Shreveport History – In Support of the Spring Street Museum

by Elliott Stonecipher


At an East Ridge Country Club luncheon on Saturday, February 4th, John Hussey, Ernie Roberson and Elliott Stonecipher discussed various aspects of the 1954 Wallace Lake plane crash which took the lives of many prominent Shreveport leaders.  The sponsor of the event is the Francis Hodges Smitherman Memorial Lecture Series, and funds raised will go to the Spring Street Historical Museum.

Spring Street Museum, Shreveport

An excellent example of how city and parish government continued providing leadership after the tragedy in 1954 is the 1956 master plan.  Two-and-a-half years after the plane crash, the plan, entitled “A LONG-RANGE GUIDE FOR THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF METROPOLITAN SHREVEPORT,” was adopted by the Shreveport City Council, May 1956, and by the Caddo Parish Police Jury the following month.

We thank The group for retrieving this document and offering it for public review.

A specific look at the roster of involved city and parish officials is included on Page 4.  Many will notice and recognize such local leaders as Mayor Jim Gardner, Commissioners John McW. Ford, H. Lane Mitchell, L. E. Phelps, and J. Earl Downs.  Other city or parish notables are Tayor O’Hearn, Frank Brown, Earl Williamson, Ardis Taylor, Milton Cameron and Clarence Yancey.

Image from Cover of 1956 Master Plan

To get a feel of the problems being tackled in this master plan nearly 60 years ago, here is a very interesting section describing traffic problems in the congested West End business district on Texas Avenue.  Also of note is the reference in the last three lines to Stoner Hill’s natural beauty, befouled by “improper development”:


The motorist driving through the West End business district on Texas Avenue during the high traffic peak is more than likely quite exasperated by the time he manipulates his vehicle through the congested area. Here, a lack of foresight in modern traffic, just as visible elsewhere, stands out particularly in the congestion that is the result of continuous, crowded commercial uses strung out along the street without adequate access or parking space.  The inadequacy of thoroughfares as exemplified by Texas Avenue is, of course, not the only type of abuse. Stoner Hill, one of the most naturally beautiful sections of terrain in the city, has been given over to improper development. Overlooking the Red River, this blighted but potentially beautiful residential section has been redesigned to illustrate how abuses of the land can be corrected.

There can be little argument that Shreveport and Caddo have experienced their share of difficulties since this document was prepared, and it is fascinating to read how some of the 1956 problems and issues remain today.

As to any assertion that Shreveport experienced a leadership vacuum in the wake of the plane crash, this document – and the planning effort it describes – is one of many factual suggestions that such was not the case, certainly not at this level of city and parish government function.

As to the analysis of the numbers(DOWNLOAD):

The subject here is six-decade population growth or loss in twelve cities of interest to many of us, as compared to United States and Louisiana benchmarks.  The 1950 beginning date was used to provide, roughly, a “baby boomer” perspective.  The data are presented in a decade-to-decade comparison, and the lower-right-hand column shows the cumulative population change between the U. S. censuses of 1950 and 2010.

The most common baseline for comparison of population change is national:  since about the time the post-World War II baby boom began – 1946 to 1964 is more specifically viewed as the “baby boom” – the American population more than doubled, increasing 104.9%, an average growth rate per decade of 17.5%, or 1.8% per year.

Louisiana’s growth is notably less impressive – 68.9% during the 60-year period, an 11.5% per decade and 1.1% annual average – even though its population growth outstripped the nation’s between 1950 and 1980.  The state’s dramatic population growth drop-off has continued since 1980.

As Louisiana has gone in this context, so have its largest cities, each with cumulative population change well below the national rate:  Baton Rouge has led in population growth among these cities with an 82.7% gain, followed by Lake Charles’ 74.4%, Shreveport’s 56.7%, Alexandria’s 40.3%, Monroe’s 26.6%, and New Orleans’ population loss of -34.9%.

The flip-side of those unimpressive growth figures for major Louisiana cities during this period is seen in two cities which were, relatively, too small to include in such a comparison in 1950, Lafayette and Bossier City.  The 60-year growth in Lafayette has been 259.6% – 4.3% annually, almost two-and-one-half-times the national rate.  In Bossier City, the growth has been even stronger:  296.3% – 4.9% annually, two-and-three-quarter-times the national rate.

(It is important for those interested in Northwest Louisiana to note that the Bossier City growth is mainly related to changing residential patterns within its four-parish area.  Population growth during this period in Caddo, Bossier, Webster and DeSoto Parishes is 58.9%, about the same as Shreveport’s 56.7%, and about one-half the national growth.)

Among a selection of cities outside the state, population growth during the period is 148.7% in Tyler (TX), 89.3% in Little Rock (AR), 80.2% in Jackson (MS), and a loss of -34.9% in Birmingham (AL).

A related and interesting statistic in this context is the ranking by population of America’s largest cities.  (A demonstration of the interesting facts one finds in these particular rankings is that New Orleans was the nation’s 3rd-largest city in the 1840 census, trailing only New York and Baltimore.)  The “wall” Shreveport hit in its population growth is easily seen in these data:  it was the 81st-largest city in America in 1950, rose to 76th in 1960, then to 69th in 1970 and finally peaked as America’s 67th-largest city in 1980.  The wall in this context – the “drying up of the oil patch,” which did equally severe damage to Shreveport’s banking and real estate sectors – was then hit, and Shreveport’s ranking dropped to 77th in the 1990 census, 88th in 2000, and is now down to 109th in the 2010 decennial head-count.

A few random notes in comparing Shreveport’s population change to that of a few other Louisiana cities are these:

—  In 1970, Shreveport’s population was 9.7% larger than that of Baton Rouge, but by 2010, Shreveport had 15.1% fewer

—  In 1950, Shreveport’s population was 722% larger than that of its across-Red River-neighbor Bossier City, but by 2010 that population difference was down to 225% larger.

—  In 1960, Shreveport’s population was 307% larger than Lafayette’s, but by 2010, that advantage had dropped to 65%.

Elliott Stonecipher

For any reader who may not know, this and all other such analysis and commentary I forward to you has been done strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.

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