Nola 300: The Baroness Pontalba brought the ‘panache of Paris’ to the French Quarter

NEW ORLEANS -- There are few things as intricate as the ironwork you see in Jackson Square and around the French Quarter, and it's all thanks to a woman who just like the iron, went through fire before she could shine.

That woman was Lady Micaela Almonaster, the Baroness Pontalba.

"The Baroness Pontalba is one of the most interesting women in New Orleans history," historian Dr. Patricia Brady explains.

In 1769, the Spanish had control over the city, with one emerging capitalist making a fortune. That man was the baroness' father.

"Her father was the one who gave the money to build the Cabildo, the Presbyterian church and the Cathedral," Brady says.

When Micaela was of age, she was married to her cousin, and as she quickly learned, "her father-in-law was nuts."

He tormented her for years in an effort to gain control of her fortune, eventually taking out a dueling pistol and shooting her four times.

"Her chest was mutilated. The finger was shot off one of her hands," Brady says.

Micaela survived, and after the shooting, her deranged father-in-law was out of the picture. His son became the baron, making Micaela the Baroness. The marriage didn't last, though, and Micaela was able to take back control of her money.

That's when she transformed the French Quarter with her imagination.

"New Orleans was colonial and a little old-fashioned looking, and all of a sudden she brought all of the panache of Paris here," Brady says. "The French Quarter was not the French Quarter until everybody followed the style by putting on the cast iron in front."

As you can see by the French Quarter today, her influence transcended her lifetime.