Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Theatre de Belleville

The evolution of a city is a gently flowing stream, turning over old stones and rolling them down to new positions. As fashions change and tastes diversify, buildings are transformed or pulled down and newer models spring up in their place. The city always wants to display its most modern face, but often clues are left behind which betray the past. Such is the case with the Theatre de Belleville.

Little pictorial evidence exists of the original theatre built in 1826 on the Cour Lesage off the Rue de Belleville, but by all accounts it was a magnificent building both inside and out. This was a time when Belleville was one of the suburbs of Paris, a place of leisure where Parisians went to enjoy cheaper entertainment and more relaxed licensing laws, and the theatre became one of the most important in the region.

It was particularly popular amongst the working classes, and the theatre repertoire reflected their tastes. Vaudeville, historical plays and melodramas were the most successful, keeping audience numbers high for many years. So popular was the theatre in fact that when it was badly damaged by fire in 1867, the necessary money for repairs was very quickly found.

The theatre continued to thrive into the twentieth century until a new competitor came along that would prove more dangerous than fire - the cinema. The theatre stuggled to adapt and keep up with fashions, until in 1932, Paul Caillet, the owner at the time, decided to demolish the old theatre and put up a new building in its place. Using the most modern art-deco styles of contemporary architects, no longer could it be said that the Theatre de Belleville was behind the times.

The new building incorporated not only a theatre, but also apartments, a dance hall and a garage. However, the new venture wasn't the success that Caillet had hoped for. The theatre was certainly one of the most modern around, but it lacked the charm that its regulars had always appreciated. Soon it found itself sharing the auditorium with film screenings, and by the end of the 1940s, cinema pushed drama out of the building forever.

However, even as a cinema it was not a great success. There was too much competition in the neighbourhood (there were upwards of 30 cinemas in Belleville and Menilmontant in the 1950s), and the theatre de Belleville was too large. The end came in 1962 when it was sold off and transformed into a supermarket. It hadn't finsihed its evolution yet though, and today the supermarket itself has become a chinese restaurant.

So what is left today of the theatre? The attractive art-deco building still stands with its impressive central column. The two lowest levels still show the form of a cinema frontage, even if they have been decorated in a more chinese style today. What is left is one final clue. Although the theatre became a cinema, a supermarket and a restaurant, the pharmacie at the beginning of the street saw no reason to change. And that meant that there was no reason to change its name either.


Christine said...

How wonderful that the pharmacy is still there and that it kept its original name.

Ken Mac said...

great history.

Hey, I was watching Truffaut's Bed and Board last night. Are you a fan?

Starman said...

Too bad about the theatre, though.

Cergie said...

Je ne suis pas encore une super habituée de la rue cependant il m'a bien semblé reconnaître le restau à l'écart de la rue. Tu crois que pour le nouvel an chinois cela le ferait bien ?
De ce coté au début de la rue de Belelville il y a le café-restaurant "la vielleuse" qui a été bombardé par la grosse Bertha
J'admire ta manière d'investiguer, tu nous épargnes maintenant les rebuffades que tu essuies et les portes poussées subrepticement, mais je les imagine bien.
J'ai cherché, poussée par toi et la curiosité, et ai trouvé ce lien qui m'a fait fort plaisir :
Eddy est le chanteur français préféré de mon mari, un homme fort discret qui n'étale pas sa vie dans les magazines, nous sommes allés voir son dernier spectacle à l'Olympia (qu'est ce qu'on y est mal assis)

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