I was at the Lakefront on the street that goes by the New Orleans Yacht Club and dead ends at a circle. About halfway between that circle and Lakeshore Drive are some ruins of what looks like a once grand establishment. What was this and what happened?
You stumbled onto the remains of what many New Orleanians remember as a restaurant row called West End Park. For nearly 175 years, the lakefront around there also was a resort area, with hotels, music clubs and an amusement park overlooking Lake Pontchartrain.
The restaurants are what most people remember. The oldest, Bruning's, was a landmark at West End for more than 140 years. Theodor Bruning originally opened his restaurant in the Carrollton area in the 1840s. He moved it to West End in 1859. Fried and boiled seafood, whole stuffed flounder and fried chicken were among the restaurant's specialties. Its enormous wooden bar was salvaged after Hurricane Katrina and now is used at the restaurant in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Hurricane Georges destroyed Bruning's in 1998, but it relocated to an adjacent building until Hurricane Katrina washed it all away.
Fitzgerald's restaurant was another West End favorite from the 1940s through the 1990s. Its building, which sat on stilts, jutted out the farthest into Lake Pontchartrain, offering spectacular lakefront views. Hurricane Georges also badly damaged that restaurant, and it was torn down. Other popular West End seafood spots over the years included The Bounty, Maggie & Smitty's Crabnett, Papa Roselli's, Fontana's and Swanson's seafood restaurants. The area isn't much to look at today, with construction nearby on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permanent pump station at the 17th Street Canal. It's unlikely a restaurant will open there now, since the area is outside the levee protection system.