The Upper and Lower Pontalba Buildings, which line the St. Ann and St. Peter Street sides of Jackson Square, were built in 1850 by the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, the daughter of Don Andres Almonester y Roxas, the Spanish colonial landowner associated with the neighboring Cabildo, Cathedral and Presbytere. Inspired by the imposing Parisian architecture the Baroness favored, the distinctive rowhouses were intended to serve as both elegant residences and fine retail establishments. In 1921 the Pontalba family sold the Lower Pontalba Building to philanthropist William Ratcliff Irby who subsequently, in 1927, bequeathed it to the State Museum.
To illustrate the landmark's historical significance, the State Museum has re-created what one of the residences would have looked like during the Antebellum era when the Baroness Pontalba first opened her doors. Faithfully furnished with domestic goods, decorative arts and art of the period, the 1850 House depicts middle class family life during the most prosperous period in New Orleans' history. Limited docent- and curator-led tours are available as is self-directed viewing. The Louisiana State Museum's 1850 House is an antebellum row house furnished to represent life in mid-nineteenth-century New Orleans. It is located at 523 St. Ann Street on Jackson Square in the French Quarter.
Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, a New Orleans Creole whose father was a Spanish colonial official and whose husband was a French nobleman, determined both the form and the name for the buildings flanking Jackson Square. They stand as monuments to her shrewdness, resilience, and vision.
Baroness Pontalba engaged noted local architect James Gallier, Sr. to design the row houses, though she dismissed him before construction was begun, and she employed Samuel Stewart as the builder. She also convinced authorities to renovate the Square, Cabildo and Presbytere, and church authorities to enlarge the Cathedral. When the Pontalba buildings were completed in 1849 and 1851, each contained sixteen separate houses on the upper floors and self-contained shops on the ground floors. The "A and P" monograms that decorate the cast-iron railings signify the Almonaster and Pontalba families.
During the mid-19th century, the first floor of the Pontalba buildings housed businesses, including dry goods stores, clothing stores, law offices and even a bank and railroad company. Upstairs, you'll find the parlor, dining room and three bedrooms. The house also comprises a back wing (called the "kitchen building" in the builder's contract), which served a variety of purposes, including storage, additional workspace and housing for slaves or servants.
The Louisiana State Museum took possession of the building in 1927 and opened the 1850 House to the public in 1948.
Because residents of this row house were tenants who lived here for a few years at a time, the 1850 House does not represent any single family. Rather it reflects mid-nineteenth-century prosperity, taste, and daily life in New Orleans. Some pieces have a history of ownership in Louisiana, while local furniture shops made or sold others. The house comprises several revival styles that were popular in the 1850s, including rococo revival, Gothic revival, and classical revival.
- Old Paris porcelain
- New Orleans silver
- A six-piece bedroom suite, comprising a large half-tester bed, a duchesse or dressing table, two mirror-faced armoires, a washstand and a nightstand. Attributed to the warerooms of Prudent Mallard and made for Mrs. Magin Puig of 624 Royal.
- Other furnishings by William McCracken, J & JW Meeks, Sèvres, Bennington, and Cornelius & Baker
- Paintings by French-trained artists Jacques Amans, Jean Joseph Vaudechamp, Aimable Desire Lansot, François Bernard, who came to New Orleans in the early to mid 19th century.
City directories from the 1850s and the 1860 census show that many Pontalba heads of household were merchants who were affluent enough to afford to rent in one of New Orleans's most fashionable locations. Children, slaves and servants completed the Pontalba household. An average of nine residents occupied each dwelling.
Families who rented #8 St. Ann:
- Members of the Soria family were merchants who came to New Orleans from New York to take advantage of the vast economic opportunities here. Like the majority of Pontalba residents, the Sorias were slave owners, their slaves numbering between five and eight.
- Widow Amelia Zacharie Saul Cammack lived in the house with her son, Thomas Dixon Cammack, and three of her four daughters, Gertrude, Kate and Amelia. The family owned between three and seven slaves during their Pontalba residency. The arrangement of the living quarters roughly corresponds to the way the Cammacks lived from 1853 to 1856.
- William G. Hewes moved here in 1856 with his two daughters, Caroline and Anna, and five slaves. Hewes was president both of a bank and of the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western Railroad.