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Turning Old Paris Into New Paris

“Between the Revolution of 1789 and Haussmann’s renovation in the 1860’s, ideals changed from those of a politically motivated city to those of an economically and socially centered city. Modern technology such as railroads and gas lamps were conveniences which the rising bourgeoisie could enjoy in their leisurely lifestyle. New spaces that were created during the renovation encouraged the bourgeoisie to flaunt their new wealth, creating a booming economy. All of these examples of the changes occurring in Paris during this time period can be seen in representations of the city.” (

Baron Haussmann has been depicted as both the man who destroyed Old Paris and the man who created New Paris. Leonard Pitt, author of “Paris Disparu,” is passionate in his belief that Haussmann was more destructive than productive.

(Pitt will be expounding on this subject with a slide presentation on October 22nd in San Francisco at the Living and Investing in France Conference. Seats at the three course dinner and to hear him speak are still available to non-conference attendees. Visit /frenchproperty/conference/LIF_SF_2005/LIF_SF_dinner.html for more information and to book your table.)

Haussmann was hired by Napoleon III to “modernize” Paris and mold it into a safer city with safer streets, proper sanitary facilities, stronger economic outlets, improved traffic patterns, better housing and better housing and streets too broad for rebels to build barricades across them, where coherent battalions and artillery could circulate easily (if need be). He razed 20,000 buildings, tore up old twisted streets and replaced them with wide, tree-lined boulevards, expansive gardens and the “Haussmannian” style buildings that makes up most of Paris of today.

Tomes have been written on this subject and the argument can easily flow in either direction, but regardless, Haussmann is responsible for most of what we know as Paris today, particularly the “pierre de taille” apartment buildings that line the boulevards.

“Haussmannian” buildings have a very particular style, as evidenced in Eric Tolbert’s photo of a Paris fireman climbing into a balconied window. Notice the symmetrical lines, the cut stone, the intricate wrought-iron balconies. From this vantage point, you can see the “chambres de bonne” servants’ quarters under the eaves.

Haussmannian buildings follow a particular plan — are as consistent within their structures as the French are with their methodology. There is logic and order, symmetry and harmony, but not without style. They are elegant and stately, massive and unwavering.

Normally five to seven levels, many families of different types can easily live under the same roof in very different spaces. The ground level serves commercial purposes and often houses the “gardien” or “concièrge” who looks after the building, delivers the mail to its inhabitants, takes the big green “poubelles” to the street and back again. The first few floors are enhanced by balconies, the second of which may have a full length of balcony and is considered the “étage noble” — for the richest of families (enough distance from the street noise and pollution but without too many stairs to climb) and with the highest ceilings. The final floor under the roof houses the tiny servants’ quarters that lead to a back stairwell servicing the apartments via their kitchens. The rooms in a Haussmannian apartment are punctuated by carved molding, fireplaces, oak floors and sometimes, stained glass windows to lifeless “courettes.”

The living spaces, however, largely no longer fit today’s lifestyle. We find that more often than not, a new owner will renovate to open the spaces, once sectioned into many small rooms, all connected to a centra

l foyer or hall, but with poor flow among them. The kitchens were traditionally down a long hall, large and spacious for the servants, but inconvenient for today’s families that are carting their own plates to the table. The halls eat up valuable space and often serve no purpose. Bathrooms are fewer than one might expect in large apartments of more than two bedrooms and closet space is non-existent.

This doesn’t mean that a Haussmannian apartment can’t be your dream pied-à-terre in Paris! I’ve seen many a beautiful 19th-century edifice transformed successfully into a contemporary space that serves a 21st-century purpose.

For those of you interested in staying up on the Paris real estate market, just last week, the Chambre de Notaires de Paris announced their quarterly evaluation of the property market in Paris and the Ile-de-France for second quarter 2004 through second quarter 2005. The market still holds strong and unwavering with transactions up by .8% for the same period of the previous year. Prices rise at the average of 12.5% annually and the most expensive districts continue to be the 6th and 7th (both filled with beautiful Haussmannian architecture) at the reported price per square meter of about 7,000 euros.

Yolanda Robins, French Property Insider’s Property Manager will tell you that if you find an apartment in either district at this price, then there’s either something terribly wrong with it or you should be plunking your cash down as fast as you can because the valuations published by the Chambre de Notaires are approximately 30% to 50% less than current market valuations (for a variety of very valid reasons).

(For more information about property prices, contact French Property Insider, at [email protected] or visit the site at and to download their full report, click here)

Next, when you come to my part of Paris, Le Marais, you’ll find a very different architectural style — pre-Haussmann by about 200 years!

A la prochaine…








Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. In just a few days, lucky subscribers will be getting this month’s issue of Parismarais, The Art of Living Guide to Le Marais! If you’re not already subscribed, you may do so by visiting

P.P.S. We had a sudden change of plans at yesterday’s Parler Paris Après Midi when La Pierre du Marais was suddenly closed for renovation. Thanks to Le Bistro at the corner of rue de Turenne and rue Froissart for taking us in on “le dernier moment” and serving us well! Being new to our gathering, a few attendees left without leaving payment for their drinks…and guess who got stuck with the bill?! Read the full report at /parlerparis/apresmidi.html


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