Pontalba Buildings, New Orleans
The 1850 House is located in the Lower Pontalba Buildings and is now part of the Louisiana State Museum. Visitors are invited to go on a self-guided tour of the former residence, and there's plenty of information on the walls to make it an enjoyable visit. You get to learn about the different families who lived in the house before it was converted into a museum, and each room has been furnished with period furniture to give visitors a good idea of what an appartment in the Pontalba Buildings looked like at the time - it did remind me of some of the historical houses I got to visit in France and Italy, especially the way rooms are divided on the three floors, with the servants' quarters at the back of the house and the small inner courtyard. Admission only costs $3, so I'd say it's worth stopping by to have an idea of what an elegant appartment in the French Quarter looked like at the time (open from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, closed on Mondays).
Baroness Pontalba was born in New Orleans in 1795, the only daughter of one of the city's most wealthy families. She was forced to marry at the age of 15, and the marriage was not a happy one. She was taken to Paris and, after surviving numerous ordeals (she was even shot in the chest by her father-in-law), she managed to obtain a legal separation from her husband and made her way back to her beloved hometown. Although the time she spent in France was incredibly difficult, she did appreciate Parisian architecture and decided to bring some of it back to New Orleans. She paid about $300,000, an incredible sum at the time, to erect the lower and upper Pontalba buildings around Jackson Square. These were among the first appartment buildings to be built in the United States - lawyers, merchants, notaries and so on would generally have their offices on the main floor, while their families lived on the top three floors. Today, the Pontalba Buildings are mostly home to souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes, but one appartment - the 1850 House - has been preserved and is open to visitors (see my 1850 House tip for more info).
While walking around Jackson Square this building will inevitably catch your eye. It is the most well-kept and usually has fresh flowers hanging on the balcony. It is bright and beautiful.
So, wanna know the dish on the place?
In the mid-1800s there was a Baroness Micaela Pontalba. She supervised the building of the apartments that were erected for more than $300,000. At that time they were considered the largest and best apartments of their kind. The design of the initials A and P are on the cast-iron railings of the galleries and balconies. (A-Almonster and P-Pontalba. Almonster was her maiden name.)
The first of the Spanish apartments built in New Orleans. It no longer function as apartments but transformed into aplenty of shops for tourists. Ranging from gift shops, fortune teller and cafe. Outside Pontalba in front of the Park, Jazz street musicians and souvenir vendors littered the Square.
This is a somewhat unusual view of one of the Pontalba buildings looking toward Jackson Square as we walked from the Riverfront Streetcar stop.
These red brick buildings with the iron lacework balconies were built in 1848 by the Baroness Micaela Almonaster de Pontalba, daughter of Don Andres Almonester y Roxas. They were intended for use as apartments above stores, and some of them are still used like that today.
You can read about the life of the Baroness (who was born in New Orleans in 1795, married at 15 and shipped off to France, shot 4 times by her father-in-law and in addition to the Pontalba buildings, she also built the U.S. Embassy residence in Paris) in INTIMATE ENEMIES: The Two Worlds of the Baroness de Pontalba by Christina Vella
Located in Jackson Square, this land and former buildings around it were originally designed for use by the general public, but somehow back in the early 1800s, the Pontalba family acquired it.
Long story short - the Baroness Pontalba designed the beautifully crafted buildings that still stand like they did over 150 years ago. It took nearly 2 years to construct the Pontalba buildings, their design reflecting Madame Pontalba's taste for combining Creole, Parisian and Greek arthitechtural styles.
Today the Pontalba buildings are owned by the city and the state and are considered historical landmarks. There are several floors and doors leading to passageways instead of stair halls. At the end of the passageways, stairs curve gently to the private residences on the second and third floors.
One of my college professors lived in an apartment there...we were always hoping he'd invite us in to see it! Maybe if I'd attended class more often...
Jackson Square lies in the heart of the French Quarter. There are plenty of sights to see within the square such as the Pontalba Apartments (America's first) and the historic Cabildo flank the park offering museums and shops. Don't forget about the St. Louis Cathedral. Along the streets you will experience street shows and lots of psychics. My favorites were the magicians that get the crowd involved in their shows. Be careful of the monkies that seem to run wild around the square (they are part of the shows).