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This is the second part of the History of the Grands Magasins of Paris. Read Le Bon Marché, Printemps and Galleries Lafayette  here.

LA SAMARITAINE
1 rue du Pont Neuf, 75001
Metro: Pont Neuf

“We find everything at The Samaritaine” (“On trove tout à  la Samaritaine“) : the 1960s slogan of La Samaritaine is still remembered by Parisians who hold fond memories of this grand magasin fronting the Seine, a stone’s throw away from Pont Neuf. Looking at the building’s monumental Art Deco facade, it is hard to imagine that this grand magasin with 48,000m2 of floor area had very humble beginnings, but that’s just how it started.

Facade on rue de Rivoli, 1923. Credit: Ministère de la Culture (France) – Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine – diffusion RMN

Having started his career selling ties under an umbrella on the Pont Neuf, Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay (a former head saleswoman at Le Bon Marché) set up their small boutique on rented space at the corner of rue du Pont Neuf and rue de la Monnaie in 1869. He named it La Samaritaine, after the ancient water pump station on Pont Neuf demolished in 1813, which had a statue of a samaritan woman pouring water for Christ.

He drew inspiration from Aristide Baucicaut and applied the same principles to his shop: marked prices, entrance for all customers, lower prices. Small business owners sold their wares in his shop. The Cognacqs were hard workers. “A coin is a coin,” they would say, and each coin was invested into La Samaritaine. Four years later its success had expanded to the neighboring buildings. From 1883 to 1933 La Samaritaine went through progressive structural transformations. Its Art Nouveau aesthetic was contributed by the architect Frantz Jourdain in 1903 to 1907 (which received lukewarm reactions from the Parisians, who had had enough of Art Nouveau at the time). By 1933, after a lot of changes to the initial design, the buildings had been influenced by Art Déco by architect Henri Sauvage. Its huge glass windows, the Art Nouveau staircase, its vast ceiling and the strong use of bright blues, greens and oranges in its decor and mosaiques earned La Samaritaine’s title of a historical monument in Paris.

Facade on rue de la Monnaie, 1923. Credit: Ministère de la Culture (France) – Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine – diffusion RMN

What grew with their success was their philanthropic passion: the Cognacq-Jay Foundation was born, reaching out to orphans, children, the sick, the retired and the homeless. They were also avid art collectors, and you can see their incredible collection at the Musée Cognacq-Jay.

Today, La Samaritaine is currently owned by LVMH, and was closed in 2005 for not meeting safety codes. It is, however, being given a new life. Plans for the restoration in 2013, under the Japanese architecture firm SANAA, are grand: glass facades, a clean-up of the walls to bring back their original vivacity and colour, and the overall fusion of new and old. In the span of its three buildings a commercial center, a deluxe hotel, a nursery, offices and social lodgings are to be built. All this, in the heart of the first arrondissement, a modern testament fulfilling Cognacq’s desire for innovation and change.

See what the Samaritaine looks like today in this Untapped Paris article.

BHV – BAZAR DE l’HOTEL DE VILLE
52 rue de Rivoli, 75004
Metro: Hotel de Ville

Xavier Ruel, a Lyonnais merchant, arrived in Paris with his wife and children in 1852, setting up shop at the corner of rue de Rivoli and rue des Archives. In 1855, his destiny was changed by the Empress Eugenie, who was passing by his street in her drawn carriage. The horses were somehow startled and started to run, and Ruel grabbed the reins and managed to calm the horses down. He was given a sum for his courageous act – a sum he used to expand his business.

Christmas decorations in 1923. Credit: Ministère de la Culture (France) – Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine – diffusion RMN

Hardworking and ambitious, it’s no surprise that Ruel’s success grew, allowing him to rent three floors of a building on 54 rue de Rivoli in 1866. His store, Bazar Napoléon, changed its name to Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville (after the city hall that stood across the road) after the 1871 fall of the Empire.

A businessman, philanthropist and politician, Ruel offered loans and retirement pay to his employees. He left behind a flourishing business with 800 employees. Ruel, who was without sons, passed BHV on to his nephew.

Christmas lights, 1923. Credit: Ministère de la Culture (France) – Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine – diffusion RMN

BHV’s structure cannot be compared to its grands magasins brothers. Not much is written about Granon and Roger, the architects who were in charge of the building’s construction from 1902 to 1904, and it is almost impossible to find any more information about Auguste Roy, the architect who tackled new works on BHV in 1912. He probably added in the Belle Epoque dome and influences, but apart from that there is no striking or distinguishing feature to the store, except maybe for its central location.

Still, BHV has stood the test of time, and it continues to sit dutifully in the center of Paris, passed by thousands of people every day. It is still a place where you find wide-eyed expats shopping for missing household items, fathers trying to repair their weekend do-it-yourself projects-gone-wrong, or wandering tourists looking for a souvenir to bring back home. From hardware to pillow cases, BHV fulfills its duty as a grand magasin in the heart of a big city: providing people with what they need, all under one roof.

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