One of the most conspicuous 1930s buildings in Boulogne-Billancourt is the post office, just opposite the City Hall on Avenue André Morizet.
(André Morizet was mayor of Boulogne-Billancourt from 1919 until his death in 1942, with an interruption in the 1920s.)
My first photo shows a painting of the post office when it was new and clean in 1939. The painting is on display in the nearby Musée des années 30 (Museum of the 1930s).
Here is the entrance to the post office as of 2015. I suppose it is the shape of the windows that gives it away as a 1930s building — all those dark horizontal lines on the windows seem to have been in fashion during the entire decade.
By coincidence, the town where I grew up in the United States also had a large 1930s post office. In our case, it was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to help alleviate unemployment during the great depression. (Can anyone tell me if there was a similar program in France during the depression years?)
The City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) of Boulogne-Billancourt is another typical 1930s building. It was designed by an architect named Tony Garnier and was built between 1931 and 1934. It is listed as a French Historical Monument because of its façade, roof and grand hall. (Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.)
Boulogne-Billancourt does not get huge crowds of tourists, but it does have a city tourist office located directly across the street from the City Hall. The friendly young ladies who work there do not have terribly much to do, so they are happy to chat with anyone who happens to wander in.
This is a leaflet I was given at the tourist office, with a map of Boulogne-Billancourt and information on the town’s attractions. The leaflet mentions Paul Belmondo (1898-1982), a sculptor whose works are displayed in a new museum in Boulogne-Billancourt. He was the father of the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Next door to the City Hall is a curvy 1930s building called the Center for Social Hygiene, which now houses a police station among other things. This building is not inscribed as a French Historical Monument, but it is listed by the city of Boulogne-Billancourt as a stop on their “Route of the 1930s” (Parcours des Années 30).
This Parcours sign reveals that the Center for Social Hygiene was designed in 1936 by an architect named Roger-Léopold Hummel (1900-1983). Construction began in 1939 but was soon interrupted by the Second World War, so the building was not completed until 1945.
One reason for Boulogne-Billancourt’s increased building activity in the 1930s was that by that time the adjacent Paris quarter of Auteuil had been largely built up, so real estate developers looking for new construction sites just crossed the city boundary and kept on building.
Until then, Boulogne-Billancourt had been known mainly for its car and aircraft factories and for its film studios. For example, the 1938 film Hôtel du Nord by Marcel Carné, which looks as though it was filmed on location on the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, was actually filmed by a fake canal that was built at great expense outside the film studios in Billancourt, because the noise level on the real canal was so high that we couldn’t have heard Arletty saying “Atmosphère! Atmosphère! Est-ce que j’ai une gueule d’atmosphère?”
Try as I might, I just can’t work up much interest in 1930s architecture, so I did not systematically follow the Parcours des Années 30 (Route of the 1930s) as suggested by the city of Boulogne-Billancourt. But I did happen to notice one of their Parcours signs as I was riding along Avenue Robert Schumann on a Vélib’ bike, so I stopped to have a look.
Surprisingly, this alleged point of interest was surrounded by a fence and gate which blocked all view of what was inside for anyone shorter than 1.93 meters (that’s 6’4” in non-metric countries). So I didn’t actually see the house and atelier as shown in my photo. I simply held the camera at arm’s length above my head and clicked at random, getting a picture of a house (which turns out to have been built in the 1880s) and a sculptor’s atelier from the year 1921. (So neither one is actually from the 1930s.)
This sign reveals that the atelier was built in 1921 by the architect Charles Plumet (1861-1928) for the sculptor Joseph Bernard (1866-1931), who also lived here with his family. Both the house and the atelier are inscribed as French Historical Monuments. (Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.)
Let me close this brief tour of Boulogne-Billancourt with another architectural oddity, namely a thinly disguised parking garage covered with a metallic mesh which in my opinion does not improve its appearance particularly, but just makes it more conspicuous.
This parking garage turns out not to be in Boulogne-Billancourt at all, but just across the city boundary in Paris (Auteuil) on a street called Rue Nungesser-et-Coli. The street was named after two early French aviators, Charles Nungesser (1892-1927) and François Coli (1881-1927), who were both heroes of aerial combat in the First World War. They disappeared together in May 1927 while attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop in a small plane. Two weeks later their rival Charles Lindbergh successfully completed such a flight in the opposite direction. (See my Le Bourget post Waiting for Lindbergh, 1927.)
At first glance the metallic mesh façade on the parking garage reminded me of a building in the first arrondissement of Paris which is similarly disguised, the Ministry of Culture and Communication on rue Saint-Honoré. The difference is that the ministry building was not in such urgent need of being covered up. Also the structure of the two meshes is very different. On the parking garage, the metal strips are closer together and are organized into sharp reclining triangles.
I like to think that if I were an architect I would be very noble and refuse to build multi-story parking garages, but I am aware that lots of architects do such things because they have to make a living somehow and have to scrounge for whatever work they can get.
A closer look at the parking garage sign reveals this to be the Parking Jean Bouin. It was named after the nearby Jean Bouin Stadium, which in turn was named after the French athlete Jean Bouin (1888-1914), a runner who participated in the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games and broke several world records in middle-distance running before being killed in action during World War One.
My photos in this post are from 2006 and 2015. I revised the text in 2019.
See also: Welcome to the 1930s.
10 thoughts on “1930s architecture in Boulogne-Billancourt”
underrated town just off Paris, used to go there a lot lunch by place marcel sembat.
I have an odd affection for 1930s architecture, perhaps because my primary school (I think you would say grade school?) dated from that period
Now that you mention it, my grade school (we also called it an elementary school) might also have been built in the 1930s. I started school in the 1940s, and the building was not new at the time. The school was named after a local celebrity, Francis Willard, the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
It seems these days our thoughts are drifting to similar subjects. I really enjoyed these two blogposts looking at what’s left of the 1930s in a French suburb and showing the last disturbing vestiges of colonialism, both in museums and in the exhibition your father documented with his photos.
Just last week, I wrote a poem inspired by 1930s Art Deco architecture in Mumbai, India.
I always enjoy the accounts of your travels! Keep it up!
Thanks for the nice comment, and thanks for the link to your poem!
I’m intrigued to know what a ‘Center for Social Hygiene’ actually is
Good question. I don’t know either.
That parking garage looks like modern art. Such an interesting addition to the city.
I am a huge fan of the 30s and that hospital building looks fabulous. Impressive journey! Sabina
Hi Sabina, thanks for having a look at my blog.