Shushan Airport: A New Orleans Gem Lives Again

Shushan Airport (39)   Shushan Airport (13)

I was honored to be invited to help a team of local preservation minded people to review properties for the Louisiana Landmarks Society’s New Orlean’s Nine list last year in order to raise public awareness about historical properties in the city which are/were at risk of being lost forever. It was a rocky year for the Louisiana Landmarks Society and all of New Orleans Preservation organizations in the post-Katrina environment and the list never really got the public notice it deserved. The New Orlean’s Nine selection process is long and complicated. It’s a very formal process which, due to staffing, wasn’t able to be properly unveiled at the time. Interestingly,  the list does appear on their website today, though the 2008 list does not. New Orleans Nine 2007.

As is often the case in the world of non-profit/volunteer work, you never know where things will lead. I was so happy to see this lead story tonight in the Times Picayune regarding one of the final Nine properties that made the 2007 list.
Clear for Takeoff. It relays the current work underway to restore the historic New Orleans Lakefront Airport.

I take the consideration of historic properties seriously and am compelled to see them ‘in person’ to really have a solid opinion of their historic value. Thus, I have this great set of Photos of Shushan Airport from my visit to Shushan last year with Karen Gadbois as part of my research for the New Orleans Nine list committee.

It was rather spooky going in there last year and I am so glad Karen was game to accompany me, we marvelled at the murals and art-deco metalwork which is finally getting the recoginition it deserves. 

Many people worked hard to review the 2007 list of 40 properties to narrow them down to only nine. I  learned a lot in the process and even though it was not officially able to be published at the time, I am so glad to see some good news on this one and so glad I went to see it for myself, despite the risk of getting busted for trespassing.

In case you might be interested and because I did it, here is my own rather pedestrian write-up of the property as well:

The Shushan terminal building was designed by the architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth, it compliments their other significant work, the Louisiana State Capitol.  Their design was used as a model for other art deco airport terminals throughout the country between 1934 and 1940. The building is home to significant murals by WPA-era artist Xavier Gonzales.  The Shushan terminal was prominent in several major events in the U.S. and aviation history.  Amelia Earhart spent the night at the terminal’s hotel facility prior to her final global flight.  When it was completed, Shushan Field was the largest airport in the United States, strategically located on a man-made peninsula in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.  New York and Washington, D.C., were in the process of developing similar airfields but New Orleans accomplished this engineering feat first and over 10,000 spectators applauded the feat at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.  It served served nearly one million visitors during the “Golden Age” of air travel.

In 1964, Shushan underwent a major renovation.  Gonzales’ “Wonders of Flight” murals were covered by paneling and the airport eventually was renamed the New Orleans Lakefront Airport.  During this renovation, three of the eight original murals were covered or obstructed from public view as the atrium, a signature element of the building, was modified to create office space.  One mural, “Rio de Janeiro” was removed and sent to the Louisiana State Museum where it remains today.

The Shushan Terminal was punished because of the political backlash of its corrupt namesake.  The airport was named after Abe Shushan, the Orleans Levee Board President who oversaw its construction.  After he was convicted on a variety of corruption related charges, the airport was renamed.  However, Abe had attempted to immortalize himself by adorning every possible surface with his name or initial, which renovators felt compelled to remove, sometimes disregarding the larger impact of this superficial problem.

Shushan’s unique artisanship and its Depression Era craftsmanship is an example of elegance and efficiency that modern construction cost can no longer accommodate.  Though the building suffered some damage from hurricane Katrina, the structure was used by National Guard troops immediately after the storm, it is very sound and worthy of restoration as one of our unique modern architectural gems.

1 Comment so far

  1. barf on July 26th, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

    The old Shushan Airport is one of the coolest buildings I have ever been in. Born and raised in NOLA and have been there several times back in the ’80s. When I walked I felt like I was walking into a time wharp and a movie set. It was absolutely fabulous and I hadn’t even seen all of the origial art work in there because it had been covered up.I had heard that the building was going to be restored back to the original 1930s look. I CANNOT WAIT. It will be unreal. I think it is one of the few art deco buildings left in the country. There will be so many things to view inside and outside of the teminal you won’t believe it. This thing is going to be a living, breathing museum.

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