Preserving and Celebrating French Heritage: Past, Present or Future?
Every year, France opens its doors to the public. Not its borders, but the doors that are normally closed…17,000+ of the doors of the buildings, monuments and gardens that make up French heritage. This weekend was the 32nd year of the annual event, “Les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine.”
On this occasion, I am reminded of André Malraux. Without him, my apartment and Le Marais as we know it today would not exist. He was the first Minister of Culture, a post created by Charles de Gaulle in 1959. He was an initiator of many things, among them the program to clean the blackened, dirty facades of the buildings and the preservation of the historical centers of the cities.
Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect and one of the pioneers of what is now called “modern architecture,” proposed razing Le Marais “to give the dilapidated district a fresh start.” “Quelle horreur!” Thanks to Malraux, such a catastrophe did not take place…and neither might the Heritage Days if there was little left to show for French heritage!
There were two special open doors this weekend on Rue François-Miron that caught my eye among the many offerings. This is the street on which one of the oldest buildings in the city sits — at numbers 11-13. You will recognize it as the two half-timbered tall narrow houses seemingly attached, with one primary entrance. In this building, three of our clients have purchased apartments — small (as small as 15 m2), but spilling over-the-top with charm. We have filmed a House Hunters International episode in this building and another one for FYI Tiny House Nation, that has not yet aired (we’ll keep you posted as to when it will air).
Just across the street at Number 44-46 is the “Association Pour la Sauvegarde et la Mise en Valeur du Paris Historique.” That’s an awfully long name for an organization devoted to preserving the historical integrity of Le Marais and the rest of Paris. It has a sweet facade, but nothing particularly special. It’s what’s inside that counts, but the average passers-by wouldn’t have clue.
It was in 1248 that the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Notre-Dame d’Ourscamp receive donated land in this angle formed by the rue Saint-Antoine (currently rue François-Miron) and rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier. The house was rebuilt in the late 16th-century, about 1585. We were told by a volunteer guide that it was the fifth oldest house in the city, home to the monks who produced goods they sold to Parisians. The cellar is particularly special, a 200 square meter vaulted and pillared hall, that is currently under full repair to restore it to its original condition.
We were led into a small courtyard framed by half-timbered walls with interesting curves and small-paned windows classic of that time. The house underwent many changes over the years, and eventually turned to slum. It was threatened with destruction until the Malraux laws saved it and the organization for the preservation of historic Paris moved in to occupy and restore it. The facade, the roof, the staircase and the pantry became classified historical monuments in 1966.
Just a few steps away at number 68, the Hôtel de Beauvais was open with guided tours. Until 1865, rue François-Miron was part of the the ‘ceremonial route’ into Paris from the east. This example of eclectic French baroque architecture as built by the royal architect Antoine Le Pautre for Catherine Bellier, Baroness of Beauvais, in 1657. Gossip has it that Beauvais, who was the first lady to Anne of Austria, at the request of the Queen, provided Lous XIV with his first sexual experience at the age of 16! Like the Maison d’Ourscamp, the land had originally belonged to the Cistercian monks during the 13th-century. It too has a beautiful vaulted cellar (already perfectly restored and preserved), much like its neighbor.
The French Revolution left it in the hands of the State and then sold to a private individual. Later it was divided into apartments, changing and damaging the original building. There is a plaque on the wall claiming Mozart lived there in 1763, for a short time with his parents during the time when it was owned by the Ambassador of Bavaria. Damaged during World War I, and in a state of ruin, later Jewish residents were moved out during the Nazi occupation. Thanks to the efforts of Malraux and the heritage activists, the building was saved and beautifully restored.
The building is unusual with many special and fine features and a work of art in every way. Today it contains the administrative court of appeal of Paris and is mostly inaccessible to the public except for the court public audiences and of course, during Les Journées du Patrimoine.
There are very few places on the planet left where one can experience so much history ‘in the flesh’ as one can in Paris and other parts of France. Sadly, buildings of this kind are almost never built anymore — for the lack of funds and the necessary artisans it takes to create such monumental works.
As the increasing number of France’s wealthy are leaving the country, I wonder if all we will have left is the history. There are almost 1,000 châteaux for sale in France, many of which are less expensive than a moderate Paris apartment, currently selling at bargain prices. Owning and maintaining secondary properties in France has become increasingly more expensive due to high taxation, hence the glut of France’s history on the auction block. With such measures as rent control that limit the return on investments, properties may fall to ruin for lack of landlords’ profits.
It’s fascinating how those who wish to level the financial playing field by making the poor richer and the rich poorer, with all their good intentions, do not see the benefits we’ve all enjoyed thanks to the wealthy and the aristocratic classes of the past. It’s an ongoing dilemma for a left-sided thinker such as myself to reckon with what strikes me as a complete contradiction in terms. If it weren’t for those who had, we wouldn’t have it now. And if it weren’t for those who have, we may never have it again.
While France celebrates its past, something we all can thoroughly enjoy, I’d like to encourage it to celebrate its present with an eye on the future and consider how it can recapture that which is worth celebrating forever. Would that have been Le Corbusier’s plan? (Read more about Le Corbusier)
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group
(Adrian of the Past)
P.S. Now is the time to be planning your trip to the past in Paris for 2016. We are already receiving many inquiries and bookings for Spring and Summer. Don’t miss out on staying in your own pied-à-terre, see our apartments at Parler Paris Apartments today