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Paris’ Reid Hall-oweened

When Aaron Phillips, wrote to ask if I would come and “just say a few words about the process of transferring accounts/citizenship/housing/life in general and the Paris real estate market,” I felt honored.

Aaron is an American student studying in Paris this Fall semester through the University of Florida’s Paris Research Center, at Columbia University’s Reid Hall, where one of their courses is entitled “Modern Paris and Contemporary French Culture,” and as he said, “housing here is definitely an aspect of that.”

Even after having been in Paris only a couple of months, he felt that several of his fellow students were considering or had their minds set on following in my footsteps to this continent, permanently. There are ten students in a program called “International Affairs and the Public Sphere,” and another four in “Landscape Architecture” classes. The Center itself represents about a dozen schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, Vassar College, Wesleyan College, Dartmouth College, Smith College, Tulane University, and Sarah Lawrence College, so others would be invited to join them.

Most people don’t know about the oasis that lies behind the black doors at Reid Hall, a bright white 1th-century building on a small quiet street near boulevard du Montparnasse in the 6th arrondissement. It’s the home base of Columbia University in Paris, but also serves as an educational center for other American universities and for scholars from around the world. “Its long and distinguished past of intellectual, artistic, and cultural exchange has made it significant to the relationship between France and the United States for over a century.”

When you enter the doors, only by ringing the discrete bell and being admitted by the receptionist, you at once feel you have entered a very special
domain, privy to only a few. It once served as a porcelain factory and warehouse in the mid 1700’s, then at the turn of the 19th-century, two French brothers named Dagoty purchased it and converted it to one of the largest and most successful porcelain factories in France, with subsidies by Napoleon I. Dagoty was appointed the supplier of porcelain to Empress j2999ephine. At one time, over one hundred workers were in their employ and additional warehouses and storerooms were built, richly ornamented with mirrors and decorative shelving. Dagoty porcelain could be found in the Palace of Versailles and the White House under James Monroe’s administration, featuring an American eagle motif for use at official state dinners.

In 1834, the site became the home of the Keller Institute, the first Protestant school established in France since the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, whose student body came from the home of bourgeois Huguenots, or French Protestants, and wealthy expatriates. What is not clear is why the successful porcelain factory was converted at that time, but by 1893, The Keller Institute was forced to close its doors, and the complex was purchased by a wealthy philanthropist and social activist named Elizabeth Mills Reid, whose father was founder of the Bank of California, and whose husband was the American minister to Paris, Whitelaw Reid. It was here that she established the “American Girls Club” to provide artistic and academic opportunities to young American women living in Paris. The success led Reid to expand the complex to include a neighboring building and its umbrageous and verdant courtyard.

World War I seemed a more important cause and at the outbreak the property was converted into a hospital, and its classrooms were used to house wounded soldiers. A number of new buildings were constructed to accommodate the enormous number of casualties being cared for by the American Red Cross. Reid Hall remained in the hands of the American Red Cross until 1922, when it was reconverted to house a center for advanced and university studies for American women.

Once again, Reid Hall became important to American women’s academics in Western Europe with visits and lectures by such luminaries and neighbors as Gertrude Stein. The onset of World War II then took toll on the complex converting it as a refuge, first for Polish university women, then for Belgian teachers, and later for the women students of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Sèvres. Once the war was over, it was reconverted once again to a university center, this time with a coeducational student body.

The University of Florida’s presence of their “Paris Research Center” at Reid Hall is relatively new, having established membership there in 2003 under the direction of Dr. Gayle Zachmann, Associate Professor of French. Dr. Zachmann could not be present at the round-table discussion I led yesterday, but in attendance was Dr. Richard Conley, Professor of Political Science, and Rachel Hart, Rachel Hart, Coordinator of Logistics for the Educational Program. About a dozen or so more Parler Paris Readers came to witness the discussion, politely not interrupting, allowing the students to field their questions.

The students were an impression assortment of young men and women, with an air of sophistication and a high level of knowledge. They understood, from what I observed, that they were very lucky to be participating in the program here in Paris and how much they would gain from their time here. What I tried to impress upon them, was that it could change them for life. Once they had viewed their roots from the other side of the pond, and had experienced another culture, as profound a one as French, their points of view may never be the same again.

A la prochaine…  

Adrian LeedsAdrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris


P.S. Happy Halloween and All Saint’s Day (Toussaint)…when France takes a holiday to honor the dead. Tomorrow is a perfect day to visit the cemetaries and decorate the graves with flowers and wreaths.


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