Sunday, 26 July 2009

Breaking the Bank

Despite what we may have discovered recently, bankers making poor investment choices is not just a 21st century maladie. In 19th century Paris, one of the most distinguished and careful bankers of the period managed to lose over 6 million francs building a vanity house that would also nearly bankrupt his inheritants. The house still stands today, providing office space for new generations of the banking establishment, but who could have built such a house and why?

The answer is Emille Gaillard. Regent de la Banque de France (a member of the bank's administration), Gaillard was also the son and grandson of prestigious bankers. He was a passionate collector of renaissance art, and needed a large space in which to store and display his collection. He bought a patch of land in what was Malesherbes (today near the Parc Monceau), and decided to build a townhouse 'palace' that would rival some of his favourite chateaux along the Loire river.

It is said that there is no accounting for taste, but it is also true to say that accountants don't necessarily have good taste. Gaillard's house is an impressive, but also quite ridiculous neo-renaissance, gothic behemoth. Swaggering across the street and around a corner, it is a procession of twisting chimneys, bestial drainpipes and pointed arches.

Built between 1878 and 1885, it had a brief moment of glory during its inauguration when Gaillard threw a party the like of which Paris had rarely seen. Over 2000 people attended the event, celebrating not only the house but also the entrance into society of his daughter Jeanne. The guests came, naturally enough in renaissance costumes, but spent much of their time admiring the luxurious interiors and immense ballroom of the house.

Oversized and overambitious, the house was always going to be a heavy weight around the necks of Gaillard's offspring. He died in 1902, and the house was immediately put up for sale. It was estimated that he had spent over 11 million francs on the project, but the asking price was a mere 1.8 million francs - and yet still there were no buyers! It wasn't until 1919 that it would be sold, ironically to the Banque de France, Gaillard's former employers.

90 years later, it is still in the hands of this French instititution, but recent reports suggest that they too would now like to be rid of the place. The original decoration is still in impressive condition and the ballroom has not been touched, but once again, potential purchasers are thin on the ground. Another recent suggestion has been to transform the structure into a museum, perhaps around the theme of finance and banking. This would seem to be a very good idea, but the first installation should be a warning against the dangers of extravagance!

Note: You may well note that the structure is in brick. For more information on the more technical aspects of the construction and the architect concerned, see my bricksinparis blog.

7 comments:

Ken Mac said...

that place looks totally haunted

CarolineLD said...

I love the drainpipe - and the idea of aggravating one's heirs like that!

Starman said...

I don't think it's a matter of bankers making poor investment choices as much as it is of bankers making choices based on greed, with no thought to long-term consequences.

ArtSparker said...

The state of mind in which I can imagine choosing to build something like this I would equate with the American advertising tags "I'm worth it" and "I deserve it", in which virtue is equating with showering oneself with goodies.

Thérèse said...

Time to put a future "ghost sign" on one of the walls...

Peter said...

I often wondered what Banque de France intended to do with this building; it seems to be empty since long. (Did you see my recent post on the statues and the buildings Place du Général Catroux? http://peter-pho2.blogspot.com/2009/07/broken-chains.html )

Anonymous said...

Have you ever been inside of the banque?
I am a student which research about the Elille gaillard hotel.
But I could not find the photos...

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