Metairie (Images of America)

Airline Highway

There were no airlines along the road when it was constructed during the 1930s under Governor Huey P. Long’s administration but local lore speaks of Governor Long commissioning Airline Highway so that he would be able to travel more quickly to New Orleans, a city whose pleasures he enjoyed. Airline highway was the first modern highway in the New Orleans area and was the first major traffic artery through Metairie that ran in an unbending route; Metairie Road followed the winding high ridge of the ancient Bayou Metairie and (through Old Jefferson) the pre-existing Jefferson Highway and River Road followed the meandering path of the Mississippi River after it deposited a natural levee that allowed for flood–free transportation via automobile.

Airline Highway was dominated by motels, restaurants, and bars. Motels and tourist courts served the needs of visitors to New Orleans during the era when automobiles first allowed middle class families to vacation away from home. A motel room on Airline Highway was just minutes away from the city but the prices were much lower and during its heyday as a vacation destination the highway offered, for the most part, clean safe rooms at affordable prices.

Along the seven mile stretch between New Orleans and Kenner, Metairie’s Airline Highway hosted the first outlet of a major New Orleans department store that would become a regional chain as well as the first franchise of a national fast food outlet. It included four bowling alleys, two drive-in theaters, two cemeteries, one dump (a public incinerator), a motel facility that allowed guests to “Sleep in a Wigwam”, an evangelist who didn’t sleep in a motel room, a golf-playing chicken, and a major organized crime figure who made his headquarters there. A bank and a bar were used as jails.

Renamed “Airline Drive” in an effort to impart an air of dignity to a highway that had seen better days, Metairie’s second oldest major artery has been somewhat revitalized in recent years with the addition of the New Orleans Saints Training Camp, the AAA Zephyr baseball field, and La Salle Park.

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