In 1942, when the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, known today as Camp David, was first utilized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he instantly dubbed the place Shangri-La. The title of author James Hilton’s mythical paradise has been used often to describe summer getaways, secluded utopias, and the beauty-lands of the Orient.
For New Orleanians of the 1940s and 1950s, their Shangri-La was the lakeside summer camp and home of Mrs. Florestine Perrault Collins, who was one of the city’s few colored female photographers. Mrs. Collins and her family often rented the two-story cement-block building and surrounding acreage to groups of teenagers and groups seeking an escape from the city. Located twelve miles from downtown New Orleans along a then-scarcely occupied Haynes Boulevard, Shangri-La was the perfect destination for “hay rides.” Youthful New Orleanians often took advantage of the city’s temperate weather by arranging fun excursions in hay-covered flat trucks out to Shangri-La on the lake. Many have fond memories of frolicking, picnicking, and merrymaking at the site which then seemed to be so very far away. Shangri-La was immediately across from the site of the old Lincoln Beach.
After Mrs. Collins moved to California in the 1940s, her Perrault family continued to make Shangri-La available until 1957, when the property and summer lodge were sold to the Knights of Peter Claver. From 1958 into the 1960s, they operated the site as a recreation spot for their junior members under the name of “Camp Claver.” The building was later used as the lodge for their local Fourth Degree Assembly.
Today, nothing remains of the old Shangri-La site except the fond memories of those who remember New Orleans’ own lakeside paradise.
Source: The Claverite, November-December 1957, 4-5; Anthony, Arthe. Picturing Black New Orleans: A Creole Photographer View of the Early Twentieth Century (Gainesville: University Press of Florida: 2012), 9.