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From the American Center to the Cinémathèque Française

Once the American Center, Now the Cinémathèque Française, Architecture by Frank Gehry

From the American Center to the Cinémathèque Française

Parler Paris…
Your taste of life in Paris and France

Monday, December 5, 2005
Paris, France

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Dear Parler Paris Reader,

I can vaguely remember when there really was an “American Center” in Paris. It was located on boulevard Raspail where the Fondation Cartier now stands. Author of “French Toast” and “French Fried,” Harriet Welty Rochefort, wrote that it “…was a magic place where you could enjoy the best of American culture (films, dance, jazz, etc…), learn English, meet American students, eat a real hamburger (years ago, it was one of the few places in Paris where you could).” Unfortunately for the American community, that building was sold and destroyed and the Fondation Cartier was erected, designed by well-known French architect, Jean Nouvel.

I frequent the Fondation Cartier often for its fun and fabulous exhibits. At present, Ron Mueck’s startlingly realistic, out-of-scale figures, and John Maeda’s seven “motion paintings” make impressive shows worth seeing (on through February 19th). The building itself is worth a visit, too, even though it pains me to see it for sentimental reasons. (Fondation Cartier, 261, boulevard Raspail, 14th, open every day except Monday from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., +33 (0)

Like a void needing to be filled, the American Center later moved to 51 rue de Bercy (12th) in a building designed by U.S. architect Frank Gehry. Gehry’s whimsical structures were often in my peripheral vision…his giant binoculars on Main Street in Venice (Los Angeles), California, designed in 1991, that anchor the Chiat/Day Advertising Agency West Coast headquarters always evoked an “only in L.A.” comment. Then later, he designed what I still believe to be the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen — the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles that was inaugurated in October of 2003. It compelled me to take dozens of photos, each one turned out more stunning than the next.

Unfortunately, the American Center in Bercy, whose mission was to support cultural, educational, and artistic activities, was shut down in January of 1996, only 19 months after it opened, due to lack of funds. The $41 million price tag posed an enormous financial burden on the Center, but the Center’s leadership gambled that this new, high-profile facility would attract renewed interest and donations. The location was a bit futuristic for the time, even with the The Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy just up the street. The American community simply wasn’t flocking to this unknown part of Paris and once again, the American community lost its “home base.”

Purchased by the Centre National du Cinéma, part of the French Ministry of Culture, for $21 million in 1998, it reopened as the “Cinémathèque Française” to house the Maison du Cinema, a film library and theaters. It owns 40,000 films, as well as cinema-related objects, including 2000 actors’ costumes in its collection. The Film Library stocks drawings, photographs, press reviews and other types of publication relating to cinema.

And now’s your chance to fully discover the American Center turned Cinémathèque Française through the eyes of impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his cinematographer son, Jean, by visiting the current exhibit Renoir/Renoir (in association with the Musée d’Orsay, on until January 9th). No one denies the beauty and richness of the father’s pastel-colored paintings, mostly portraits with some landscapes interrupted by human interlopers. You will recognize so many from the walls of the Musée d’Orsay that perhaps you had already fallen in love with…but what is most enlightening is the juxtaposition of the son’s films to his father’s images…how they mirror one another!

While on the one hand it would be easy to feel the loss of a foundation for the American community, on the other, we are enriched with a new cultural venue, designed by an American architect who makes his mark wherever he goes. It will be impossible to forget that the structure that now promotes French cinema has been and always will be in our minds, “The American Center.”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Mark your calendar for next Tuesday 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. when we gather together at Parler Paris Après Midi! See /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more details.




French Property Insider

* Paris Bouge en 2006
By Adrian Leeds

Paris is movin’ and shakin’. Leave it to the current administration to keep her from sitting on her hands for too long. Renovations are underway, housing is under construction, activity centers are forming, traffic patterns are being redirected, services are being implemented…Subscribers Read On…

Learn how to buy property in France. French Property Insider is an e- mail newsletter from the editors of Parler Paris. If you’d like to learn about the insights, recommendations, and discoveries about buying and investing in real estate in Paris and France that French Property Insider readers get every week, now’s a special opportunity.

Subscribe today!

Insider Paris Guides

* Excerpt from the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants…


* Traditional French
* 7, rue de Capri, Arrondissement 12
* Phone
* Web Site:
* Métro Michel Bizot, Daumesnil
* 13 to 28 Euros Fixed Price Menus: Average per Person 25 – 40 Euros

This is a bistrot well off the beaten track where only Parisians and their closest friends will be found. Behind a façade that appears to have once been a boulangerie, Aux Zygomates has packed in as many tiny square tables as possible into two tiny rooms, but no one seems to mind being elbow-to-elbow with one another. The noise level moderate to feel comfortable speaking at normal tones. Frosted etched glass panels and large Venetian mirrors surround you adding old-world charm. The menu written in an ornate French script takes a moment to become accustomed to, but once you can read the words, they jump off the menu like magic. You will find making the choice difficult. A few daily specials are also sure to catch your eye. Presentation is simple and elegant on large white plates…”Salade d’asperges et jambon Serano,” “Panaché de sandre et st-jacques au basilic,” “Pièce de boeuf au flan de foie gras” or “Mi-cuit au chocolat et aux épices.” The wine list is long and respectable and you will find the young wait staff suggesting an excellent bottle priced very reasonably.

Yes, you can have a great three-course meal with wine and coffee in Paris for between $15 and $40 including tax and tip! Take Adrian’s advice…and discover more than 200 of the best-kept restaurant secrets in Paris. Get your copy of Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants now.

Further Resources

* You are invited to attend the many exciting conferences, seminars and workshops coming up this fall that Parler Paris and French Property Insider are hosting or participating in. For more information or to register, visit /frenchproperty/conference/

* Moving to Paris? The Insider Guide to Practical Answers for Living in France is a must! Packed with almost 300 questions from real people, for real people…and the practical answers that will save you countless hours of frustration.

* You’ve found your Paris apartment…now comes all the complicated legalities of the purchase process. We can help! Find out more about our Purchase Assistance Package. /frenchproperty/insider/purchase_assist.html

Classified Advertising


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/parlerparis/apartments or
/frenchproperty/insider/longterm.html for long term

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