Fortier Park fundraiser will be held tonight in Faubourg St. John
Neighbors pitch in to maintain triangle
Thursday, April 14, 2011
By Annette Sisco
With palm trees and live oaks, flowers and fountains, tiny Fortier Park is a lush microcosm of its Faubourg St. John neighborhood: It packs a lot of life into a small space.
The park is maintained by neighbors, who donate their time to mow, scrub, rewire and prune. And once a year, with the help of neighborhood businesses and musicians, they throw a party to raise some cash.
The annual Fortier Fest is today at 6 p.m. and will feature a silent auction, food and music by Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Tony Green. There will be chicken tenders and ice pops courtesy of Canseco’s grocery across the street, and grilled sausage from Terranova’s next door. Cafe Degas sends bread pudding, Swirl will donate wine and Santa Fe, margaritas.
Neighbors have helped maintain the park for at least 15 years, since photographer Bobby Wozniak began by planting flowers. Wozniak spent Saturday morning with other neighbors planting 300 annuals and grooming the palm trees in preparation for tonight’s festival.
The festival began after Hurricane Katrina, said Bob McGuire, who lives across Mystery Street from the park.
“After the storm this was all gray, brown and crispy,” he said. The group decided to hold a fund-raiser to pay for new plants.
It was spring 2006, and many of the hundreds of people who showed up hadn’t seen each other since before the storm. Like so many events that spring, the festival turned into an emotional reunion. “We raised a lot of money, but we raised their spirits even higher,” McGuire said.
McGuire ran into bluesman Washington at a nearby gas station and, on an impulse, invited him to perform. “He committed and said, ‘This party’s gonna be on!’ ” McGuire said.
Nowadays the park, tucked into a triangle of land at Esplanade Avenue and Mystery Street, reflects its historic, yet trendy, environs. Stone cupids hoist a dripping bucket over a fountain where goldfish glint. Across a grassy lawn stands a metal pillar by New Orleans sculptor Art Silverman, a geometric red counterpoint to the greenery.
There are benches, chess boards, winding paths and, after dark, lights twinkling in the trees.
The park serves as a town square for neighbors of all ages, Wozniak said. Some folks linger near the fountains, while others enjoy strolling through on the way to work or church, he said.
A small army pitches in to maintain the space, including David Armond, McGuire, Paul LaPlace, Linda Landisberg, Dean Burridge and Steve Chaplain. Deblanc Pharmacy across the street pays the electric bill.
On Saturday, 22-month-old Zoe Finger splashed her hands in a low sugar kettle fountain, chortling at the goldfish. Then she peered into a fanciful birdhouse, stationed toddler-level, which the park calls “Priscilla’s House.” Poet Brod Bagert has written poems about a fairy called Priscilla who lives in the park, and laminated copies of his book, and others, are tethered to some of the benches for parents to share with children.
Mother Julie Finger chatted with her friend, Cathy Taylor, while they watched Zoe explore. “It’s a nice, green space for her to walk around,” said Finger, who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years. “We love it.”
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Annette Sisco is community news editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3310.