Founders and Fêtes

Remembering the Past

Shortly before 9 p.m. on a recent Saturday in the historic Cabildo, Dane Rhodes, costumed as a herald, stepped forward to welcome attendees to the tricentennial close-out, the celebration of the inaugural Founders Ball of the Louisiana Museum Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum, and the opening of the museum’s new exhibition, “The Baroness de Pontalba and the Rise of Jackson Square.” It was curated by Randolph Delehanty, Ph.D. Rhodes then turned to foundation President Melissa Douglass Steiner, joined by husband Jerry, who thanked the underwriters and sponsors: Mrs. H. Mortimer Favrot Jr. (Kay — the top sponsor), the Eugenie and Joseph Jones Family Foundation, Jeremy Corkern, of Jeremy Corkern Studio, the Goldring Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. T. Semmes Favrot, Hancock Whitney, IberiaBank, Mr. and Mrs. Murray A. Calhoun, and the Zetzmann Family Foundation.

President Steiner continued with special thanks to the ball’s co-chaircouples, the above Catherine and Semmes Favrot and Caroline and Murray Calhoun; the museum foundation's staff and volunteers; and Louisiana State Museum interim director Steven Maklansky. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser then spoke. Herald Dane Rhodes next read a tribute summarizing the legacy of the Almonester-Pontalba ancestral family’s contributions to the city of New Orleans and the current contributions, and then thanked all the Pontalba family members in attendance. They were Charles-Edouard and Isabelle, Baron and Baroness Delfau de Pontalba (and recipients of a gift by photographer Richard Sexton); son Pierre de Pontalba; and the baron’s sister, Marie-Victoire de Pontalba de Coulange, and spouse Albéric, Count de Coulange, along with their daughters, Anne-Victoire and Sixtine Viguié-Desplaces. Works of art were loaned from the family chateau in Mont-l’Eveque, France, for the exhibition, which, as was the ball, was dedicated to the late Christine Vella, author of “Intimate Enemies: The Two Worlds of the Baroness de Pontalba.”

Because the purpose of the new Founders Ball is to acknowledge notable historic families who enriched our state, it was fitting to hail the Almonester-Pontalba legacy, which started with a father, Don Andres Almonester, New Orleans’ first philanthropist, and his formidable daughter, the above-mentioned Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba, of Spanish and French colonial heritage. Micaela’s mother was Louise de la Ronde, also of an important colonial Louisiana family.

Consul General of France Vincent Sciama, accompanied by wife Yuan yuan, and Candice Nancel, of the U.S. Embassy in Paris, made remarks before the closure of the “Petite Cérémonie.”

Earlier in the evening, and to the delight of countless ballgoers, French Quarter residents and tourists, a procession ensued from the Lower Pontalba apartment, where the Baron and Baroness were staying, to the Cabildo. Principals included Semmes Favrot, wearing an authentic reproduction Spanish Colonial uniform worn by his ancestor, Captain Don Pedro (Pierre) Favrot; Pontalba liaison Peter Patout, as Gen. Andrew Jackson; and troops of costumed re-enactment soldiers, who escorted the seven Pontalba members, all in stunning period array. At the Cabildo, State Museum board Chairwoman Anne Redd and Steven Maklansky welcomed the Pontalbas to the Founders Ball.

Features of the elegant ball were myriad and included lighting effects, stunning décor, abundant roses and costumed attendees; cuisine by Antoine’s, Brennan’s, chef Adolfo Garcia, and the Country Club; “Champagne Sabering”; satsuma Old-Fashioneds and other drinks; and a small silent auction of high-end items with two antique wine bottles bearing the Almonester seal that were donated by the Baron de Pontalba. Tapped to entertain were the Polymnia Quartet and the all-female, electrified Virtuosa Quartet, who started with period melodies and segued into modern hits.

Relishing all the thrills were Count Laurent de Clouet, a cousin of the Favrot family from Bordeaux, France), Tia and Jimmy Roddy, Andrew Holman, Basi and Michael Carbine, Tommy Westervelt, Liz and Henry Hefler, Kathy and Robert Zetzmann, Ellen and Mark Zetzmann, Bill and Mary Hines, Mary Cavanaugh, Renee and Hillary Carrere, Caitlin and Hyder Brewster, Dana and Steve Hansel (in memory of Molly Mangham Douglass), Mrs. Philip Breitmeyer II (Julie), Kristine and Rivers Lelong, Grover and Bitsie Werlein Mouton, Louisiana Museum Foundation executive director Susan Maclay, Gay LeBreton and James Farwell, Odom B. Heebe Jr. and Lois Van Kirk and Jay, one of the dozens of de la Ronde descendants.

The Tennis Ball

Members gathered with annual enthusiasm for the 142nd anniversary party of the New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club, which began at 6 p.m. with a reception hosted by club President Scott Howard, who was joined by Janet. Held immediately prior to the general “member” party, the reception honored past tennis club presidents and the board of governors and their spouses. In those numbers were immediate past President Eric Holden with Lisa, Vice President Dr. Claude Williams IV with Dr. Laurie, Secretary Robert Redfearn with Cheryl, Treasurer John Jeremiah with Lisa and board members Judge Karen Herman, Patrick Summerour and Leo Congemi with respective spouses Stephen, Dana and Jane.

Then it was on to the main merriment and its two floors of activity. All the while, everyone enjoyed cuisine by Saffron Nola and such taste treats as bisque, salad, herb-crusted beef tenderloin, chicken Saffron Biryani, and, on the ground floor, an array of desserts, including sticky toffee pudding cake and tiramisu. “It’s my absolute favorite,” said a member who makes for the tiramisu station every year.

Paul LaCour did the eye-catching decorations of large gold ornaments; Santa’s elves, which were suspended from the ballroom’s vaulted ceiling; and lighted swags of garlands centered with Christmas wreaths.

Within the party pack were David and Amy Browne, Nicolas and Natalie Perkin, Richard and Mary Martin Roth, Rhett and Madhavi King, Sergei and Sarah Hillery, Eric and Meghan DeRoche, Dr. Fred and Ivy Kushner, Dr. Pablo and Renee Labadie, Rivers and Kristine Lelong and John and Machelle Payne. They and the other couples received tennis club cocktail glasses as party souvenirs.

Not only is it a fun social event but a major dancing one, as well. Lured by the beat of Deacon John and the Ivories, throngs hastened to the dance floor, where such numbers as “Iko, Iko” made night moves mandatory.

Feliz Navidad

The Oak and Maple ballrooms of the Metairie Country Club were alive with Yuletide energy, thanks to the Sociedad Española Christmas Banquet, which was personalized with a large Spanish flag draped over the award table. Also, the Sociedad Española emblem was prominently displayed on red fabric with black trim. With nods to the season, a slew of Christmas trees and thousands of sparkling lights gave the impression of a winter wonderland. Added touches were red poinsettias and votive candles that topped the table and decorated the ballrooms.

During the cocktail hour, the ladies enjoyed learning the Language of the Fan (and took home party gifts of fans as mementos). For the dinner, the menu was seafood gumbo, fish or chicken, ravioli and crème brulée.

Congratulations flowed after Dot Benge was recognized as the recipient of the Sociedad Española Award in recognition of her service to the preservation of Spanish Louisiana, her presidency of Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society, and her donation of property to expand and develop Los Isleños Museum Complex.

Notable attendees included Dr. Gustavo and Vivian Coutin, Dr. Alfredo and Helene Lopez (recently returned from Salamanca, Spain), Michael Harold, Cuqui Moore, Ashley Pradel (granddaughter of the late Juanita Pradel, a longtime SE member), Lil and Gerardo Viera, Bertha and Francisco Merchan, Graziela and Andima Ayerdi, Maria and Ramon Vallejo, Miriam and Andres Rodriguez (back recently from El Ferrol, Spain), Dr. Eileen Doll, William de Marigny Hyland, Michael Benge with honoree Dot, Denise and Thomas Benge, Patricia Camille O’Toole and Joan Pizzolatto. Some of their conversation concerned the visit months ago of the King and Queen of Spain, who came as part of the city’s tricentennial celebration. “Feliz Navidad” also was roundly expressed, as was “Merry Christmas.”

When it was time to heed the musical summons, the Sociedad set headed to the floor to move to the beat of Julio y Cesar.