Gentilly has been a well-kept secret until recently. Tucked next to Lake Pontchartrain and City Park, this quiet neighborhood has happily existed away from the bustle of downtown. Quintessentially New Orleans, Gentilly’s lovely streets have a combination of old and new homes, and one of its neighborhoods is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places--Gentilly Terrace. This area is perfect for someone buying their first home, families, or retirees seeking a peaceful, authentically New Orleans place to live.
Gentilly’s boundaries include two bodies of water— Lake Pontchartrain to the north and Bayou St. John to the west. France Road is to the east and Louisville and Nashville Railroad are south. The main thoroughfare is the broad boulevard, Elysian Fields. The zip code is 70122.
Major streets to the north and south include: Franklin Avenue, Elysian Fields Avenue, St. Anthony, St. Bernard, St. Roch, Paris, WIsner, A.P. Tureaud, and Press. Streets to the east and west include: Lakeshore Drive, Leon C. Simon, Robert E. Lee, Prentiss, Harrison, Filmore, Mirabeau, Hayne, Chef Menteur, and Gentilly.
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History of Gentilly
Although people settled here in the early 1800s, Gentilly wasn’t fully developed until the swampy land was drained in the early 20th century. Gentilly Ridge, which stretched along what used to be Bayou Gentilly, was the very first area to be developed. The first real residential area was built by pulling earth up in the swamp to create terraced land. Houses were built here and it became known as Gentilly Terrace.
For a time, a railroad connected Lake Pontchartrain to the bottom of Elysian Fields Avenue. This railroad drew a diverse blend of homesteaders to the area. They settled here and purchased homes, earning Gentilly a higher home ownership rate than the rest of New Orleans (this level of high ownership still holds today).
One area, Milneburg, used to be separate from the rest of Gentilly until the area between them was dredged and filled in. One of the few lighthouses in the city, the Old Milneburg lighthouse (also known as the old Pontchartrain Beach Lighthouse), can still be found here.
As time went on, drainage pumps were improved and higher levees created. Gentilly continued to expand to eventually include several neighborhoods within it: Gentilly Terrace, Gentilly Gardens, Lake Terrace, Milneburg, and Pontchartrain Park.
You can’t talk about Gentilly history without talking about Pontchartrain Beach. This amusement park was built on the lake in 1928. Containing rides like the Zephyr wooden roller coaster, the Scrambler, and the Galaxy, Pontchartrain Beach also had an actual beach as well as an art deco style bathhouse and swimming pool. It closed in 1983.
Like many New Orleans’ neighborhoods, Gentilly was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Taking on seven feet of water when the London Avenue Floodwalls were breached, many homes were destroyed. Over time, with typical New Orleans grit, Gentilly residents returned and rebuilt.
Architecture Then and Now
Because much of Gentilly was built post World War II, the architecture is decidedly more modern than some of the older neighborhoods in New Orleans. Yet it still has a charming, eclectic mix of architectural styles.
Gentilly Terrace, the first 20th century neighborhood in New Orleans, has some of the grandest homes in Gentilly. Because the elevation was so high here, builders felt confident in taking stylistic risks and constructed remarkable Spanish revival homes, bungalows, and arts-and-crafts houses. Expansive yards, terraced landscaping, and old oak trees give Gentilly Terrace a unique appearance from anywhere else in the city.
The surrounding areas of Gentilly have similar architecture to Gentilly Terrace as well as more modern brick ranch homes and new, large cottage homes. Gentilly’s cityscape gives you a sense of spaciousness and ease thanks to homes that aren’t right on top of each other, lots of grassy areas and big yards, and the nearby lake and bayou.
Features of the Neighborhood
Lake Pontchartrain, which covers 630 square miles, is one of the best parts of the Gentilly neighborhood. The lake view and lots of grassy space make Lake Pontchartrain a good place to spend a few hours or the entire afternoon. It’s the perfect spot to go sailing or throw the frisbee on a Saturday afternoon.
Bayou St. John
The gently sloping banks of this picturesque bayou are a peaceful retreat from the city. Bayou St. John offers a great recreational space to Gentilly and several other neighborhoods, where people can fish, kayak, or bike. The 4.7 mile Wisner Bike Path runs alongside the bayou and the Lafitte Greenway is also close by.
Nearby City Park is one of Gentilly’s most beautiful features. This big green space is a 1300 acre public park with over 30,000 trees--some of which are believed to be between 750 and 900 years old. City Park is also home the New Orleans Museum of Art and to a small amusement park with a beautiful carousel, miniature golf, and a lovely walking path. It’s an ideal place to have a weekend picnic or experience Celebration in the Oaks during the holidays.
ShopsGentilly has lots of small shops--you won’t find any big box stores here. If you’re interested in fixing up or updating your home, there’s a Habitat ReStore on Elysian Fields that has inexpensive items like old doors and plumbing supplies. Other stores in Gentilly include:
In typical Gentilly style, there are many small, unique restaurants in this neighborhood. Generic strip mall restaurants have not made their way to Gentilly, so instead, you’ll find little seafood, poboy, or pizza restaurants here.
Gentilly is a hub for higher education. Three of New Orleans’ universities can be found here, as well as the blue ribbon charter school, Benjamin Franklin Senior High School.
One of the best things about living in Gentilly is the close access to Lake Pontchartrain, City Park, and Bayou St. John. These are all fantastic areas for outdoor activities and some of the few places in New Orleans to be near the water or in the middle of a lush green park. Walking, running, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing are some of the activities you can take advantage of that are easily accessible from your Gentilly neighborhood.
Because this neighborhood is also home to UNO and Dillard, there are always events offered to students and the community. Also, the UNO Lakefront Arena regularly has exciting events, concerts and shows. If you’re in the mood for an afternoon rum tasting, check out New Orleans Rum Distillery. The annual Gentilly Fest is always a good time and supports the Orleans Police, Fire, EMS, and Children's Music camps.
Gentilly is the place to be if a real sense of community and open spaces appeal to you. This neighborhood offers a peaceful lifestyle and excellent opportunities for outdoor activities with its proximity to Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John. If you’re interested in buying, renting, or selling a home in Gentilly, contact our team today. We have a unique understanding of what makes this neighborhood special and are ready to help you find just what you’re looking for!