Saturday, 23 May 2009

L'Usine Spring Court

Backing on to the Manufacture de Saint Maur is another industrial space, the Usine Spring Court. An attractive mix of steel, glass and whitewashed brick, it at first seems to be a functioning factory, but push the entrance gate (in the Impasse Piver, 75011) and you'll be confronted by a spotless conversion job. Nothing solid is created here anymore, but it remains a centre of creation. In the place of rubber soles and canvas uppers, photographers now use the factory floors as studios.

It was an Alsacian, Théodore Grimmeisen, who created the first elements of this factory in 1870. These buildings are still visible as you enter and were used for the production of rubber stops and lids. Later his son would extend this production to include rubber footwear, but it wasn't until the grandson, Georges Grimmeisen, designed a revolutionary cotton canvas and vulcanised rubber tennis shoe in 1936 that the factory become internationally known. These shoes, the famous Spring Court brand, changed the lives of tennis players at the time, and launched a whole new type of footwear. Sports shoes became fashionable, so much so that John Lennon wore a pair on his wedding day and on the cover of the Beatles Abbey Road album!

As production increased, extra space was needed, and an extension was built at the rear. It is in these sections today that the majority of photo agencies and magazines are installed (the famous Magnum agency had their offices here for several years). The company may have been innovative, but they lacked the vision and marketing skills of German and American competitors, and in the 1980s the factory finally closed. The inheritor, another Théodore Grimmeisen, decided to continue making the shoes, but moved production to Thailand (where they use some of the original machinery). He then set about renovating the site and finding tenants for the newly created offices and studios. He wanted to rent only to companies related to creation and communication, and found no problems attracting interested groups.

Today the site looks almost like an industrial museum, where the pieces are still in place but there is not a sound to be heard nor a spot of oil or dirt to be seen. Even more astonishing though is the "L'Atelier des mélanges" restaurant which has been installed in an old chemistry laboratory. It operates as an upmarket canteen for the people working at the site, but prices are very reasonable and the position is magnificent, so if you are in the area one weekday lunchtime, it could be worth attempting to find a free table! If you have no luck there, head further in and visit the Spring Court factory shop where you can find the famous shoes at bargain prices.

In many ways the site is typical of industrial spaces in cities today, and it is the Manufacture de Saint Maur which is atypical. Given the success of this site, it would be tempting for developers to attempt something similar in the plot behind, but it is unlikely that it would have the same charm. The difference here at the Usine Spring Court is surely that the building still belongs to the same family who originally built the structures, and they look after site with love and care.

6 comments:

Peter (the other) said...

I can never seem to find the right words to explain the inner sadness I have been feeling for the last many decades, in the loss of industry in our western cities. In this period of clean, green and family friendly urban design, I mourn the oppressive, foul smelling temples of Vulcan where straining sinew molded the mineral masses into les choses of our lives (somehow romantic to me). I find today's L'isle Seguin a sad scar next to that proud ship that used to command the Seine. I worked short periods as a young man, in such places, but as I was a University fellow much more of the managerial class, I never suffered the sense of penal sentence, the shortened violent lives that was the truth for many of its laborers. But you can get used to hanging, if you do it long enough.

That you write that Spring Court is now manufactured in Thailand is thus sad to me. When I was furnishing my apartment in Paris, a couple of years ago, as an American I was astonished to find so many items picked up from hardware stores or BHV were still manufactured in France. I respected the "wisdom" of the French conservatism. This, perhaps simple, resistance to change, although infuriating in fashionable youth, reeked of sensible compared to the children gone mad debt orgy going on back home in the USA.

Not everyone is a genius. There have to be places where there is honest and steady work for the men, where they can feel like they have made some thing, anything for the day. I pray the French resist Sarko's silly puppet song of his masters, to sell even more to the "cheap" labor of other places, or it will become like the USA is now, a continent of undereducated, underemployed dolts with nothing to do but sell fried potatoes, cell phones, bad mortgages and fraudulent investments to each other.

But then... I am not opinionated ;-)

Starman said...

The thing I most admire about the French is not their resistance to change, which is infuriating, but their respect for the art and skills or their predecessors. Americans pride themselves on being at the forefront and modern, and that's why you'll find few buildings older than one hundred years. Modern is great, but have some respect for the beauty and artistry of yesterday....like the French.

ArtSparker said...

Spotted spmething recently about what all the closing car dealership spaces here could be used for - they tend to have a lot of light streaming in and open floor space.

Adam said...

Peter: I guess we as consumers are equally to blame. We won't pay a little extra for something locally produced, and instead are always looking for what is cheapest. Given that equation, industry in western countries was destined to decline. However, what I like about this 'usine' is that there is still creation here - it's not dirty and noisy, but there are still people using the facilities to make things, even if these are photos, magazines or graphics.

By the way, I'm still working on a post about the Bièvre!

Peter (the other) said...

"We won't pay a little extra for something locally produced, and instead are always looking for what is cheapest."

Superficially correct, of course, although there is a small band of us who perversely prefer to think "if it costs more it must be better". There are costs and then there are costs. The true costs of cheap labour are just shifted. There is always E. F. Shumaker, but this all in the original Peter's field so I will restrain from my amateurish pondering.

Bièvre on!

Peter said...

I'm happy you found this place and that it seems so well kept care of! (Shall we have a lunch there one day?)

I would spontaneously so much like to agree with the "other Peter's" statements ... but if there are some people who still are prepared to pay the extra, they (we?) are so few that I believe not much can be done to change the tendency.

In the worst of the oil crisis a year ago, there were ideas of going back to local production, closing of hypermarkets.... , but now this seems to be forgotten ... until further!

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