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The rond-point of the Champs Elysées, an exceptional crossroads

Rond-point of the Champs-Élysées, 1903

An idea of Le Nôtre

 

One of the key crossroads of Paris, and among the most glamorous, the Rond-Point of the Champs-Élysées is located at the intersection of the most elegant avenues of the capital. On one side, leading to the Seine river, are the Avenue Montaigne, Avenue Matignon, Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, and, of course, the Champs-Élysées. The initial design was drawn up in 1670 by Le Nôtre, the master of French gardens during the reign of Louis XIV. This was the spectacular culmination of the Roule drive, where the most beautiful carriages once circulated for leisurely strolls. A century later, entrepreneurs attempted to turn this into an
early attempt at an amusement park, dubbed Le Colisée. It closed down even before the Revolution due to the decline of the prestige of the area, which had started to look more like a dangerous back street
than a fashionable meeting place.

From one statue to another

At this strategic location, certain political powers sought to construct symbolic statues, but many of them remained on the drawing boards. One of the instigators of the French Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was to be immortalized in bronze here, but before the monument was finished, rapid changes in the political regime put an end to the initiative. Then came the Restoration period and needless to say, the heroes changed: It was now a statue of Louis XV which was to be erected. But bureaucratic delays stalled the project and just as the bronze was ready to be poured, the Revolution of July 1830 broke out suddenly. Even less controversial projects, such as the fountains designed by René Lalique, didn’t manage to stand the test of time. Threatened by changes in the road traffic to deal with constantly increasing congestion, the fountains were demolished in the 1950’s.

 

Rond-point of the

Champs-Élysées, 1900

Rond-point of the

Champs-Élysées, 1950

René Lalique,

1860-1945

Famous residents

Some of the most desirable Parisian addresses are located on the fringes of the Rond-Point. Who wouldn’t dream of living at number 1, Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées? The
first person to have had this privilege was a businessman from the Catalan region named Joseph Oller. His name has been long forgotten, but the name of one of his most famous creations lives on today: le Moulin Rouge. He was also behind the creation of the Olympia, another renowned Parisian music hall. Also living at the same address were the Baron and Baroness Gourgaud, whose names have lived on thanks to their collection of modern art, (certain pieces of which can be admired at Paris’s Pompidou Museum),and through portraits of them by famous artists, including Marie Laurencin. In the history of fashion, number 1 Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées is also famous for the boutique that Paul Poiret opened here in 1925. Just a few years before the crash of 1929 ,which put an end to his empire, he revolutionized the concept of a fashion boutique by giving fundamental importance to the show window.

 

Baronne Gourgaud

Joseph Oller,
1839-1922

Paul Poiret,
1879-1944

From Paul Poiret to Dassault

Two neighboring mansions belonged at one time to the same owner: Felicie Sabatier d’Espeyran, the widow of a wealthy merchant from Montpellier: Number 7, which was the Hôtel d’Espeyran, is today the home of Artcurial, an important Parisian auction house. Next door, number 9, called the Hôtel du Rond-Point, has long been associated with the name Marcel Dassault. The editorial offices of Dassault’s magazine, Jours de France, were located in this building and it remains today the headquarters of the Dasssault group. This had been the site of another mansion, Le Hon, built by the Duke of Morny, Napoleon III’s stepbrother, for his mistress the Countess Le Hon. A little further on at number 12-14, is the Bamberger mansion, named for the founder of the Banque Paris et Pays-Bas, which was also the home of the editorial offices of the Figaro newspaper and of the couture house of Jean Dess, (Aristotle Onassis’ couturier), where the young Valentino, newly arrived in Paris, made his debut.

 

   

Jean Dessès,
1904-1970

Curtain’s Up

In the beginning, the Théâtre du Rond-Point, a Parisian cultural institution, was the home of the Renaud-Barrault theater company. In the late 1970’s, these two famous actors, Madeleine Renaud and Jean-Louis Barrault, were asked to leave their quarters in the old Orsay train station, which was destined to be transformed into a museum dedicated to 20th Century art, the Orsay Museum. They were relocated in the Rotonde des Champs-Élysées, just across from the Théâtre Marigny, where the couple had performed in the 1950’s at the beginning of their partnership. The building, formerly housing an ice skating rink, was completely redesigned and transformed into a theater which opened in 1981. After more than a decade under the direction of Renaud-Barrault, when the theater presented the works of Marguerite Duras, Samuel Beckett and others, it came under the direction of Marcel Maréchel from 1995 to 2000. Today the theater is directed by Jean-Michel Ribes and presents a diverse and often iconoclastic repertoire of works.

 

Théatre of the rond-point of the Champs Elysées

Jean-Louis Barrault, 1910-1994
Madeleine Renaud, 1900-1994

Highlight of the Tour de France

There is no end to the list of rich events and sites that have marked the history of the Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées. The Drugstore Publicis, for example, has left a lasting legacy. It was the first of a new type of store to open in Paris, selling a combination of books, cigarettes, and snacks, created in 1958 near the Arc de Triomphe by
Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, who had the idea one late night while walking, with an empty stomach, through the streets of New York. The Drugstore of the Rond-Point was the third store, created after that of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Opened in 1970, its demise was less than flamboyant. Sold by Publicis, it closed quietly on the last day of 2001. On the other hand, the Tour de France has remained loyal to this site since 1975. Prior to that date, the famous French cycling race finished at Paris’s Parc des Princes. The itinerary of the last round was modified at the request of television anchorman Yves Mourousi and the organizers of the event. Images of cyclers looping around the Rond-Point several times in succession have marked the highlight of this race for nearly forty years, a final sprint on the world’s most beautiful avenue.

 

Rond-point of the Champs-Élysées

One comment

  1. Strongly suggest adding a “google+” button for the blog!

    December 17, 2011

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