The Orleans Ballroom Celebrates 200-year Anniversary

Historic Orleans Ballroom

The Bourbon Orleans Hotel, located at 717 Orleans St., directly behind St. Louis Cathedral, captivates visitors with its rich, 200-year history, including being one of the most architecturally significant buildings of its time; a nexus for 19th-century social culture and an opulent ballroom where quadroon ladies were introduced to Creole gentlemen; a courthouse; a convent for a Catholic order of free women of color; and now a luxuriously renovated hotel in the heart of the French Quarter.

The Orleans Ballroom was built in 1817 by architect and contractor William Brand, following the design of an earlier classical ballroom built by Henry Latrobe, which burned the prior year. The edifice connected to The Théâtre d’Orléans, the city’s largest playhouse presenting French dramas seated 1,300 Creole patrons.

The ballroom’s atmosphere was elegant, embellished by romantic murals and ornate crystal chandeliers. Its original Roman Doric columns, archways, French doors with transoms and grand staircase are still visible in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Orchestras would play in both the theater and the ballroom where social, military and masquerade balls were held for a half century and patrons could “drift from one to the other without pause,” according to historian Henry Kmen. “Everyone agrees these balls made the capitals of Europe envious.”

The ballroom’s storied past includes being a location for quadroon balls. At the turn of the 19th century, an abundance of well-bred ladies who left Saint-Domingue after the 1791-1804 slave revolt emigrated to New Orleans. Beautiful and exotic women with one-quarter African-American blood often sought to establish domestic relationships with wealthy planters. With their mothers as chaperones, they were introduced at “quadroon balls.” Creole gentlemen would, in turn, provide housing and support for the women and their children in the socially accepted practice called “plaçage.”

Henriette Delile, founder of Sisters of the Holy Family Convent, was born of a Frenchman and a placée. She had already lived the life of a kept woman and lost two babies before choosing the religious life. Along with her friends, Juliette Gaudin and Josephine…

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