The Ustica Connection

Newsletter of the San Bartolomeo Society Apostolo of New Orleans
Issue 2 - 26 December 2001

Commander's Palace:
A Camarda Family Legacy
By Chris Caravella

Commander's Palace Restaurant
Commander's Palace Restaurant has been a New Orleans tradition for nearly 120 years. A trip to New Orleans is hardly complete without sampling the award-winning cuisine set in a lush Victorian building in the heart of the Garden District. The Brennan family deserves ample credit for the restaurants current success, but the enduring popularity of the restaurant is a testament to the institution's founder, Emile Commander. Emile was a first-generation Usticese-American and his family achieved great success in various grocery, shipping, saloon and restaurant ventures. In the 1880's, Emile had the vision and good fortune to establish a saloon in the prosperous “American” sector of the city. In short time, Commander's Palace evolved into a fine restaurant attracting the wealthy families of the neighborhood as well as gourmets from around the world. That tradition has continued through time and multiple changes in ownership.

Emile Commander
Emile Commander was born in New Orleans on September 4, 1857, the first son of Peter Commander and Josephine Venuti. His birth bears the distinction of being the first recorded birth in the New Orleans civil records to an Usticese parent. Peter Commander immigrated from Ustica to New Orleans in 1852. Though the actual passenger list has not been found, this surely represents one of the earliest movements of people from Ustica to New Orleans. On July 14, 1856, a marriage license was issued to Peter and Josephine. They would also have two other sons, Anthony and Charles J Commander.

Peter Commander was born Pietro Camarda in Ustica on January 1, 1831. At some point, he changed his last name from Camarda to Commander, probably to accommodate his rising prominence within the American community. The new name was a logical choice because it was an English word and the two names are phonetically similar. Peter was the second son of Carmelo Camarda, a native of Palermo, and Rosa Bertucci, who were married in Ustica on August 30, 1827. Carmelo and Rosa also had another son, Biaggio, and two daughters, Angela and Lucia. Biaggio came to New Orleans with Pietro in 1852 and by 1880, Angela had also come to the city. This immigration to America essentially led to a quick end of the Camarda line in Ustica, but established an impressive lineage in America, which continues to this day.

All documentation used to establish the genealogical lineage of the Camarda family will be submitted to the Italian-American Renaissance Foundation in New Orleans and the Study and Documentation Center in Ustica. Both of these institutions serve as libraries of our common heritage.

Pietro Camarda

(Photo credits: Commander's Palace Restaurant - Chris Caravella, portraits of Emile and Pietro Camarda - obituaries in The Daily Picayune, 1906 and 1905 respectively)