The first three floors of the building were the original townhouse of the Maréchal Murat, a Napoleanic war hero who was later declared King of Naples. It was purchased in the early 1930s by Marcel Jamat who then immediately set out on a large-scale rebuild, adding an extra four floors and an extravagant interior. Jamet wanted a place that would fulfill almost any fantasy or fetish, with each room decorated according to a particular theme. There was a lavish Rome themed room, a mysterious African room, recreations of luxurious yachts, Indian colonial scenes and even a rural countryside room complete with straw.
It was not necessarilly these facilities that made the establishment famous however. These rooms were used mostly in the afternoon by anonymous clients, but in the evenings it was a fashionable place to be seen. Visitors would congregate in the Boeuf à la Ficelle restaurant, with visitors known to have include Jean Gabin, Charlie Chaplin, Marlène Dietrich, Cary Grant, Mae West, Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. This was not just any restaurant however, with diners enjoying caviar and champagne served by girls wearing only high heels and a camelia in their hair. Later they would retire to the Salon Miami and enjoy brandies and cigars and simply talk to the working girls. As one of them later recalled, "on nous payait pour bavarder, un peu comme des geishas" (we were paid for talking, a little like Geishas).
Number 122 Rue de Provence today. Jamet's additional four floors are clearly visible above the original townhouse.
On an average day, 50 girls would be working with an additional 40 people employed for auxiliary tasks. There were people to cut the girls' hair and give them manicures or pedicures. Doctors came every two weeks to inspect them, an essential part of being able to run a brothel in the city. Everything was clean, scrubbed and disinfected, but it would never be possible to remove the internal scars of the girls. They had been chosen because good fortune had given them exceptional or fashionable body forms, and whilst conditions in the establishment may have the best in Paris, a working day was still 14 hours, and the outside world was still a place of sordid housing, and partners who were often pimps or who simply drank or gambled away their earnings.
The fame of the establishment lasted barely fifteen years. In 1946 a shamed post-war France voted to close down all brothels and the One-Two-Two was given 6 months to open the shutters and shut the doors. In reality, it had been tainted by the war when German officers became the only clients. The building still stands today, unchanged, but the torture rooms have been replaced by Solicitors. We can now look inside the windows and imagine who passed through here but it is very difficult to picture the scene with today’s décor. The glimour of glamour that the Rue de Provence once had is now past, and once more it is little more than a covered sewer.