Old Spanish Fort Resort and Amusement Park
1820's - 1920's

Bayou St. John at Lake Pontchartrain
Continued: A History of the Old Spanish Fort
by  Nancy Brister
The casino at Old Spanish Fort was built
in 1881 and destroyed by fire in 1906.
A hotel, located on the site of the old fort, operated successfully from 1823 to 1878, when the
property was purchased by Moses Schwartz, who added, over time, an amusement park, a casino,
a theatre, a dancing pavillion, cabarets and several fine restaurants.  These attracted well-known
entertainers, orchestras and opera companies, as well as, many noteworthy guests from all over
the country.  Before long, Spanish Fort became known as the "Coney Island of the South."
Among the restaurants were
Over the Rhine and Tranchina's Restaurant, and the cabarets
were
Tokyo Gardens and The Frolics.
Spanish Fort played an important part in the development of Jazz.  Early Jazz musicians of all races
and ethnic groups performed here and at other lakefront resorts, sharing ideas and techniques,
nurturing the new musical genre.  Some of the bands that played regularly at Spanish Fort were
Armand Piron's N.O. Orchestra, Papa Celestin's band, Johnny Miller's N.O. Frolicers, Johnny
Bayersdorffer's Jazzola Orchestra and many others early Jazz bands and musicians.  -- Nancy
Boats docked at Spanish Fort's pier
The park by the bandstand
Tables by the bandstand
Another view of the tables and the park
Spanish Fort Resort
Man poses with a canon from the fort, 1890's.
The grave at Old Spanish Fort.
Ad for Spanish Fort thanks to Infrogmation at Wikimedia Commonns.
In 1906, a massive fire destroyed many of the buildings.  A new owner re-opened the amusement
park, adding a roller coaster and ferris wheel and, also, constructing an electric railway from the
city to the park.  But, by the mid-1920's, West End Resort and Amusement Park, also, on the lake,
had wooed many of Spanish Fort's customers away and, in 1926, the Old Spanish Fort closed its
gates and ceased to either protect or entertain the people of New Orleans from that time forward.
It sits today, crumbling, long abandoned and, for the most part, unnoticed.  People pass by on
their hurried errands every day, never knowing the rich history of a site where the founder of New
Orleans first made encampment in 1699;  where, in turn, French, Spanish and American flags flew
over the first military fort established in the area;  where tense soldiers maintained silent vigils
alert for the enemy's approach;  where, armed for battle, American farmers, shopkeepers (and a
pirate or two) prepared to face the British in 1814;  where, in its later incarnation, New Orleanians
and many others from around the country and the world, sailed and dined and danced their way
through a hundred years of history;  a place where the new sound of Jazz music was nurtured and
developed.  And where the fort has been a silent witness to yet another hundred years.
Except for the muted sound of traffic rushing by on a nearby thoroughfare, the only sounds that
can be heard are the bayou's breezes dancing through the branches of the ancient oaks.  Today,
the fort's lone inhabitant is the occupant of a solitary grave.  The unmarked grave sits inside of a
rusting wrought iron fence - a soldier who's been left by his comrades to stand guard alone.  The
grave is said to be the resting place of a Spanish officer, Sancho Pablo, who fell in love with the
daughter of a local Native American chief.  The chief, who opposed the union, is said to have
ended the romance by murdering the Spanish soldier.  I don't know about the romance, but I found
a 1915 postcard with a picture of the grave and this description:  "Grave of Sancho Pablo,
Commander of the Spanish Army, 1721-1741."  Maybe the legend of the princess was invented to
explain the mysterious sound of a woman weeping at the old fort, heard so often through the years
by nearby residents, usually on moonless nights.  Or, who knows?  Perhaps the legend is true and
she cries for Sancho Pablo still.  -- Nancy
Spanish Fort Hotel