Corporate logo along Simon Bolivar worth peanuts to New Orleans

Accessed by a plank path, the Peanut Grove is framed with salvaged window frames and surfaced with gravel.

By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

A long-vacant lot in Central City is now home to the giant legume more commonly known as Mr. Peanut, the iconic logo of the Planter’s brand of peanut products, a subsidiary of Kraft Foods.

The familiar Mr. Peanut advertising icon dominates the city's newest park.

The small plot of land, on the corner of Simon Bolivar Avenue at its junction with Euterpe and Felicity streets, has been transformed into “Planter’s Grove.” It’s “part art, part urban revitalization,” according to a Planter’s website.

Also part billboard, to be blunt about it, and as such just the latest defeat in a decades-long struggle to keep corporate sponsorship from disfiguring New Orleans landscapes and festivals.

Carnival floats are still forbidden to follow Jefferson Parish’s lead and carry ads. But no one ever took a sledge hammer to the schlocky Cancer Survivors Park that sprang up 20-plus years ago on the Loyola Avenue neutral ground near City Hall, courtesy of H&R Block and an acquiescent Sidney Barthelemy, then mayor.

This go-round, City Hall seemed entirely uninterested in curbing or upgrading Planter’s maneuver to disguise a billboard as an art installation, perhaps because the neighborhood in which Mr. Peanut has planted his walking stick is low-income.

From City Planning to Parks and Parkways to the mayor’s office to the office of City Councilwoman Stacy Head, no one seems to have a view, or even a clue, how this peculiar peanut park took root in our midst, evidently without Planning Commission approval. It wasn’t required, according to mayoral spokesman, Ryan Berni.

Limitless Vistas, the non-profit that scored money from Planter’s and provided a crew of work-study young people to implement a design by landscape architect Ken Smith, took out a permit for the Grove at a cost of $600 (though the lighting stipulated in said permit is nowhere in evidence.)

Overall costs? Smith couldn’t say. Or wouldn’t. And neither could Patrick Barnes, of Limitless Vistas. We just sent invoices to Planter’s and they got paid, said Barnes. We never added them up.

Barnes seemed startled to learn that the property where Mr. Peanut now squats is an adjudicated parcel in hock for back taxes. We’ll pay the taxes, Barnes hastened to add.

Still in search of the project’s financial underpinnings, we got in touch with Planter’s, only to be told that they won’t quantify their gift to the people of New Orleans in dollars and cents — “for legal reasons,” according to a spokeswoman.

While an adjudicated lot along Simon Bolivar may not be coveted real estate, architect Smith is no slouch. The New York-based landscape architect’s credits include the hugely admired Highline linear park on an elevated railroad trestle that snakes along the Hudson River in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. To somewhat less acclaim, he also did the rooftop garden at the revamped Museum of Modern Art, an installation heavy on plastic rocks and impermanent plantings.

“They didn’t want a typical playground park, they wanted something unique,” Smith said of the New Orleans project.

What we got is a park unique enough to be in part off-limits to children. Signs are on order that will forbid them from climbing on the window sashes that surround the place, a feature that beckons like a jungle gym.

Much heavy breathing about the environment and sustainability accompanied the run-up to the park’s completion in late March. The original plans call for the Grove to include a parking slip for Planter’s Nutmobile, peanut-selling’s equivalent of the Goodyear blimp. “Inspired by how peanuts naturally give back to the earth, the new biodiesel Planters Nutmobile uses environmentally-conscious materials and harnesses the power of sunlight and wind,” according to Nutmobile brochures.

With or without the parking pad, the Peanut Grove falls somewhat short of a cure for global warming. A visitor is funneled over an elevated walkway of irregularly cut planks, kind of like the duckwalks that keep humans and water moccasins apart at a swampy nature center. The walkway disgorges the pedestrian in a peanut shaped space coated in coarse gravel.

Pity the child who thinks the area is for anything other than quietly sitting, though seating is also at a minimum with the large and already chipped Fiberglas statue of Mr. Peanut hogging most of the available space.

Surrounding Mr. Peanut and his peanut shaped bench are those old window frames. Just remember: they’re “art”, according to Barnes. No climbing allowed.

“This has never been done before,” he said of the Grove, echoing a post-Katrina refrain raised in many different settings. The project, he added, will serve as a prototype for similar efforts in other cities.

If local support is a measure of success, the prototype may need tweaking.

“Why don’t they give us something we can use,” a resident in the area of the Peanut Grove muttered as she herded her toddlers past the installation.

Area adults are equally non-plussed.

On a musky spring evening, a group of eight men gathered at two tables on the neutral ground across Simon Bolivar near — but definitely not in — The Grove. “This is the real New Orleans,” one of the men offered, stubbing a cigarette to take snother slug from a can of beer. The men had no real objection to the Peanut Grove. Neither did they have any intention of moving the real New Orleans into its odd confines.

But if companionable to neither children nor adults, Mr. Peanut is not without value. For lack of financial data from anyone involved, we turned to local advertising professionals for an estimation of comparable worth.

A billboard in New Orleans currently brings upwards of $12,000 a month, not a bad return on a load of gravel, a plastic ad logo and some salvaged window frames.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • Neil

    The High Line was designed by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, not Ken Smith.

  • debi

    I pass this “art” twice a day and at best, it is massively confusing..

  • Colleen

    I live in the neighborhood and love the park. It is worlds better than the blighted lot before it, and Ken Smith is a well respected architect–I feel lucky to be able to experience his work in my hometown. If corporate branding means taking a top notch architect and helping to revive a blighted area than give me a monocle!

  • jeffrey

    From City Planning to Parks and Parkways to the mayor’s office to the office of City Councilwoman Stacy Head, no one seems to have a view, or even a clue, how this peculiar peanut park took root in our midst, evidently without Planning Commission approval. It wasn’t required, according to mayoral spokesman, Ryan Berni.

    Perhaps their request was delivered in the form of a hand-written letter taped to a mailing tube.

  • Jenel

    Right…. no climbing…. why not make sure that the “windows” are strong enough for climbing? I hope kids climb all over it… Not that you could stop them. Come summer when there is far too little to do for so many kids.

    Are peanuts part of the landscaping? Now that might be interesting. I’m wondering how the place isn’t going to end up a weed covered mess. Maybe if they let the kids on it, it will keep the weeds down

  • Nola_rolla

    Another opinion article disguised as news.

  • Karen Gadbois

    Which is why it is in the opinion area of the site.

  • jed horne

    From: james jones
    Date: Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 10:33 AM
    Subject: Response to April 14 article “Corporate logo along Simon Bolivar worth peanuts to New Orleans”

    Dear Ms. Gadbois,

    I represent The Corps Network (TCN), the nation’s voice of 158 Service and Conservation Youth Corps. Currently operating in 48 states and the District of Columbia, The Corps Network enrolls more than 33,000 young men and women in service, in addition to mobilizing approximately 227,000 community volunteers annually.

    TCN has partnered with Planters in a multi-year program to transform unused land in areas of need into natural, urban parks. In 2011, Planters Groves will be developed in four U.S. cities with the first in Central City, New Orleans. TCN developed the park in collaboration with two of our local member Corps, Limitless Vistas and Louisiana Green Corps/ARC of Greater New Orleans, and several local nonprofits, businesses, elected officials, community leaders and residents.

    I would like to respond to some of the points you made in your article.

    · We believe the Central City Planters Grove aligns and exemplifies The President’s “America’s Great Outdoors” (AGO) initiative. The AGO Report states: “Urban parks and community green spaces contribute to the social, physical, and emotional health of America’s communities and are among the few public places where citizens can recreate close to home. Parks and green spaces also generate economic benefits for communities, from higher property values to increased recreation and tourism and a resulting improved business environment.” The Report also says: “People across the nation called for better collaboration between the public and private sectors to help citizens realize the benefits of connecting to the outdoors.” We believe the Central City Planters Grove is an example of collective impact, where public and private partners working with local nonprofits, community organizations, public officials and residents can come together to make an impact.

    · Planters, TCN, Limitless Vistas, Louisiana Green Corps and local community partners, small businesses, nonprofits, neighborhood associations and residents of Central City came together at a number of well-attended community meetings and focus groups leading up to and throughout the construction of the Planters Grove. During these meetings, we received great feedback from the community and incorporated several of their suggestions for the park and addressed any concerns.

    o We maintained the openness of the park by not including wisteria vines throughout the window sash surround, as originally designed.

    o We made sure to include security lighting.

    o The residents specifically requested we use gravel instead of grass in the park center to better accommodate their desire to use the space for community meetings, musical performances and to lessen the maintenance needed for the park.

    o A second entrance to the park was incorporated on Felicity Street.

    · A Central City Advisory Council was established with the focal purpose to help in the maintenance of the park, as well as develop ongoing community engagement projects and events at the Planters Grove. In addition, Limitless Vistas will be the lead in the weekly maintenance of the park. Examples of potential ongoing engagement opportunities include youth education around sustainable development and horticulture, seasonal community planting, a site for outside community meetings, birthdays, small arts and culture events, etc.

    · Some of the local partners and supporters of the park include:

    o Central City Advisory Board

    o BFA Environmental

    o Café Reconcile

    o Central City Economic Development

    o Central City Economic Opportunity Corporation

    o Central City Renaissance Alliance

    o Faubourg Lafayette Neighborhood Association

    o FutureProof

    o Home Depot

    o Limitless Vistas, Inc.

    o Louisiana Green Corps/ARC of Greater New Orleans

    o Mr. Reginald Haley and Family

    o New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative

    o The Old City Building Center

    o Three Fold Consultants, LLC, Engineering Consultants

    · The Planters Grove is in the final completion stages. The completed park will include solar powered lighting, security lighting mounted on each of the three power line polls that surround the park, a rain water cistern watering system, several chairs made from locally reclaimed materials, the addition of Central City street tiles and handicap assessable sidewalks on the corners of Felicity Street, Euterpe Street and Simon Bolivar Avenue.

    · The following sustainable and locally sourced materials are already included or will be included once the park is completed:

    o Solar powered lighting

    o Rain water cistern

    o Chairs made from reclaimed materials

    o Locally-sourced and native plants, trees, shrubs and grasses

    o The window sash surround are reclaimed from homes destroyed in Hurricane Katrina

    o All lumber used is locally sourced, reclaimed or environmentally friendly pressure treated lumber

    o Concrete pavers used for the area with the planted mint are reclaimed

    · Ken Smith’s design never intended to have a permanent “parking pad” for the Planters Nutmobile. The “Legume Plaza” is one of two main entrances into the Planters Grove, as well as a local mint garden. The Nutmobile was onsite for the unveiling on March 23 and was parked on Euterpe Street.

    · Lastly, as someone has already commented, Ken Smith did not design the Highline in NYC. James Corner Field Operation did.

    I would encourage you to reach out directly to some of the community supporters of the park, or we are happy to arrange a meeting between you and several of the community organizations, small businesses and local residents who support, value and greatly appreciate the Central City Planters Grove.


    James Jones
    SVP & Chief Innovation Officer
    The Corps Network
    Washington, DC