What does the big rock with a plaque on Canal Boulevard in front of Dolly's Deli commemorate?
Thousands of people likely have driven past that grassy neutral ground in the 5100 block of Canal Boulevard without giving the memorial you noticed there a second thought. It is one of the city's more unusual public tributes.
It's a granite boulder imported from South Carolina, emblazoned with a plaque honoring George Thomas, the former head of the City of New Orleans Parking Commission. The oddly named agency was established in 1909 to oversee green spaces, not automobile parking. The group's successor, the Parkway and Park Commission, changed its name in 1995 to the Department of Parks and Parkways. Thomas served as its superintendent from 1925 until his death in 1934.
According to his obituary, he was a native of Truro, England, who came to New Orleans at age 25 to work in the gardening and florist businesses. For more than a decade, he was gardener for the Whitney family at their mansion in the 2200 block of St. Charles Avenue (now The Georgian Apartments).
After going to work for the city, Thomas became known for beautification projects he oversaw at Lafayette Square, Elk Place, West End Park and Canal Boulevard. The boulder dedicated in his memory in December 1935 bears a plaque "In appreciation for the fine work of George Thomas ... towards the greater beauty of this city." It also bears the names of the Parkway Commission, the New Orleans Horticultural Society, Garden Society and Botanical Society. Members of those groups spoke at the dedication ceremony, lifting a blanket of laurel leaves off the boulder as they unveiled it.