Built in the 1840s, the Pontalba Apartments are two matching four-story red brick buildings that overlook two sides of Jackson Square. The buildings are named for Baroness Micaëla Almonester Pontalba, the only child of Don Andres Almonaster y Rojas, a leader of one of the oldest Creole families in New Orleans. Micaëla Almonaster was born in 1795, and upon her father’s death, became sole heiress to his fortune. Baroness Pontalba purchased land on the upriver and downriver sides of Jackson Square where she constructed the two buildings in a French, Creole and Greek revival style at a cost of more than $300,000. The building fronting Rue St Peter, upriver from Jackson Square, is the Upper Pontalba, and the building on the other side, fronting Rue St Ann, is the Lower Pontalba.
The Pontalba family retained ownership of the buildings until the 1920s, but did not take an interest in the townhouses and they fell into disrepair. The Pontalba heirs sold the lower building to local philanthropist William Ratcliffe Irby, who in turn bequeathed the property to the Louisiana State Museum. Local civic leaders acquired the upper building, which they sold to a foundation in 1930, the Pontalba Building Museum Association. The association then turned the upper building over to the city of New Orleans, which has owned it since. The Pontalba Apartments were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
Today, the ground floors house shops and restaurants, and the upper floors contain apartments that are the oldest continuously rented apartments in the United States. Prominent residents and guests of the apartments include William Faulkner, Somerset Maugham, Edna St Vincent Millay, Sherwood Anderson, Thornton Wilder, Booth Tarkington, and Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind.
Baroness Micaëla de Pontalba
Micaëla Leonarda Antonia Almonester (1795-1874) was the daughter of Andrés Almonester y Roxas, a wealthy landowner and native of Spain, and Louise de la Ronde, a New Orleanian.
In 1811, she married her cousin, Joseph Célestin Delfau de Pontalba, without having met him until about three weeks before the wedding. Soon afterward, the couple moved to the Pontalba family estate at the Château Mont-L’Evêque near the town of Senlis, fifty miles north of Paris. The marriage was not a happy one, complicated by arguments over Micaëla’s substantial inheritance.
This painting was commissioned circa 1835 from an unknown artist in Paris after the Baroness had survived an attack on her life by her father-in-law. At the time, she had at least one bullet lodged in her chest and was two missing fingers. The Baroness eventually separated from her husband and returned to New Orleans.
In the late 1840s, the Baroness developed her property on the Place d’Armes, supervising much of the construction personally. The result was the Pontalba buildings that flank Jackson Square. Completed in 1851, the hybrid English- and French-style apartment buildings, along with a refurbished square, transformed the old center of the city.
Mrs. Emma Hoft Ronstrom donated the painting to the Cabildo Louisiana State Museum.