Mobile Navigation Menu

Field Trip Friday! The Seignouret-Brulatour Building

For this installment of Field Trip Fridays, I went back to the Historic New Orleans Collection to view a very special exhibit.

The Courtyard at the Seignouret-Brulatour Building. Photo taken by author, 1/24/2020

Back in May 2019, the Historic New Orleans Collection opened up a brand new building to the public. This three story entresol Creole townhouse, called The Seignouret-Brulatour Building was built in 1816 for a furniture importer named Francois Seignouret. In 1870, the building was sold to wine merchant Pierre Brulatour. From 1950-1997 this old building housed New Orleans’ local channel 6, WDSU. In 2006, the building was purchased by the Historic New Orleans Collection with the hopes of turning it into another exhibit hall. A major renovation that spanned almost 15 years at a cost of $38 million added 35,000 square feet of exhibit space. If you have some time, I found this architecture material analysis conducted by Cypress Conservation LLC. Check it out Here.

Once inside this free museum, there are some wonderful permanent exhibits that are great places to start to get learning about various aspects of New Orleans history. A collection of maps tells the story of our humble beginnings as a small defensive port city on the mighty Mississippi River, surrounded by wilderness. Starting in the next room, one finds assorted artifacts of culture, classified by themes such as Transportation, Architecture, Arts, Theater, etc. You already know I have to share some architecture pictures below:

French Opera House by Marie Adrien Persac. Photo taken by author, 1/24/2020.
St. Louis Hotel by Nathaniel Cortland Curtis, Sr. Photo taken by author, 1/24/2020.
US Customhouse by Boyd Cruise. Photo taken by author, 1/24/2020.

I could have spent the whole afternoon looking at all of these fascinating pieces that contribute to the culture of New Orleans, but I was on a mission to see a very special  temporary exhibit – The New Orleans Drawings of Gaston Pontalba, 1848-1851. Any guest touring in the French Quarter is told the tragic tale of Madame Micaela Almonester Pontalba, an incredible woman whose story starts as a Creole heiress in New Orleans, follows her to France where she is the wife of a baron and almost killed by her jealous father in law, and her triumphant return to New Orleans where she financed the iconic brick Pontalba Buildings that flank our most famous park – Jackson Square.

Gaston Pontalba was Micaela’s youngest son and he arrived in the city with his mother in 1848, smack dab in the middle of one of the city’s most prosperous building eras. At this time, the city was expanding along the river from the earliest borders (now the French Quarter) to the upriver City of Lafayette (currently the Garden District and Irish Channel) and downriver to the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods.

While in town he sketched and painted many of the buildings and cityscapes that he saw. Some of the buildings that are captured in his work are the St. Charles Hotel (designed by James Gallier, Sr., now demolished) St. Augustine Church (designed by J.N. B. dePouilly 1842), and St. Louis Cathedral (his drawing is of the old Spanish Colonial Era cathedral, designed by Gilberto Guillemard, 1795, instead of the current cathedral designed by the above mentioned dePouilly in 1847).

Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, and Presbytère;  – No photography is allowed in the gallery, this picture came from
Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, and Presbytere – 170 years later. Photo taken by author, 2018.

I love to study “before/after” pictures of buildings and city-scapes and the HNOC didn’t let me down – they provided interactive exhibits that included iPads with a fun feature that overlaid a photo of the current scene over the sketches of Gaston, giving us a great chance to learn about how time has changed these areas.

These long lost drawings were recently found at the Pontalba family home of Mont-l’Évêque in France and were allowed to come home to be viewed by locals and tourists alike in the Historic New Orleans Collection museum. How lucky we are to get a chance to see them in New Orleans!!

Be sure to act fast: Gaston Pontalba’s drawings will only be on display until February 2nd.