St. Louis Cathedral

During the French Quarter Fest I took a side trip into the St. Louis Cathedral. It’s a ubiquitous symbol that anchors the scene most associated with the city: what I call the “money shot” of Jackson Square taken from the Washington Artillery monument.

I’m not going into a full history of the cathedral at this point, but I will digress to show you the grave of one of two lay persons who is buried inside, Don Almonester y Roxas.

If there is any one to thank for giving New Orleans its visual identity it would be Don Almonester and his daughter, the Baroness Pontalba.

A Spanish nobleman, Almonester was a notary during the city’s Spanish colonial period who acquired many tracts of land in and on the outskirts of the city; said outskirts now being the core of the Esplanade/Bayou Road areas.

His acquisitions also included the blocks to the east and west of Jackson Square, known then in pre-Jacksonian days as the Plaza de Armas. He was granted these prime pieces of real estate in part to relieve the expenses of the young city; along with ownership of the land he was to be responsible for the expenses of maintaining the public square and the streets bounding it.

Long story short (for long story long, I cannot recommend enough reading Intimate Enemies, the story of the Baroness Pontalba’s ridiculously interesting life) Almonester became a great philanthropist, donating funds to establish hospitals, improve the St. Louis Cathedral and build the Cabildo and Presbytyre, which flank the cathedral. If you can read Spanish, a list of his accomplishments is on the tombstone above.

Rents from the buildings on the blocks bounding the Plaza de Armas and from lands in other parts of the city financed (and cursed) his daughter’s life after he died when she was a young girl. Again, long story short, read the book to learn about the many things happened in the Baroness’ life between the time her father died and the time she gained control of her fortune. Once she did have control of her fortune, which included the Jackson Square real estate, she razed the old buildings and erected two matching row house apartment buildings on either side.

This is the east Pontalba building, owned by the State Museum trust. The west building on the Canal Street side of the square is owned by the city and administered by the Vieux Carre Commission. The first floor spaces are commercial venues, there are residential spaces above. My source at the State Museum says the rents for the apartments are fairly reasonable considering (around $1000/month to start) and there is a 10 year waiting list to lease one.

So next time you’re in Jackson Square, take a look at what the Almonester family has contributed, and stop in the cathedral and say thanks to Don Almonester. He’s not going anywhere.

4 Responses to St. Louis Cathedral

  1. Stacey on April 17, 2008 at 7:20 am

    Hey learn something new every day. Well I kinda knew some of it…but not all. Especially the book. Will have to check that out!

  2. Lisa on April 17, 2008 at 7:21 am

    Oooh, thanks for the book suggestion, I haven’t read that.

    10 year wait list? So if I get my name on it now, I may have a shot at getting an apt. by the time we are ready to move down here?

  3. Nola on April 17, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Dammit. Another NOLA book to read. I will never have time to read all of it. What a great story. And those rents are CHEAP! How do I get on that wait-list??

  4. Pete on April 17, 2008 at 9:46 am

    For a peak at Intimate Enemies (the first few pages with a fascinating description of New Orleans in 1795) follow this tiny little url: http://tinyurl.com/5cwado

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *