When one thinks about balls in New Orleans, it’s almost always related to Mardi Gras, and that usually meant the Municipal Auditorium with its grand facade and remembrances of tableaux and call-outs, and the big finale at midnight on Shrove Tuesday with the meeting of Rex and Comus to officially end the Mardi Gras season. It was, indeed, a grand setting.
It was only fitting that the Justice For All Ball (JFAB) have ‘a grand setting’ to create a similar sense of pomp and circumstance. It’s no surprise that Gallier Hall with its deep historic connections to the grandeur of Mardi Gras was selected for the first JFAB. Designed in a Greek Revival style by prominent architect, James Gallier, Sr, it served as City Hall for over a century, witnessing history from the Civil War, through both World Wars, and the Korean War. If walls could talk, just imagine the conversation one might have with Gallier Hall.
The Justice For All Ball favored Gallier Hall because it was close to the various courts, and the many law firms and lawyers that volunteered their time to The Pro Bono Project. It was also, conveniently, right across the street from the Louisiana Bar Center, where The Project was housed for many years.
It was sometimes a daring feat to survive the evening of the Ball, as people climbed up and down the stairs in ball gowns and high heels to seek out food, drinks, desserts, raffle items, and music. It was indeed a grand setting for the JFAB until Hurricane Katrina turned the city topsy-turvy, causing the cancellation of JFAB 2005.
With the city deep in the Katrina aftermath, the 2006 JFAB was moved to City Park’s Pavilion of Two Sisters, returning to Gallier Hall for the next two years. Although Katrina did not damage Gallier Hall in the same way as many other buildings in the downtown area, the volunteer attorney base had grown far beyond the boundaries of the Central Business District.
In 2010, the JFAB Committee opted to look at other venues that could accommodate the growing attendance, offer the convenince of easy access and parking, and which still provided ‘a grand setting’ in which to hold the Ball. After an exhaustive search, the Audubon Tea Room was chosen. With the exception of JFAB 2015, which was held at the Saints’ and Pelicans’ Training Complex, the JFAB has made its home at the ATR.
In planning the JFAB 2018, the 30th Anniversary Ball, there was talk of perhaps holding this year’s Ball back at Gallier Hall. Restoration had been underway since part of the building exterior crashed onto the front steps in 2014, with the main interior renovations kicking off in 2016.
Then Mayor Mitch Landrieu wanted to have this shining architectural and historic jewel fully restored in time for New Orleans’ Tricentennial Celebration in 2018. After much consideration over whether the restoration would be completed on time, The Project abandoned the idea of JFAB 2018 at Gallier Hall, and opted to remain at the Tea Room for this milestone celebration.
Once thing is for certain - no matter where the JFAB is held - whether Gallier Hall, the Audubon Tea Room, or any other venue in the metro area - for the evening of the Ball, it is ‘a grand setting.’
Photo Stack & Grid: Gallier Hall and Audubon Tea Room grand settings from 2007-2009, 2010-2014, 2016-2017. Photos by: Joanna Broussard, Robert Fleischmann, George Long, Walt Pierce, Marianne Sabrier, Steve Sabrier; Invitation Art by Lee Tucker and Terrance Osborne