Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chocolat chaud and a crumbling Rothschild mansion

Exploring in Paris required a stimulant and fortifier - in this morning's case 'chocolat chaud', a charged Navigo pass and then I was ready to hop the Metro. Technically this day took me outside Paris to Boulogne-Billaincourt, a suburb grabbing the southwest environs.  Reaching the suburb, Parisian as it comes with well-coiffed ladies leading their Westies on a leash, I got lost. Where was the Bois de Boulogne - the lungs of Paris and bigger than Central Park in NYC? How could I miss it? More important where was the old Rothschild mansion left abandoned here that I'd come determined to find? A helpful suburbanite, Franprix shopping bag on arm, pointed me to the right bus. Then the bus driver indicated the stop but a white mustached passenger shook his head 'Non, le chateau Rothschild c'est par la' - a jab of his cane outside the bus window to a warren of moisture stained 50's concrete buildings.  Not promising until I hiked the lane and saw the trees of the edge of Bois de Boulogne. A trio of gardeners jerked their thumbs towards a green expanse and bushes. Two minutes later I saw this.

 But a high wire gate grown over with vines surrounded the whole place.
Undaunted I walked the periphery until my shoes were all wet searching for a place to climb over. No luck so I retraced my steps. Waited until a couple engaged in an intense conversation also with a Westie turned the other way and climbed over the lowest part of the fence near the park's entrance.  Threading my way through the trees and overgrowth I found a gatehouse, maybe I'm not sure, but here was something.
 I kept going and found the rear or maybe it's the front of this Rothschild mansion. The windows cemented up and the roof rotting.
 Graffiti artists had discovered this place and any underground parties I'd heard about were long over since every access was boarded or cemented up.
 Edmond de Rothschild, born in 1845, inherited this mansion bought by his father in 1817 who'd hired an architect to remodel it along the lines of chateau de Clagny. For eighty years, during it's heyday, this chateau hosted memorable parties of financiers, politicians and demi-mondaines of the Second Empire, the belle Epoque. Edmond, active in the Rothschild banking branch, fought in the 1877 Franco-Prussian war and later pursued artistic and philanthropic causes. He donated thousands of engravings and some Rembrandts to the Louvre. Also he became a leader in Zionism and helped established what would become Israel. But in his efforts he stated that "the struggle to put an end to the Wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab."
 Edmond died here in 1934 and his wife, a year later. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Rothschild family fled to England and left the Chateau. The Germans took it over for four years. At Liberation the Americans took their place using it also as an HQ and pillaged what was left. The mansion was given back to the Rothschilds after the war and submitted to the list of Historic Monuments. It was featured in some films but the upkeep led Baron Edmond to sell it in 1979 for a symbolic 'sou' to the Mairie of Boulogne.
 The Mairie, town hall, turned around and sold it to a Saudi Arabian for fifty million francs. But the Saudi seems to have let it rot and mildew away. More than thirty years later, under the same ownership, the house is still in ruins, with an estimated 30 million euro price tag for the renovation.
I climbed back over the fence - no gardeners around or couples with Westies - and quickfooted my way bypassing the bus to the Metro.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. I always find it, if not disheartening, at least somewhat sad, that no matter how fiercely we work to create things, time and entropy are relentless foes. It's a fight we're sure to lose, in the long run, but life is a short run, and THAT is where we can beat back our enemies and for a brief moment shine bright like a supernova star. Fight the good fight, and damn the tomorrows.

  2. So much for aging gracefully. But I bet Aimee will do something about it! Looking forward to seeing you Friday night at Jamet Rudolph's Mystery Salon. Should be great fun, two jet lagged authors trying to remember how to speak Engkisjk.

  3. What a sad tale for what could be a beautiful remembrance of times past. Too bad the Saudi didn't put his 50 million francs to better use helping sick children. At least the world would have gotten something out of his investment other than a rotting hulk.