When looking for somewhere to hold a gala inspired by “Downton Abbey,” the incredibly popular television show only shown in the United States on PBS stations, Robin Cooper, Vice President of Development for WYES-TV, the local PBS affiliate, says, “There was no hesitancy,” when the Montgomery-Grace House on St. Charles Avenue was offered. The Edwardian home may predate the period in which the TV show takes place, but she says, “The interior has some wonderful aspects that evoked the era perfectly.”
Most decisions on taking the house from a home to the location of a gala were made collaboratively by the committee composed of chairmen Ransdell and William Prieur, Margaret and Pierre Villere II and Tommy Westervelt, along with WYES staff, especially Cooper, and decorations chairs Will Erickson and Patricia Brinson.
When creating a gala in someone’s home, Cooper says, “Do your homework. Learn the house as well as you can – the plusses it affords as well as the challenges that it presents. Utilize the strong points as much as you can and take the time to figure out how to address the challenges.”
She continues, “Consult the homeowners and work within their comfort zone; one of the main things to remember is that the gala is in someone’s home. Make sure you respect their property and leave it just as you found it.”
“Because we didn’t change the look of the house,” Prieur say, “it looked as elegant as it always does.
The catering was handled by the Windsor Court and was centered in the main dining room so that guests could circle and mingle. “The dining room table has never looked more colorful and delicious,” Prieur says.
Ransdell Prieur had a few concerns as ticket sales skyrocketed: fitting everyone while finding the right balance between too crowded and too empty; the cold and freezing rain that came down right before the gala; and ensuring that there were enough bars and bartenders.
“The only changes that were needed were the staging and tents in the side yard,” says Cooper. As the freezing rain began to fall and there was some leakage in the tents, “We reconfigured pieces of the tent and added sides where they weren’t planned,” says Prieur. “We added a total of three heaters, including one very last-minute. During setup, we did as much as we could in covered areas then moved outside as late as possible. And we encouraged coats – New Orleanians always need an excuse to wear our minks!”
Unfortunately the beautiful tables, above, were left out in the cold. But the sounds of Deacon John, top right, kept costume-clad guests warm as they danced the evening away.
“The crystal chandelier in the tent and the chandeliers hanging from the oak trees in the yard were some of the details that I especially appreciated,” Cooper says. “Some guests thought the Cigar Room was tops while others enjoyed the lounge area by the band and dance floor – there was something for everyone.”
The favorite moment of the evening for both Cooper and Prieur was seeing the attendees arrive in period attire inspired by “Downton Abbey,” “dressing as both ‘upstairs and downstairs’ and covering all the different looks of the show,” Prieur says. “It added such an important detail that made the night even more memorable,” adds Cooper.