Micaela Almonester was born in New Orleans of Spanish and French descent in 1795. At the age of 16 she was married in St. Louis Cathedral to her second cousin, whose father had become French Napoleonic nobility.
From then on she was caught between two worlds, Louisiana and France. Her dramatic tale is ﬁlled with great wealth and great tragedy. It speaks to her resilience and her incredible talent – a highly intuitive eye for architecture that resulted in today’s landmark Pontalba Buildings on Jackson Square.
Her father, Don Andrés Almonester, was the preeminent New Orleans philanthropist of the late 18th century. After the 1788 ﬁre, he started the transformation of Jackson Square by providing the funds to rebuild the Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral and the Presbytère.
Sixty years later, the Baroness de Pontalba created two iconic Pontalba Buildings. This, along with her father’s earlier contributions, produced one of the most important architectural ensembles in the nation.
The heart of our city, Jackson Square, can be credited to two individuals: the Baroness, for her namesake apartments, and her generous father for enabling the rebuilding of the Cabildo, Presbytère, and St Louis Cathedral after the 1788 fire. The Baroness de Pontalba also inspired the transformation of the muddy military parade ground, once known as the Place d’Armes, into the beautiful Jackson Square, which is to this day the most iconic and visited part of Louisiana.
The exhibition, The Baroness de Pontalba and the Rise of Jackson Square, to open at the Historic Cabildo (701 Chartres Street), will feature our baroness’s family treasures, publicly exhibited for the first time from the Pontalba’s ancestral château located about forty miles north of Paris. Ball guests will be the first to see Micaela’s official portrait from the Chateau. Other items will include: 19th-century Odiot silver; crystal; bronze doré objects; and white and gold Sèvres porcelain, all bearing the Almonester-Pontalba family crest, and elaborately scripted family initials similar to the monogram that adorns the cast-iron balustrades on the galleries of our Pontalba Buildings.
The Ball will feature a fabulous feast, exquisite period-inspired cocktails and entertainment reminiscent of the parties that our Baroness Micaela de Pontalba held in her Paris mansion, which she built on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Today, this property serves as the official residence of the United States Ambassador to France and is still known as the Hôtel de Pontalba.
Guests will be encouraged to attend in late-18th-century to mid-19th-century attire, recalling the days of Don Almonester and the Baroness, or today’s black tie and ball gowns.