Looking for 'Typical'
A 'typical' building in the 'business
In Paris' 'Business District'
Paris:- Wednesday, 23. April 2003:- A reader recently wrote to complain that there are no photos in Metropole of a 'typical' building in Paris' 'business district.' At first I did not treat this issue seriously. There might be as many as 12,000 other photos in the magazine, mostly of 'typical' Paris.
Many of the scenes depicted are not 'typical' at all, except that they are in Paris. You could say that 'typical' in Paris means about the same thing as 'unique.' There is very little here made with a cookie-cutter.
Still, I have to remember why this magazine is - its reason for being. It is to show and tell about Paris as it is right now, and if there are 'typical' parts of it, these should be shown too.
So I've been asking around. I put the question about 'typical' to Dimitri. He has written a book about architecture, he has lived here a long time, and he has looked at every part of Paris many times.
I find him in the café Le Bouquet, having cocktails of Côtes de Rhône before lunch. "Typical?" he mused. "What does it mean? Who looks for 'typical' here?"
Luckily - coincidence! - he is joined by a Monsieur who Dimitri says is an expert on the state of buildings about to fall down. Together, working on the word 'typical,' they decide the area of the Grands Boulevards may be the target, with the centre near the métro Richelieu-Drouot.
"The building with the columns," Dimitri starts, "Somewhere near the Rue Rossini." He thinks its interior was gutted, but the facade was saved.One of several wine bars in the Rue Drouot.
The demolition Monsieur suggests the big bank buildings in the area between the Boulevard des Italiens and the Boulevard Haussmann are 'typical.' The good Baron did a lot to make Paris 'typical' by destroying what had been 'typical' before. This was about 140 years ago and a lot of people haven't forgiven him yet.
Even though Paris' 'business district' is all over the place and not at all concentrated, I decide to focus on finding Dimitri's 'typical' building with columns, somewhere on the border of the 2nd and 9th arrondissements. Myself, I think I know it, and it is on the Boulevard des Italiens.
But when I come out of the métro at Richelieu-Drouot I find myself right beside the hulk of the BNP-Paribas building, located in the triangle formed by the Boulevard des Italiens and the Boulevard Haussmann.
In this location the first boulevard was formed in 1685, while the second was only completed in 1927, although it began in 1857 further west. It took 59 years to extend its final 250 metres from the Rue Taitbout - 36 years after the Baron's death.
This BNP-Paribas building is so 'typical' that it has no history. Yet an atypical might-have-been was sketched by the architect Letorey in 1893. Where the two boulevards were to meet, on paper, he envisioned a four-storied round building with a coupole, with overhead skywalks to luxury department stores on either side of the Richelieu-Drouot intersection.
Instead what you get is the sight of all the traffic coming west from the Boulevard Montmartre, splitting into the boulevards Haussmann and Italiens, and all the traffic coming out of the Rue Drouot trying to squeeze into the Rue de Richelieu, with a gaily-colored McDonald's like a red thumb on the corner.
I go up the Rue Drouot to look for the building with the columns in the Rue Rossini. The Rue Drouot is 317 metres long and it was put through part way in 1704, extended to the Rue de Provence in 1851, and was completed in 1858 when it reached the Rue La Fayette. The street might have been named after Count Antoine Drouot, who was involved in the battles of Wagram, Lützen and Hanau, and who accompanied Napoléon to Elba.The Mairie - the City Hall - of the 9th arrondissement.
On the left in 1709, there was a truck farm, owned by Pierre Crozat, who had a tunnel which cost him 10 livres per year, linking the farm to his hôtel on the south side of the boulevards. The building in place now was built in 1922, replacing a townhouse built around 1720, for the Marquis of Saint-Auban. In 1748 it became the property of Vincent de Gournay, who sold it in 1764 to Joseph Laborde. He rented it in 1780 to Béatrix de Choiseul-Stainville, Duchess of Gramont, sister of the Duke of Choiseul - who was beheaded in 1794 - together with his close friend, the Duchess of Châtelet.
The townhouse was taken over by the Viscount Morel de Vindé in 1819. The construction of the opera in the Rue Peletier in 1821 lopped off part of the garden. A passage from the Boulevard des Italiens to the opera was in turn lopped off in 1922 by the Boulevard Haussmann.
The history of the building plot across the street with the McDonald's on the street level is even longer. So I'll skip to number six, the Hôtel d'Augny, which now houses the Mairie of the 9th arrondissement. Oh no - its history is too long too!
Suffice to mention that General d'Augny bought the property from Joachim du Fayne de Rochepierre, to put up Baumenard - nicknamed 'Gogo' - of the Comédie-Française and Comique, who installed a merry-go-round and a dairy made out of marble.One of the typical shops in the Rue Drouot near the auction house.
In 1794, still in the d'Augny family, it became a party zone. After the fall of Robespierre, its 'Bals des Victimes' were popular. In order to be invited, one had prove that one's father, mother, wife, husband, brother or sister had been guillotined. The hôtel was sold in 1806 to Robillard for a tobacco factory, which in turn sold it to the manager of the Paris lottery, Jean Bernard.
This is where the 'Cercle des Etrangers' had its restaurant and gaming club, and carried merrily on after 1808, until gambling was suppressed in Paris at the end of 1836.
Then it was bought by Alexandre Aguado, who was a financial advisor to Fredinand VII of Spain. They did property deals in Paris together, Aguado was made Marquis de Las Marisamas de Guadalquivir, got French citizenship, was a patron of the opera, became mayor of Evry, and owner of Château-Margaux.
Unfortunately Aguado died young at 58, but left 50 million francs behind. The house, after passing through a few other corporate hands, was sold to the city in 1849 for 750,000 francs - and after 1860, it became the Mairie of the 9th arrondissement.
But above all else in the Rue Drouot is the auction house of the same name. This is now lodged in a perfectly modern and ugly building of glass, plastic, steel and cement - all of which are 'typical' for the late 20th century - but totally unremarkable, even considering the function of the building.
This was originally the Hôtel des Ventes, built between 1851 and 1858. The hat Napoléon wore during the Russian campaign, was sold here for 175 francs to the painter, Armand Dumarescq, on Tuesday, 1. August 1878.
The building started out on the property of the Grange-Bateliére farm, on which Hildebrand, the Bishop of Séez in Normandy, built a priory in 878 as a depot for the relics of Sainte-Opportune. In 1153, Louis VII gave the priory all the prairies and swamps between Ménilmontant and the Seine, from the Porte Saint-Antoine to Chaillot - not including of course - prairies and swamps that already belonged to the Bishop of Paris.
As you can easily imagine, the rest of the history is 850 years long. With the Vivien family holding on to a part of the property for over a century before selling part of it to the Pinon family, who kept it through thick and thin before selling it to the city in 1820 for 503,000 livres. For a while its hôtel was the Mairie of the 2nd arrondissement, and then it was rebuilt as an auction house.
Even though the present building is new it is still the Hôtel Drouot. The feeling of the street, which is lined with dusty shops selling rare stamps and other objects - in a window I see two lonely elephants' feet - the feeling is about the same as around the betting windows at the racetrack.In the Rossini, an antique dealer, but no building with columns.
People are trying to sell things for more than other people will pay, while buyers are doing the opposite, and it seems as if there is an air of everybody making a killing doing one or the other. To complete the scene, all the cafés and bars around advertise wine - this is not a crowd of beer-drinkers, but astute horse-traders.
I wander up the street to its end, looking for the building that housed the newspaper, Le Figaro, which used to have bells ring out the 'Barber of Seville' regularly. The building seems to be no longer present. It was here, on Monday, 16. March 1914, that the wife of a government minister, Henriette Caillaux, killed Gaston Calmette, director of the paper.
On the way back I turn off to the left to get a good look at the Rue Rossini. Since it is only, now, 50 metres long - 213 metres of it have disappeared! - its history is short. But it is named after the Italian composer. There are no 'typical' buildings with columns in it.
I am now sure the building Dimitri is thinking of is in the Rue des Italiens, so I cross Richelieu-Drouot and head west to the Rue de Gramont. Across the street at number 24 is the ex-Hôtel de Brancas, built by Bélanger in 1789 for the Count of Lauraguais, who became a duke after the noise of the Révolution and the first Empire settled.
This handsome building was owned in 1820 by the ex-wife of General Rapp and then Prince Nicolas Demidoff. His son Anatole married the Princess Mathilde Bonaparte in 1840. Before then, in 1825, comes Marie Fagniani - wife of the Prince or of his son? - the Marquise d'Hereford, mother of Lord Henry Seymore - who was not 'Milord l'Arsouille' as some people used to think Richard Wallace is also mentioned, but whether as tenant or husband, is unclear.
The good lady lived on the first floor and Lord Seymore on the second, which he transformed into an apartment with a 'salle d'arms' and a gymnasium. When he died young in 1859, he willed the building to Paris' Assistance Publique, who rented it out to foreign notables who liked the neighborhood.
The ground floor was rented by the Marquise to the Café de Paris, which occupied it from 1822 to 1856, for 12,000 francs a year. It was a very fancy place, frequented by Musset, Dumas, Balzac, Tattet and François Arago and many others. This 'temple of elegance' gave the title of 'boulevardier' to those admitted.
Because the rent was so low, the Marquise insisted that the place close at 10 in the evening during all seasons. This hardly mattered, because the Boulevard des Italiens was full of all sorts of other action - other grand cafés, the opera - it was the playground of 'tout Paris' at the time.Another wine restaurant in the Rue Drouot.
The city was attempting to revive this area, which is dominated by banks taking up entire blocks. I see that the development office is closed, but only a few doors away a toy shop has taken over an entire small passage, and restored it without wrecking it.
Number 24 was restored several years ago. Its interior was stripped out and replaced while its exterior was cleaned up and polished. It is now owned by BNP-Paribas, like the larger building to its right - the one first mentioned, above.
Judging by the other buildings around these boulevards and in the Rue Drouot, this one with the arches on the Boulevard des Italiens could be characterized as a 'typical' building, in a major Paris business district.
Actually, with its modest proportions, it is a bit too elegant to be truly 'typical.' Why pick some ugly old hulk? Maybe the uniformly-styled Haussmannian buildings in the Rue de Provence or the Rue La Fayette to the north are more 'typical,' but who cares?
The reader who pointed out the lack of photo of a 'typical' building in the business district also complained about the lack of a 'typical' street photo. Two complaints in one email are stretching it a bit, but you can tune in next week to see what has been chosen as a 'typical' street in Paris.
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