Tuesday, 12 April 2016

My Favourite Samaritan

I am returning to the subject of Paris for which I make no apologies  so if you have lost interest feel free to make a cup of tea and change channels.
View from roof of La Samaritaine
Whilst tourist scale the Eiffel Tower for a bird's eye view of the city I have always preferred the more human scale available from the top of Au Printemps or Buttes Chaumont.  My favourite, however, was to climb the spiral staircase which emerged from the fifth floor of the main building like a conning tower (mind your head!) onto the roof terrace of  La Samaritaine department store. I have watched the sun go down from this vantage point many times whilst sipping a double express  and admiring the delicate construction of Le Pont des Arts.
Opened in 1870, the Samaritaine store was famous for its eclectic and comprehensive stock and for the rudeness of its staff.  It had the reputation for being able to supply anything from an elephant to an aeroplane. I never tested the former: nor can I corroborate  the latter as I found the staff no more rude  than any Parisian is to an Englishman. In fact one visit I made in 19991 ran quite contrary to that assertion:
At the time I was working in Paris, moving mainframe computers around the world. One of the transport companies I employed played a local radio station - Cherie FM - on their telephone system whilst callers waited for an internal connection.  A company I used  in the UK who operated a similar system abandoned it when they realised that a competitor was advertising on the radio station they were playing to callers. Towards the end of 1991 I kept hearing part of a song which I rather liked but was unable to identify either the title or artist. So one Saturday I took myself off to La Samaritaine  and  tackled the maze or stairs and aisles eventually emerging into the music department in the basement.
Here I sang  to an assistant the snatch I could remember of the song . He  was able to identify the tune as Un Homme Hereux by William Sheller. Having reinforced the assistant's belief that all the English are mad I purchased the cassette and departed happy.   Regular readers will no doubt have heard this story before as I recounted it on BBC Three Counties Radio on My De sert Island Disc a few years ago.

Inside the main building of La Samaritaine
You may be wondering why I have so far referred to La Samaritaine in the past tense. This is because in 2005, my having neglected the store for a few years , it was  purchased by the luxury goods group LVMH. They fairly rapidly closed it down "on safety grounds" but truthfully it was to punish me for not visiting.   Since then LVMH have been fighting for permission to redevelop the site. Various iterations of their plans have fallen foul of  the Paris public or the city council.  A final approval has been obtained which retains the main Art Nouveau building (but as a hotel) and replaces the adjacent buildings with apartments and shops.  This will include 95 social housing units and a creche and daycare centre.  I can't imagine the demand for the social housing units on the banks of the Seine!
La Samaritaine was founded as a result of two factors. During the 19th century the French government passed a law which permitted anyone to sell items which they had not manufactured themselves. Coupled with the industrial revolution this presented the ideal commercial environment for such a venture. The business started in the back room of Cafe de la Samaritaine on the site were the glorious Magasin No1 was built in 1910. 
Often referred to as the Jourdain Building after its architect, the four-story metal structure is laid out on a central hall surrounded by superimposed open galleries, then accessed by a cast iron grand staircase and topped by a glass roof adorned with a carved and painted frieze.
Francis Jourdain, the son of the architect, designed the stunning Art Nouveau facade overlooking the Rue de la Monnaie.
The painter Eugène Grasser designed the iconic Samaritaine logo.

Art Nouveau facade of Magasin no1

The master blacksmith Edouard Schenck and the master ceramists François Gillet and Alexandre Bigot were commissioned for the decoration.
The facade, originally painted bright blue, has turned a darker shade of green over the decades.
It is adorned with an elaborate decor consisting of metal volutes, mullion windows and arches, polished and enameled lava panels adorned with floral mosaics and inscriptions.
Magasin no2 showing Art Deco and Art Noureau styles

Magasin no 2 was enlarged in the 1920s and decorated in the Art Deco style. The solid and square stone facade is framed with woodwork painted in a bronze colour and is adorned with balconies and canopies.
Entirely free of any mosaic, I think it is a splendid  illustration Art Deco.
Detail of the Art Deco facade

Two more buildings were acquired with the profits from supplying army uniforms  for the Franco-Prussian war and Magasin no 3 & 4 were both enlarged and modernised during the 20th century.
So why name a cafe and subsequently a department store after a Samaritan woman?  In the 17th century a pump  was installed under the Pont des Arts to supply water to the Louvre . It was decorated with a statue of the  Samaritan woman who gave water to Jesus on his way to the cross.
LVMH impression of rue de Rivoli redevolpment

And now the Paris prefecteure has approved the redevelopment of Magasin 1 and 2 and the demolition of the later buildings which front rue de Rivoli. This building, with its wavy glass facade, has been dubbed the shower curtain by its detractors.

Detail from the Art Nouveau facde
For this, and many other photographs, I thank TravelFranceOnline

1 comment:

  1. Three Counties Radio? I hope you had more fun with them than I did. They kept me waiting 45 minutes past my interview time whilst they took a phone-in from anybody in Luton who had suffered a rupture and was willing to describe it and the subsequent treatment, live, on radio. Then they dragged in a tree expert to talk about Sudden Oak Death. He divulged that the name was a bit misleading since it was not sudden but gradual; did not affect oak trees and did not lead to death. When they finally got me before a mike the girl could not read the title of my book (The Passport – too many consonants for her) and needed her side-kick to finish all her sentences for her. The only comfort that I derived from the entire charade was that the interview did not matter since nobody listens to Three Counties Radio.


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