Columns » Blake Pontchartrain: New Orleans Trivia

What is the big mound of grass that looks like a bunker at the intersection of Robert E. Lee and West End boulevards?

Blake Pontchartrain

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City Hall was designated a fallout shelter for New Orleanians in the Cold War era, and the sign still hangs above the doors at the main entrance.
  • City Hall was designated a fallout shelter for New Orleanians in the Cold War era, and the sign still hangs above the doors at the main entrance.

Hey Blake,

What is the big mound of grass that looks like a bunker behind the housing development in the neutral ground at the intersection of Robert E. Lee and West End boulevards?

Melvin Ray

Dear Melvin,

  What you found at 6991 Pontchartrain Blvd. is a neglected fallout shelter, one of our city's Cold War relics. Completed in 1962, it was intended as an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where the mayor, the Office of Civil Defense (now called the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness) and emergency support operators were to report in the event of a nuclear attack. In 1964's "Plan for Emergency Operations," signed by Mayor Victor Schiro, "fallout" is defined as "the return to the earth's surface of particles made radioactive and thrown into the air by a nuclear explosion."

  In the 1950s and early '60s, American families were encouraged to build fallout shelters in their basements or under their backyards, but this posed problems for residents of New Orleans, which was built below sea level. The basements of City Hall and the Main Library on Loyola Avenue were designated shelters for the general population, and above the entrance to City Hall, there's still a yellow-and-black fallout shelter sign that reads "Capacity 3735."

  Eventually, we realized there's no real protection from a nuclear attack. According to a 1984 City Council report concerning the future of the West End fallout shelter, New Orleans was a likely target because of the port, but "[I]n the event of a nuclear war, which would probably involve multiple warhead impacts on the city, everything including the EOC would be destroyed." FEMA suggested City Hall be used as a fixed EOC, with additional mobile units for use in other catastrophes such as hurricanes. This 1984 report also estimated $709,000 in repairs were needed to the West End shelter. The mayor's office is currently reviewing options for the property.

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