Spirit François 1er, check are you there?
In 1823, online in line with ambitious building projects in the neighborhood, a promoter named Colonel Brack had an original idea that would earn him a place in the history of France. He decided to move the so-called maison François 1er to Paris, from its original site in Moret-sur-Loing, a village that would later become dear to the impressionists. Constructed in the 16th century, this house boasts a facade abundantly decorated in the Renaissance style. Facing the Seine river, it was situated on a part of the Cours de la Reine (later to become the Cours Albert 1er.) This superb mansion was a sumptuous gift that the promoter gave to the greatest actress of the period, Mlle Mars. An affair of the heart…
As the story goes, the actress, a member of the troupe of the Comédie-Francaise, never had the time to take up residence in this very special home. The Colonel, impatient, sold it before the housewarming. But it left its mark, since all of the neighboring streets would subsequently be baptized in honor of the contemporaries of the French king François 1er: Montaigne, of course, but also Bayard, his faithful and fearless knight, and also Jean Goujon, the great sculptor who created the Fontaine des Innocents. And the Rue Marignan takes it names, needless to say, from the most famous of battles. As for the François 1er maison, you’ll have trouble finding it in Paris today: in the middle of the 20th century it was returned to its original site in Moret-sur-Loing.
The Orphan Fountain
In the center of Place François 1er, reigns an imposing fountain. Hurried clients of the fashion houses don’t always have time to fully admire this piece. It is the work of Gabriel Davioud, a famous acolyte of the Baron Haussmann, who was also
responsible for the two theaters of the Place du Châtelet. But this fountain has been cut in half. Originally, in 1865, it was conceived for the Place de la Madeleine. When the decision was made to move it, the Place François 1er inherited only half of it. The other half would decorate the Place Latour-Maubourg. It is in this way that the streets of Paris have created ties that time has not completely erased.
Flames at the Charity Bazaar
Just a few steps away from this fountain, turn onto the Rue Jean Goujon, and you will pass successively by two churches. The first, at number 15, is the Armenian apostolic church. The second, a few numbers further on, is known as Notre-Damede-la-Consolation (Our Lady of Consolation). Why? Because it brings to mind a tragic episode that made headlines in May 1897: the fire of the “Bazar de la Charité.” For the event, little stalls had been set up to harbor a charity sale. It was the projection of a film (a very new pastime) in a small theater that caused a short circuit. In just a few minutes the entire area was in flames. The story goes that certain unchivalrous gentlemen escaped quickly by clearing the way with their canes. When the flames were finally put out, the toll was terrible: 124 dead, including the Duchess of Alencon, the sister of Austrian Empress Sissi.
A Napoleonic Memory
Like Avenue Montaigne, the Rue François 1er has its stories. Number 44 Rue François 1er holds a place in Napoleonic history. Today it is the headquarters of the firms Francesco Smalto and Pierre Balmain, but in the middle of the 19th century, it was the home of Count Walewski (1810-1868). Today this gentleman’s name may not evoke memories, but he was the illegitimate son of Napoléon 1er and of a beautiful polish lady. Despite this heavy pedigree, Walewski succeeded in forging his own destiny:
Napoleon III named him ambassador to Florence, Naples, Madrid and then London. He became Minister of Foreign Affairs, then of Fine Arts, and finally, in 1865, he became President of the Legislative body.