Looking At Hector's Places

photo: entry castel beranger

The Castel Béranger's front door, by Guimard.

'On Tour' With the Server-Lady

Paris:- Friday, 24. February 2001:- The way this started, Bruce Birchman sent an email to the server-lady, Linda Thalman, suggesting a tour of Hector Guimard's buildings in the 16th arrondissement. Then Linda sent a copy of the suggestion to me. I looked out of the window and saw that it is still winter.

In most places, 'winter in Paris' would be considered to be much better than 'bad sledding,' which is normal summer for some places. But Mr. Birchman's email also mentioned that his proposed tour involved a 'three-mile or so' radius, with the Musée Marmottan as its centre.

The 16th is a huge arrondissement, and 'three-mile radius' translates into a very large metric kilometre diameter. So I suggested to Linda that if we were going to do it, maybe we should use her car.

Her response was twofold - there are no places to park in the 16th because all the Portuguese cleaning ladies are using them - but! - it is school holiday time, so a lot of people should be away.

Today the weather is 'fresh' for February. My peanut man on the marché, seeing blue in the west, tells me summer is coming. I've already seen the sky in the east, and it looks like it's coming from Siberia.

Within the usual allowance for time lost in traffic jams, the server-lady is tapping on my window, shouting, "I've got a free illegal parking space!"

Which she has for the whole four minutes it takes me to suit-up and get out. She has brought thephoto: hotel jassade, r chardon lagache large-scale map and I have brought Mr. Birchman's address list of buildings and a magnifying glass, plus warmer clothes than usual, and my gloves, of course.

A late 19th century townhouse in the 16th, with Guimard flourishes.

I have to interrupt here to mention that it is a firm policy of Metropole is to do nothing that requires a car, except maybe visit Versailles, and I don't do this anymore because my last car went to the wreckers some time ago.

"Where are we going?" - is the server-lady's first contribution to our excursion, followed by - "How do we get to the 16th?"

As we get trapped after 200 metres of our journey by a truck delivering bricks and take a escape route through a pedestrian mall, I study the map while Linda tries not to run over shoppers. We agree to take the PC-bus route. "It is big and wide," but it also goes right past the cow show at Paris-Expo.

Once in the south 16th, near Boulevard Exelmans and the Avenue de Versailles, I convince Linda to make what appears to be an illegal manoeuvre, into the tiny Rue Jouvenet.

But when I say that we should park the car, she says, "Park? We brought the car to drive around to these places. There's no parking anyway! I thought we were just going to drive around and see everything from the car."

"Using a car is irregular enough," I argue, "And I can't do the photos from it. We'll miss the little stuff!"

A block further on there is a free spot - actually it is in the same street, after it has taken two serious bends. Linda says, "I can't park here, it's for residents only. Besides, I failed parallel parking."

Linda is right. The ticket dispenser is only for residents. But there's a paying one for sight-seers and travelling salesmen further along, and she sprints up to it and back, and puts the ticket on the dashboard.

She does okay with the parallel parking too, even though she failed it decades ago in Oregon, and even though her little Fiat doesn't have power-steering. None of my little Fiats had power-steering either, but this one steers like an extra-heavy brick.

We find the first place around the corner in the Rue Chardon-Lagache. It is suitably eccentric even if it doesn't look exactly likephoto: door no 10 r agar an entry to a métro station. There's another one in the Boulevard Exelmans, which is less eccentric, and it is the former atelier Carpeaux - restored several times.

Linda wants to read all of the text on the historical signpost, but there is a knife-like wind whistling along Exelmans. It's gist - Carpeaux sculpted everything at one time, here, and lived happily ever after.

One of Guimard's fairly simple entries to a fairly simple apartment building.

In the nearby Avenue de Versailles we find a whole apartment building, the Immeuble Jassade, and it certainly has its Hector Guimard art nouveau or art déco touches. Overlooking the ground floor's plastic laundromat signs is not impossible to do.

According to the map, the next concentration of Guimard's stuff seems to be further up, around the area of the métro Jasmin. Linda is all for walking up there or taking the métro.

Since we are supposed to be riding around in a car I didn't bring any métro tickets. "But I just paid 10 francs for two hours' parking right here," Linda logically points out.

"But if we leave the car here, we'll have to come all the way back here to get it," I say, fearing a possible 'walk-back' from the Place Victor Hugo. "Let's just take the parking ticket and keep using it."

Even with the map, despite it in fact, Linda pilots the Fiat up to métro Jasmin by dead-reckoning. I am convinced she's driven through a time-warp, because we seem to skip the whole section between the Rue Molitor and the marché area around Michel-Ange-Auteuil.

From where we were it takes about seven minutes to get to Jasmin, turn into the Rue Ribera and parallel park again. Linda is right, she doesn't improve with practice with this.

We go down to the Rue La Fountaine, admire the odd-looking series of buildings composing the Sainte-Thérèse church and the Apprentis d'Auteuil orphanage, and poke our noses into the semi-deadend Rue Agar and the Rue Gros around the corner.

These buildings aren't too wild or eccentric, but they have an allover 'touch' to them that sets them apart from their non-Guimard neighbors. They also have their little 'touches' that Guimard took the trouble to add to the general landscape.

Back on the Rue La Fountaine, facing an operating Friday marché, we can't help finding the 'Castel Béranger.' This apartment building is Hector Guimard with all the stops let out. On the left side there is a private alley and this gives a view of an inner courtyard, which contains even more - radical? whimsical? - architectural touches.

Guimard's métro inventions, in spite of all their swooping swirls, are usually fairly symmetric. They were designed to be easy to copy in cast-metal.

But no such rule applies to this low-rent apartment building. It looks like the architect spent some time on deliberately not lining things up.

Which means you can look at it for quite some time without seeing many items that match, are equal, are on the same level, or have the same surfaces.

While some of the less extravagant buildings borrow common touches from one another, this 'Castel Béranger' seems to have borrowed nothing from any other building on this planet or nearer solar systems.

It contains 36 apartments, with no two being alike - just like the outside of the building is not 'alike' itself either. Conceived as a low-rent housing project, it won prizes for its 27 year-old architect - who also lived in the building for a time - which was another architectural novelty.

After giving the building a longer than average look-over, Linda begins looking for lunch. The red awning we see ahead at the Place du Docteur Hayem turns out to be a butcher shop and not a café. But opposite is Le Raynouardphoto: courtyard, castel beranger bistro and when we enter we are offered its sunny side, with its stunningly boring view of the low silo-like Maison de Radio France.

Since, by the clock, it is actually lunchtime, we get to experience the meaning of 'bistro bistro' or whatever it was those Cossacks used to mis-pronounce. Linda orders the fish of the day while I order red beef - in solidarity with the Cow Show - and the frites that come with it are acceptable too.

To understand this interior courtyard of the Castel Béranger, see it all as only one building - which it is.

The sun pours in and a lot more diners pour into the bistro too. Linda is keeping an eye on her parking-metre watch, so we don't make a long boozy afternoon of it.

We have another address in the Rue Mozart, which Linda says is just around the corner and I take her word for it. But it is really half-way across the 16th, and when get to it and see the building numbers, we figure it's going to be a number far to the south, past Jasmin.

Stuff is falling out of the sky anyway - something like pellets of rain. Back in the Fiat, Linda can't simply drive where she wants to go because of one-way streets.

This causes a round-about tour which brings us through the Porte d'Auteuil, in theory on the PC-bus route, and we miss a vital turn-left at Molitor - which has disappeared - putting us into the jolly roundy- roundies at Porte de Saint-Cloud, far beyond where we want to be.

Of course it is pure hell - not like in deserted Oman! - to fight our way back to semi-civilization by way of the Pompidou expressway, until I spot a familiar bridge and we hang a left into a smaller maze that permits us to cross the Pont du Garigliano to get lined up to go past Paris-Expo again.

This only leaves the relative bagatelle of penetrating into the 14th. Much to Linda's unease, we turn left into the jungle of lower Raymond Losserand, a street anybody can follow up to near the Montparnasse cemetery with their eyes closed.

There are shortcuts across to the Avenue du Maine I have taken successfully on foot, without noting the one-ways. So I do not suggest any of these and Linda does the three-quarter turn at Maine.

A couple of blocks further on we are halted by a red light and I take the opportunity to bail out in the middle of the street. After the light turns green and Linda has departed in the direction of the Cadillac Ranch, I discover I have empty pockets.

The lady who is currently 'throwing gauntlets down,' is racing away with mine. The forecast has a suspicion of snow in it for Sunday.

The 'Why' of All This

Bruce Birchman of Potomac, Maryland, wrote the following to Linda in late January:-

"In April 2000, we did a self-styled tour of Hector Guimard art nouveau and art deco buildings nearphoto: number 60 and within a 3-mile or so radius of the Musée Marmottan in the 16th arrondissement. This could make a nice half-day or four hour tour.

Guimard 'touches' include items like number signs and other odd details.

"The following Hector Guimard art nouveau buildings could be included - the Atelier Carpeaux, the Immeuble Jassede, the Hôtel Rosze, the Hôtel Jassede, the Immeuble Tremois, the Castel Béranger, the Hotel Mezzara, the Ecole de Sacré-Coeur and one of Guimard's homes at 122. Avenue Mozart - to mention just a few.

"Guimard and art nouveau fans also may wish to view the architect's other buildings at 29. Avenue Rapp in the 7th, and see the métro entrances designed by Guimard at Abbesses, Place d'Italie, Monceau and Port Dauphine. There is also the synagogue at 10. Rue Pavée in the Marais, near the Musée Carnavalet.

"To escape the Holocaust, Guimard, who was Jewish, was fortunate enough to sail to the United States. He died in New York City in 1942. A good source for learning more about Guimard's architecture is the 1988 book 'Hector Guimard,' by Maurice Rheims."

Fact-Filled URLs

The first Web site contains a history of the Castel Béranger. To learn more about Hector Guimard, try this one.


Linda Thalman suggested doing today's tour and set aside enough time for it. 'Ed' merely rode along, with his nose in the sizeable map of the 16th arrondissement.

With a long list of addresses, we started with the ones that we came to first. Bruce Birchman's suggestion to beginphoto: jassade building, av versailles a Guimard tour near the Musée Marmottan is a good one, but not on a cold day in February, and not with a car that constantly needs to be parked - if possible, legally.

One of Guimard's fairly 'ordinary' apartment buildings.

As well as the buildings of Hector Guimard, there are a fair number of odd corners in the 16th arrondissement. While it is considered to be an area where many of 'Les Riches' reside, not too long ago most of it was 'out in the country' and there are many semi-rustic reminders of this - in the form of 'country houses,' like Balzac's for example.

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