimize destruction during the "entombment." But much was compromised, nonetheless.  Today and about $21 million later, restoration is nearly complete except for Gonzalez’ exquisite thematic murals, whose restoration is being promoted by Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport.

Vintage hangars at the airport are named after local aviation heroes of the 1930s such as Harry Williams and Jimmy Wedell (who by the way set a 100-km speed record of 266 mph at those 1934 Pan-American races).  They still proudly display photos of such legendary aviators as Amelia Earhart, who used the airport during her ill-fated attempt to fly around the world in 1937, and Charles Lindbergh. 

Lakefront Airport today has three long runways including a nearly 7,000-ft runway designed for instrument approaches in poor weather.  The airport serves both general aviation and commercial air carrier aircraft, and it has an FAA Control Tower open seven days per week.  It is one of the busiest airports in Louisiana and, in our opinions, one of the most beautiful airports in the country.

Find more information about Lakefront Airport at the airport's own website and in excellent newspaper coverage by Richard Rainey here and Frank Donze; and enjoy learning about the history of aviation in Louisiana here.

Enjoy the photos below of New Orleans Lakefront Airport today and the beautiful restored Terminal building!

Click HERE to see a reprint of the original, fascinating descriptions of the airports and its buildings and artwork,  published in 1934  by the airport's architects Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth and Mr. A. L. Shushan, President of the Board of Levee Commissioners of the Orleans Levee District! 

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Checks payable to:
"Friends Of New Orleans Lakefront Airport"
may be mailed to:
Friends Of New Orleans Lakefront Airport
PO Box 24717 New Orleans, LA 70184-4717