1850 house

Our Yesteryear councilwoman Jackie Clarkson calls the French Quarter “our front porch” and as much as I hate to agree with her, I do sometimes find it impossible to counter everything she says. That statement I agreed with (it is a miracle, but it is still possible we mean it in very different ways. That is how I comfort myself.)

So to continue the marketing, the front porch of the front porch is Jackson Square. What remains amazing about the Square is even with all of the rules and regs that go along with good preservation,  “new” still shows up there every once in a while. New art appears on the fence (I didn’t say it was all good art), young musicians show up to replace those now recording and appearing elsewhere and trust me- a new hustle is coming sooner or later from those unwashed over there.

In many ways, Jackson Square is the most modern of places. So, when you walk in a door and head upstairs to see the 1850 House, you might enjoy the juxtaposition.

It’s one of 3 museums on the square and certainly the most invisible one. Found in the middle of the Lower Pontalba block, you pay your small fee and are quite courteously shown the stairs to go up and reminded to take pictures and left alone to do that (well except for the cameras keeping track on every floor).

The stairwell pictured is theirs. I took the picture, because it is certainly a typical stair for the French Quarter, but probably not for any other citizen of the city. Unevenly worn treads and the smooth bannister tells you this has seen some folks.

1850 House Pontalba

What is amusing is the central air vents strewn carelessly around the room and the mechanics to manage the system groaning between the “gentleman’s bedroom” and the large back bedroom; Also amusing are the odd little placards explaining what you are looking at:; for the most part, certainly dated with very basic information. What is very nice are the stories of the first tenants of the building: I learned a great deal about the type of resident these apartments attracted and their businesses in New Orleans (first) heyday. I wish someone would find out what happened after mid 1860s in these rooms, but maybe if we start to climb those stairs more regularly and ask, they’ll tell us more.

The Cammacks-1853-1856

I liked the back stairs the best with the view of the courtyard. I stood back there for a few minutes, enjoying the sounds from the square but really feeling the lack of activity in this house (really not a house at all anymore). For now the lights go off at 5:30 pm and the door is shut. No families, no mourning, no dinner at the table. Just history.

I wonder who was the last person to live in this building and when. One of those immigrants when it became a “slum” (as alluded to in the language) could tell us a thing or two about life in the 20th century. Any museums for that? I might enjoy a walk through that time too.

The Grand Duchess thinks about the Baroness

Over the last few weeks, there has been a back and forth about the Lower Pontalba rent prices. As many of you know, the Pontalba apartments are among the oldest in the country, having been built as apartments by Baroness Pontalba in the 1850s. As I have written before, you can see the inside of one by going to the 1850 museum in the middle of the lower block. It’s a self-guided tour with an apartment set up as it would have been in the 1850s (maybe they lived without the groaning a/c) and has some plaques explaining some of the family history of those who lived there then. The city manages the uptown side of things and this management falls under the French Market Corporation which has been having its own upheaval recently.
Rental prices are being debated for these treasures, since the councilwoman  has found out that they are rented well below the market rate for apts like that AND should be primary dwellings, which anyone who spends any time on the Square can tell you few are. Lights are generally on at most of them only a few days a year, and I assume you know which days I am referring. CM Palmer has also found out that they of course are rented to very prominent people at these lucky rates. However, in all likelihood, a few rents will increase but things will go on the same for most people there. The truth is that at market rate, few people who live in New Orleans full-time can afford it.
Although I would love to have stopped and sat on a particular sunny balcony to chat with the Grand Duchess to hear her views personally, I knew she was leaving for a hurried trip to the Middle East this very week. I instead left a message on her machine that I looked forward to talking with her on this subject when she returned. A suspicion that she enjoys my offer to publish her views was confirmed with the speed of her reply: within a day a call came from her live-in, Maude. Miss Maude told me the GD had sat down and written something as she was leaving and handed it to her, asking her to call me to read it. Miss Maude apologized before starting as her sight is not what it was and “with the intricate handwriting…”
but I suspect she just about got it word for word .
“So Miss Dar, here is what she says”:
Residing at the Pontalba is a privilege. 1/4 of these to be set aside for long-term employees of the stores below and/or those who work at Cafe DuMonde and should cost 1/4 of their monthly rate of pay.
She also says:
Those who get this privilege should have the good sense to have loads of parties and invite artists and dancers and musicians and serve excellent food and strong liquor and let the friendly noise drift over the Square… And to festoon their balconies with lovely crepe paper and greenery, changed every season of course. Also, as it should be remembered that crime is an issue in our village, one dweller should act as the block captain for 6 months at a time. This captain should walk through the Square weekly, noting any broken or missing valuables. They should chat with the eyes of the square (artists, musicians and sun seekers) discussing their concerns as well.
P.S. And all should remember to take a strong cup of coffee outside every morning and drink it gratefully with a silent nod to our dear Baroness. Our own Micaela who always chose gaiety over decorum and would do it again if she could….

Your health,
Duchess.