In a Worker's and Architect's Paradise

annees 30 rue belevedere

Off the Maps in Boulogne-Billancourt

Paris:- Wednesday, 15. January 1997:- Boulogne-Billancourt is not an extension of the 16th arrondissement. Not only is it not in Paris' department, the 75th - it is in the Hauts-de-Seine, which loops around from the south to the west of the city. Unlike the up-tone 16th, Boulogne-Billancourt is, or was, a worker's and artists' paradise.

The Seine curves upwards going through Paris, and in the west it makes a deep dip southward, before heading north again, along the west side of the Bois de Boulogne. The 16th arrondissement is sandwiched between Bois and the river on the east and the 8th on the north, and Boulogne-Billancourt is in the south, like a peninsula, at the tip where the river turns.

Boulogne-Billancourt, for me, was for a long time a shortcut from the Pont de Sèvres to the Porte de Saint Cloud, and the périphérique - the boring and hellish part of the terrorizing fast-lane to the Etoile. Other drivers thought it was an autoroute extension of the N110 and drove accordingly.

For ten years I lived across the river up in high Meudon, and for ten years the only business I had in Boulogne was to get through it quickly or get my residence papers as fast I could and get out of it.

Another ten years further on, I am voluntarily in Boulogne today and I am looking for Goo. Since Boulogne is a bit out of my usual way, I am also taking this rare opportunity to check the place out - to see if there is anything I missed.

Here is a quick run-down of the high points - the ones I didn't see today: Paris' current big stadium, the Parc des Princes, is in Boulogne, not Paris - near the Porte de Saint Cloud. Paris has cleverly included the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th, wedging it between Boulogne and Neuilly, both in 92. Boulogne's maps show the tennis stadium Roland Garros, but Paris has fixed the boundary so it is in Paris.

Down in the southwest, at the Pont de Sèvres, the famous Renault factory on the Ile Seguin is still there while Renault has moved elsewhere and Boulogne, Meudon and Issy are trying to decide what the do with their 'bonus' island. I suppose Boulogne also has big plans for the huge parcel of Renault land on the Boulogne side of the river.

I also didn't see the Eglise Notre-Dame des Menus, and I am not making this name up. It is at the corner of the boulevard Jean Jaurés and the avenue Jean Baptiste Clément. Work started on the church in 1330 and it was consecrated in 1467. It was called 'Menus' after the village in which it was located, and after the Notre-Dame of Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Apparently the church is little-known because it was 'restored' into disfiguration in the 19th century. However, starting in 1980, the exterior has been cleaned up, and this required an interior restoration as well - and the result is supposed to be a 14th century exterior and the best quality of a paint-decorated 19th century interior. The closest métro stop is Boulogne-Jean Jaurés, or buses 123 or 482.

Boulogne Is Almost Not There

I know so little and now I remember what I forgot about Boulogne. On most maps of Paris it is the part in the lower left corner hidden by the map's legend - so it is effectively invisible. And I have treated it like most people, as a place to get through - as it was when it was the Route de la Reine - Boulogne's present slogan - or the Route de Versailles, an extension of Paris' present avenue de Versailles in the 16th - or even Chaussée d'Auteuil; all part of the old route nationale number 10 to Versailles.

Métro line number nine runs down to the Pont de Sèvres, and if you don't count the stop at the Porte de Saint Cloud, it has two other stations before the last - and it is a long walk between them.

The weather is nice and the sky is clear and the sun is showing up the winter grit on everything, and I am wondering why it is possible to sunbathe on snow in the mountains and it doesn't seem feasible here.

annees 30 rue tourelle

I get off at the Porte de Saint Cloud because I seem to remember the Mairie - the city hall - is not far, but I walk a full third of the way down to Marcel Sembat, before finding the Mairie off to the right. On the way, I see signs pointing to the 'Musée des Années 30' and when I get to the place of the Mairie, I ask a policeman, and he points to the 'Annexe,' which is very '30's style and besides housing a police station, also has city offices at the other end.

Inside I find that the museum is temporarily on the fourth floor. It has been evicted from its ground-floor location, and is waiting for its new site, opposite on the avenue André Morizet, which should ready at the end of this year or early next.

Former Worker's and Artist's Paradise

Here is what is not here today: Boulogne has a rich recent history - it was home of the world-famous Boulogne movie studios, of the automobile manufacturers Renault and Voisin, and of the aviation companies Salmson, Blériot, Farman and Dassault. A large number of sculptors lived and worked in Boulogne: Landowski, Joseph Barnard and Lipchitz were among many. Painters included Juan Gris, Volovick, and Chagall - these visited on weekends by jaded refugees from Montparnasse; and a school of painters of the '30's: including George Sabbagh, Sarah Lipska and Chana Orloff. Represented, and there are dozens more, in the Musée des Années 30 - the collection will be on view when the museums reopens.

If the old village of Boulogne, existed around the 14th century church, in the north-west sector of the town, for that is what it is, Boulogne's importance dates more to the years 'between the wars,' as it is said here.

'Between the wars' saw the invasion of the architects, and what they did is not in the museum; it is on the streets. There is even a 'marked' walk, part of which I am taking today. It begins, actually quite close to the Porte de Saint Cloud, just beyond the Parc des Princes stadium.

In the rue du Belvédère, the buildings - houses, artist's ateliers - suddenly answer a question I first had almost exactly nine years ago, when my son Willy was born in the clinic on this street. I had the same questions four and a half years ago when Max was born here too. At both times, I had to do little errands and a saw a fair bit of the neighborhood.

The Ateliers in the Rue du Belvédère

This is what I saw then, and today, in the rue du Belvédère in Boulogne: At number three, architect Constant Lefranc; at numbers four and eleven, architect Louis-Raymond Fischer, both houses built in 1928; at number five, architect R. Bornay, built 1927; numbers six to twelve, architect Jean Hillard - built in 1933, and number 23 too; at number nine, architect André Lurçat, built in 1927; and at numbers 21 and 25, ateliers by the architect Auguste Perret. All of these are in one block, and on Boulogne's 'architectural walk' which is discreetly signposted.

Tony Garnier did the Hôtel de Ville itself in 1934 and it is worth a look. The 'Annexe' is pictured here and it is by Roger Hummel and was done in 1939. Charles-Edward Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, designed the residence-ateliers of Lipschitz and Miestchaninoff, in the rue des Arts/allée des Pins. They also collaborated on buildings at six, rue Denfert-Rochereau, 24, rue Nungesser et Coli and 23, rue de la Tourelle.

I am definitely going back on a nicer day with longer daylight to take the whole tour, because these buildings are truly amazing - and I can not understand why modern architects don't just come out and steal ideas from them instead of the stuff they do today that looks like it will either flake to bits overnight or fall down tomorrow.

Here I will give one choice location: at the corner of the rue Denfert-Rochereau and allée des Pins, the architect Georges-Henri Pingusson, on a triangular lot, built a four-story sort of '30's style ocean liner, all in white, with portholes and bow - which, from certain angles is stunning but completely rational at the same time.

annees 30 annexe

Besides taking the 'walk' while waiting for the museum to re-open, there are also the museum-garden Paul Landowski (he did the huge 'Christ' overlooking Rio, for just one example), the Albert Kahn museum, the Rothschild Park, the Marmottan Library, the Joseph Bernard atelier and the Renault Museum to see. The last has free guided visits on Tuesday and Thursdays and is closed in August.

Rather than put all the addresses and telephone numbers here, if you are in Paris and you think you've seen everything, take a ride on métro line number nine down to Marcel Sembat, and a five-minute walk in Boulogne will bring you to either the Hôtel-de-Ville or the Musée des Années 30, where you can pick up all the detailed information you need.

Don't bother going to the Mairie to complain about the temporary closure of the museum - their old space in the 'Annexe' is now occupied by a fully-'Internetted' pilot branch of the ANPE, the first branch of the national unemployment office's 'Espace Cyber Jeunes' - an online job search facility for young people.

As Boulogne is sort of the ex-'Burbank' of France, but with classy architecture, it seems fitting that a museum dedicated to a worker's time like the '30's, got bumped to make way for young people looking for work in the mid-'90's.

I forgot about the Goo. This is the software from MetaTools, and I got it near the métro stop Billancourt, and saved the 90 franc postage fee. Should I try it out on one of the 'modern' photos? Maybe, maybe not.

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