Far from the western seashores of France, on a street near the Montparnasse train station looms a lighthouse atop a craggy rock! A fisherman’s boat semiotically signifies the use of this incongruous structure: a fish market called “La Criée du Phare” is concealed beneath the lighthouse. The words “La pêche miraculeuse,” or the miraculous fishing, lie below a stained glass window. The bigger miracle is perhaps that this building could have been constructed at all, amidst Paris’ strict Haussmanian building codes. Not surprisingly, local neighbors were displeased when it was built.
The owner, Hubert Bellanger, started a market in 1969 selling fish out of a station wagon. It’s a bit unclear when the lighthouse was built, but based on my research it seems to be sometime between 1996 and 2000. Before the lighthouse was constructed, Bellanger featured plastic cows as the main dêcor! Bellanger is from the Maine-et-Loire and got much of his design inspiration from the coast of nearby Brittany. The fishing boat is an authentic vessel from Quiberon in Brittany, added to the market in 2001 and extends over the sidewalk wall. The little that has been written about this lighthouse attribute the design to the Croisic lighthouse in Brittany but a comparison demonstrates that it really looks nothing like it. The lighthouse in Saint-Nazaire, with its white tower, red gallery and unpainted stone trim, is much more similar and in fairly close proximity to where Bellanger grew up.
Sketch and photo of the Feu du Vieux-Mà´le Lighthouse in St.-Nazaire (photo by Karl Adam)
Inside the lighthouse, the workers–wearing wellies and oilskins–look like they have just unloaded at the dock. The prices are reputedly the best in town and there’s even a supermarket carrying standard groceries. Check it out for the architecture: the back faà§ade of the interior is of slate shingles with medieval stone turrets and these details continue along the sides as miniature mansard roofs. There’s also a mini replica of the lighthouse.
The faux fisherman on the boat used to wield a French flag, but sometime in the last two years it was replaced by a simple red flag. A loss in patriotism, perhaps? Either way, this is the work of both a savvy businessman and kitschy artist–a self-made urban intervention. Check out Untapped New York for another urban intervention, on a residential scale as featured in Block Party with Dave Chappelle.
La Criée du Phare
69, Rue Castagnary