James Gallier, Sr. and his son designed the historic Pontalba Buildings for the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, who had them built in 1849 in an effort to combat the deterioration of the older part of the city. The rows of townhouses on either side of Jackson Square were the largest private buildings in the country at the time. Legend has it that the baroness, miffed that her friend Andrew Jackson wouldn’t tip his hat to her, had his statue erected in the square where to this day he continues to doff his chapeau toward her top-floor apartment. It’s probably not true, but we never stand in the way of a good story.
Here, the Louisiana State Museum presents a demonstration of life in 1850, when the buildings opened for residential use. The self-guided tour uses a fact-filled sheet explaining the history of the interior. Period furnishings show how the rooms were typically used. It vividly illustrates the difference between the upstairs portion of the house, where the upper-middle-class family lived in comfort (and the children, largely confined to a nursery, were raised by servants), and the downstairs, where the staff toiled in considerable drudgery to make their bosses comfortable. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable look at life in the good, or not so good, old days.