Wednesday 12 February 2014

Dead cinemas, living spaces: The Victor Hugo Pathé

Way back in 2008, when this blog was a mere tot, I tried to launch a miniature visual database of disused and transformed cinemas in Paris. One that I missed back then though is perhaps one of the most interesting of all – the Victor Hugo Pathé – which was a special location for several reasons.

Although it is difficult to picture a cinema on the site today, it remains nevertheless a striking building. The cinema was an integral part of the initial design, but it is the very narrowness of the plot that dictated how it would look and operate.

The brief was to build an apartment block and to include a 750 seat cinema at its heart. City regulations though stated that the basement could go no deeper than half the height of the building, creating something of a puzzle to solve for the two architects, Jean Charavel and Marcel Melendès.

In a pure art deco style, the architects chose to construct the building around three concrete platforms. The 12m spaces between these platforms offered enough room to build duplex apartments, illuminated at the front by large bay windows. To the sides, the building undulates rhythmically, with curved balconies and further bay windows.

What we are really interested in though is the cinema, and here too the architects proved to be particularly innovative. The cinema needed a large screen and balconies, but how could this be possible in such a small space? The solution was to slope the main auditorium floor gently up towards the screen and place the balconies at ground floor level. This was the first time this had been done in France, but it became a fairly common feature in cinemas afterwards. 

The cinema lasted a little longer than 50 years. It opened in 1931, and was finally closed for good in 1986. Today a frozen food retailer occupies the unit, but it is still possible to imagine the foyer and appreciate the logic of the space. There are now very few single screen cinemas left in Paris, and the 16th - along with the 7th - has the fewest screens of all the arrondissements in the city (just one cinema complex in each of these two very wealthy districts). 

The building then and now.

The 'foyer' today, leading down to the frozen food arena.

As a footnote, it appears that the Pathé company was behind the construction of the entire building (see this document from the Cité Chaillot architecture archives), but there is also a suggestion on this website that the company used the building to house foreign film stars when they needed to stay in Paris. I have found no other mention of this usage though, so cannot validate the veracity of this statement. If it is true, the building surely has many more stories to tell!

Find the building: 65 rue Saint-Didier, 75016, M° Victor Hugo


Marc Piel said...

Thank you for the reminder.

I can remember going there.

But that area has changed so much; there was a three story bookshop on Place Victor Hugo as well!

now it is an area that one goes through, not to.


Yuri G. said...

Thank you for the very interesting blog. I wonder if you'd like to help me to identify a street and passage in Paris.

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