The 'Grands Boulevards,' Part 23

Gynmase Marie Bell
The Gymnase Marie Bell, a theatre, ressembles a building long gone.

Bonne Nouvelle is a Short 'Grands Boulevards'

Paris:- Wednesday, 11. February 1998:- When I went to sleep earlier today, I did so with my fingers crossed. Yesterday I had a rare chance to be in the sun on a Tuesday, so I'm hoping I'll have it today - yes, sir! - this winter sun really shows up unwashed windows.

Not that I'm going to sit around inside and look through them. Today I've planned to do Part 23 of the 'Grands Boulevards.' You see, the city has this plan to 'fix them up,' so I have to be quick, or the boulevards will cease to be their funky selves.

The Ville de Paris is very proud of what it has done with the Champs-Elysées. This major street, this premier attraction, was sinking into a morass of tacky sleeze - and this tendency was noticed - and - something was done about it! It is so 'grand' now it takes your breath away. This is, of course, only if you have not seen Times Square in New York lately. If you have, then the Champs-Elysées is only merely magnificent in comparison and does not leave you actually breathless.

I starting this 'Paris Reporting' scam about the time the finishing touches were being put on the 'Champs,' so I'm not too certain how crummy it was 'before' today's 'after.'

The next project is the plan to 'fix up' the Grands Boulevards. I've taken previous swipes at them from Opéra to the boulevard Montmartre, and today's plan is to 'do' the boulevard Bonne Nouvelle - which is a whole three long blocks. On Kids at Rex on Wednesday the south side, it is five and a half short blocks, but that is neither here nor there in Paris.

The south side is also the side in deep shade, while the opposite side of the street is blindingly bright. At the newspaper kiosk the guy doesn't have Le Parisien and tries to fob off their national edition, which is called 'Aujourd'hui' which means 'today' instead of 'Paris.'

The smallest part of the Grand Rex, where most of the kids are.

Right by this kiosk, is the gigantic Grand Rex cinema, which is besieged by kids because it is Wednesday, when many of them have no school. Many of them do have school classes on Saturday mornings when this cinema is probably not yet open; and I suppose this is as good a reason as any for this annoying system.

I also see that this cinema has a 'tour' of itself - to behind the scenes - which kind of fits in with the Cinémathèque Française being across the street and a bit down the block. Another thing I notice, belatedly, is the Grand Rex is actually at the beginning of the boulevard Poissonnière - and it's not in my source book - but I can say it was opened in 1932 by Louis Lumière and Jacques Haïk and was the most opulent cinema in Paris at the time.

At the newspaper kiosk on the opposite side, I get the Paris edition of Aujourd'hui, which is called 'Le Parisien.' Then I get straightened out on the right boulevard, on the sunny side, and pass the Gymnase Marie Bell.

This is an interesting-looking building to which there is also appears to be no reference in my usually all-inclusive source book. The building now appears to be a theatre and 'Ma Femme S'Appelle Maurice' is currently playing.

This may not be the type of show that played the boulevards when they were famous, but the theatre itself looks Cinemateque Francaise like a respectable building - and is, I think, representative of this area of the 'grands boulevards:' with the profusion of cafés, theatres, and cinemas.

A few steps further on finds the Cinémathèque Française. I'm not sure if this is a fugitive from the burnt-out part of the Palais Chaillot, or something else - or the cinema museum that used to be in the cellar of the Palais Chaillot is elsewhere.

The Cinémathèque Française; Alfred would be proud of it.

By the time I do not find the city's Maison des Grands Boulevards where I expect it to be, I am getting a bit nervous. It is a really pleasant light and shade day and I am not 'finding myself.'

I have this little chore I've taken on for a reader, to find out something. I quit the boulevard and go the few blocks to the centre of the garment district in Sentier. I do not find out what I want there, but I am directed to the Gibert Jeune bookstore in the boulevard Saint-Denis, which is next to Bonne Nouvelle.

At the bookstore I learn that they are having their 100th anniversary in this location; this was their first shop in fact. Most people know their shops all around Saint-Michel, and this location, within a block of the Porte Saint-Denis, may not be so well-known these days.

The book I may want, costs 1000 francs, but is luckily not in stock. Like the other branches, grouped around Saint-Michel, this shop is chaotic to the eye, but full of helpful staff who knows what is in the place - and what isn't.

What's my score so far? The Rex is not on 'my' street, I've got the wrong address for the information office, I can't find the other information for my correspondent, and - I still have to go over to the Marais to snoop something else out. I project the métro map on the inside of my eyelids.

Okay, I've got it. First I'll give you the history of the place where I thought I'd find the information office. Let's go to - the creation of the street: in the place of the one-time ditch of the Charles the Fifth city walls; Bonne Nouvelle became a street in 1685, under the name of Notre-Dame de Bonne Nouvelle. It is 347 metres long and at least 35 metres wide.

At the numbers 18 and 20 - about where my information office isn't - Grisart the architect built a big place in 1837. It was three stories high, with grand arches in the facade, and had big bay windows on the upper two floors. There was a fish dealer in the cellar, in a location where - in 1850 - there were lightly-dressed 'tableau vivants' on turning platforms. Must have been somewhat like a disco bar.

The Grand Café de France occupied part of the ground floor, and it was by turn, a café-concert, and a big hall for spectacles and concerts, called the 'Gymnase Musical.' The troupe from the Vaudeville moved to it in 1839 interior of Cafe when their place in the rue de Chartes burned down. They moved out in 1840 when the Théâtre des Nouveautés moved in.

At the back there were other attractions and upstairs Bouton and Daguerre's Diorama was installed, after being founded in 1822 in the rue Sanson, which was destroyed by fire in 1839. The Diorama stayed here until it too, burnt down again on 14. July 1849.

Light and shadow in a café on Bonne Nouvelle.

After that the building became the Bazar de Bonne-Nouvelle, which was rebuilt in 1900 and renamed La Ménagère. Before the name-change, it was celebrated in 'La Vie Parisienne.' It was destroyed by fire in 1930, demolished, and replaced by the present post office, built by Joesph Bukiet and André Gutton. I do not know if this is the post office which would normally have the flat front of a triangle building, but to which somebody has given a rounded front instead.

Into the métro, head west and come up at Richelieu-Drouot, and here is where I find the 'Grands Boulevards' information office; beside the Sega games place.

Adding a little 'quality' to the Grands Boulevards has turned into a major project because it has been discovered that what is to be 'saved,' represents three centuries of architecture.

I hope they've done their homework, because the lady in the office used the Gibert Jeune bookstore as a 'bad example' and is quite surprised when I tell her it's been there a century. Well, yes, if you look at it, it is a bit down at heels - but nothing that a new awning wouldn't fix. The one they have looks like the ones you see in old photos, except for being dirty yellow. Being that close to the boulevard Sébastopol, they should go back to the dark brown - common a century ago.

As on the Champs-Elysées, most of the planned improvements are cosmetic: getting rid of wildcat signs, harmonizing the shop fronts, clearing entryways and getting rid of the kiosks on the sidewalks.

This is not a project that is well-advanced - the major propositions are still being discussed, such as is who is to pay for it. The city has already moved in with extra cleaning crews and the trees are getting more attention.

Along the eastern sector of the Grands Boulevards it is difficult to imagine how they will look. We are so used to creeping visual garbage, that it difficult to see past it to what may lie underneath.

In just the short section, the boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, there is a feeling of energy; of crowds surging to cinemas and Maison Grands Boulevards theatres. Of course, today, a lot of this energy is used merely to get around the hindrances on the sidewalks, the obstacles.

This modest shop displays the fairly modest plan for the 'Grands Boulevards.'

Putting upscale and charm back into the Grands Boulevards will be a big job and it will take time. When it is finished, a major street will be restored for Parisians and visitors to use; and it will be a major asset for the city.

That said - rah, rah! - I should also point out the major work will be done by property owners rather than the city. There is no collection hat at the information office; but nobody will mind if you stop in there to see what they're up to and give them a bit of encouragement.

The Grands Boulevards project is not one of the usual monumental affairs; its goal is simply to give pleasure to the people who use them.

Les Etoiles du Rex - Le Grand Rex, 1. boulevard Poissonnière, Paris 2. Métro: Bonne Nouvelle. The special tour for children from six to 12, shows behind the scenes, the stars of 'Europe's most famous cinema,' all in some sort of fantastic voyage. On until Tuesday, 25. March.

La Cinémathèque Française - is actually the one founded by Henri Langlois in 1936; the one burned out of the Palais Chaillot last July. This new location has two projection rooms, but I do not know if the entire contents of the Cinémathèque Française museum are here. The important thing is movies, with some of the collection of 40,000 films being shown daily. At 42. boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, Paris 10. Métro: Bonne Nouvelle.

The Gibert Jeune bookstore is at 15 bis, boulevard Saint-Denis, Paris 2. Métro: Strasbourg-St-Denis.

The Maison des Grands Boulevards is located at 5 bis, boulevard des Italiens, Paris 2. Métro: Richelieu-Drouot. Open from 13:00 to 17:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Info. Tel.: 01 49 26 03 68.

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