Oscar Wilde said that "fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months". Whilst architecture may have a longer life-span than this, it is clear that it is subject to the same rules as other spheres of society. The corner of the Rue de Provence and the Rue Chauchat today houses a rather attractive Post Office building, decorative in a faintly Art Deco manner. It retains original signage, and even doorways that today lead nowhere. Little though would lead you to believe that you are standing at a point in the city where a fashion was created.
This Post Office building replaced a previous structure which housed a furniture showroom and gallery run by an American named Samuel Bing. The name of this shop? "L'Art Nouveau". Bing opened his showroom in 1895, selling objects reflecting this new style, but the only trace remaining of this era is the name he gave to the budding movement. The building was rented, meaning that he could not make changes to the external decor, but in any case, within 15 years the movement had blown itself out. I'm inclined to agree with the critic Jonathan Glancey who stated that it was a style "better suited to interior decor and illustrations rather than architecture", and the building that stands there today has sufficient merits of its own to justify its place.
In the Rue de Douai, a brisk 10 minute walk away, another Post Office building but a radically different style from another era. This bureau occupies the ground floor of a curious 1970s office building, sitting beneath rows of individual office units at counterpoints.
I find the building neither attractive or ugly, but rather an interesting attempt to break up the linear restrictions of the Paris streetscape. In such a historic area as this though (just south of the Place de Clichy), the chances were that this would be a concrete footprint on top of the skeleton of some dead fashion. It was a surprise though to learn that it replaced one of the most attractive and historic cinemas in the city, "L'Artistic", a place that showed the premières of both Eisenstein's 'Battleship Potemkin' in 1926 and Jean Vigo's 'Zero de Conduite' in 1933.
As was the case with the Gaumont Palace nearby, the rise in the influence of television and other forms of leisure made the sheer number of cinemas in Paris unsustainable. There were inevitably victims such as "L'Artistic" that should perhaps have been protected, but this was not an era that favoured protection of the old. Today, my regret is that I never got to see the fantastic interiors of this building, a disappointment made all the more bitter when I have to suffer the crushing banality of the inside of a Post Office.
For how much longer though will the Post Office hold its position in the streetscape? Throughout Paris, large structures remain, a throwback to the days when as the PTT they housed both telecommunications infrastructures as well as the standard postal services. Today, the buildings dwarf the downsized structures contained within, and with technology leading us further and further away from the centralised distribution of paper, it may not be too long before these buildings go the way of architectural modes and decorative cinemas.