April 28, 2018: La Samaritaine, Paris

 

On my first few trips to Paris, I was always struck by one of the best Art Deco facades anywhere: the riverfront building of the Samaritaine department store, just down the street from the Louvre.

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I never really shopped there, but like many others, we once made our way to the upper-floor café, which had great views across the river and the Left Bank. And then, suddenly, in 2005, it was gone. Still there, still visible, but dead. And for years there were plans: demolition, renovation, re-opening...but no action.

La_Samartaine_facadeThe main building of the store was actually in two quite different styles. On the side, along Rue de la Monnaie, Louis Jourdain designed an elaborate and exuberant Art Nouveau facade, completed in 1910. After WWI, the store continued to grow, and the building was extended toward the river, with an entirely Art Deco facade, designed mainly by Henri Sauvage, opened in 1928.

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When Louis Vuitton's LVMH company bought La Samaritaine in 2001, there was hope that the declining department store business might revive; instead, it was suddenly closed in 2005. A first plan by LVMH would have replaced the Art Deco facade with the one above, widely mocked as the 'shower-curtain.' Eventually planning permission that had allowed work to start was cancelled, and new plans drawn up which preserve both original facades.

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When the Art Deco section re-opens this fall (maybe!) it will house shops and a hotel, and will look like this architect's rendering. In the meantime, the building's full-body wrap is one of the best in Paris, and can be seen for quite a distance.

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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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