Friday, November 25, 2011

The Pontalba Buildings

Both sides of Jackson Square boast handsome brick buildings that have been photographed for many years — the Pontalba Buildings. They were constructed in the 1840s by the Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba, whose life was literally so dramatic, it was turned into an opera. Grills on the Pontalba Buildings display the monogram of the Almonester-Pontalba families, a most difficult union.

The upper floors of the Pontalba Buildings are rented as apartments, the oldest apartments in continuous use in the United States.

Louisiana State Library
A view if Jackson Square in the 1860s, with one of the Pontalba Buildings in the background.

Alexander Allison  |  New Orleans Public Library
One of the Pontalba Buildings photographed between 1905 and 1910.

My mother took this photograph in 1954. My father had just returned from a tour serving in Korea, and the two went to New Orleans on a second honeymoon.

My own view of the Pontalba Buildings.
Above is an image of the Baroness Micaela Pontalba. The link in the lead paragraph takes you to her interesting story, or you can read it here.


  1. The Baroness had a vision, she planned it with meticulous care, and the result was beautiful and lasting, enhancing her home city, even becoming emblematic of it.

    I know that the design idiom is different today, and that there are many exciting projects going on, but still so many large-scale efforts are aesthetic and functional failures--perhaps because they concentrate on themselves (or the bottom line) and not on fitting into the city as a whole.
    --Road to Parnassus

  2. Hello, Parnassus - I could not agree more.

    My neighborhood was in a protracted lawsuit with an out-of-town company that wanted to build what were practically skyscrapers in a one- and two-story residential area. We prevailed, in part because we argued that the buildings would set a city-wide precedent, walling up entire waterfront views.

    The whole affair, which dragged on for about three years, really awakened me to a lack of city planning and/or the willingness to quickly vacate codes in favor of big money.

    But don't get me started!

  3. I am a huge fan of the Pontalba Buildings, and find the story of the woman who built them -- well -- astonishing. Such grit and determination, and such adversity! Thank goodness for the architectural preservation of the area, and of New Orleans in general. RD

  4. Wow! What a life. Thanks for the link, Mark. Very interesting. No wonder it was turned into an opera.

    I'm glad she won out in the end. More or less.

    Love those balconies.

  5. Hello Reggie - It's interesting that New Orleans had a hometown baroness, and her story is a good read, isn't it. I hope others check out the link.

  6. Hello, Yvette - When I started photographing the Pontalba Buildings, those marvelous balconies were my original focus — I love the way the monogram is worked into the grill work!

  7. We had an apartment there with friends for years(gave it up after Katrina)- It was the 3rd floor corner in your mother's photo- Many ghosts- A young couple would appear in our sairwell (I never saw them), a wedding dress found under the floor boards during a neighbor's renovation-and the story of a skeleton found in someone's kitcken ceiling- The old Baroness also built the building that now houses the American Embassy in Paris

  8. Thanks for visiting, Thomas - I can imagine that you had great views and a great time at the Pontalba, and now great memories.

    I understand that the American Embassy in Paris, built by the Baroness, was originally a hotel - it must have been grand!

  9. I do imagine that the elaborate balconies reflect the Baronesses time spent in Paris. What a lovely place to sit out and have morning coffee or an aperitif before dinner.

  10. Hi, Rosemary - Or one could walk downstairs and be at the Café du Monde in just a moment — it's only yards away.

  11. What a fascinating building. I'm not sure what the exterior is. Is it stucco? It reminds me of the Palais Royale square in Paris. I wonder what the apartments are like? I assume they have high ceilings and such.

  12. Hi, Terry - The detail is not showing up well in any of the photos, but the Pontalba Buildings are made of red brick. Look at the height of those windows — you just know the ceilings have to be about 12 feet high!