“The Last Ride”
The event that marked the end of Pontchartrain Beach.
In 1983, after 44 years, Pontchartrain Beach closed. Twice.
While its official last day of business was September 5, 1983, it reopened for one last big hurrah – a charity event for the Contemporary Arts Center – a few weeks later on September 24. Called “The Last Ride,” the event gave New Orleanians one last chance to enjoy the thrills, chills and good times that entertained generations of locals and tourists alike.
While Pontchartrain Beach had been a very successful small amusement park for many years, it couldn’t compete with giants such as Disney World or with the rising costs of new rides (the last ride installed was The Ragin’ Cajun in 1978, at a cost of $1.3 million).
While the Labor Day “official” closing had been rainy and overcast, “The Last Ride” was held on a beautiful, breezy, sunny day. Over 12,000 people came out to enjoy live music all day and to meet former Saints quarterback and NFL legend Johnny Unitas, who signed autographs. There was a House of Horrors, a laser show, a dog act, a mime act, an air show and more. But most important of all: a last chance to ride the Zephyr roller coaster, which had a line of hundreds of people at most times.
At night, more live music featuring Irma Thomas, Frankie Ford, The Drifters and Fats Domino filled the air, as did a European-style fireworks show that ran from 11 p.m. until 11:25 p.m. At 11:30 p.m. the official last ride of the Zephyr was followed by a special Jazz Funeral to say a fond farewell to the park and years of memories.
On 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 25, the Louisiana National Guard’s 769th Engineering Battalion came in and started dismantling the park. It was indeed the end of an era.
“At the beach, at the beach, at Pontchartrain Beach / You’ll have fun, you’ll have fun, every day of the week / You’ll love those thrilling rides, laugh till you split your sides / At Pontchartrain Beach.” The Zephyr roller coaster featured in a photo of Pontchartrain Beach taken by the Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1940s. Photo provided courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.