The young man on the right in this photo is my father at age 20, playing chess with his friend Gustav Lamm in a suburb of Paris in the year 1925. On the back of the photo he wrote (in German): Mein Freund Gustav und ich beim Schachspiel in BoisColombes – Sept 1925 (Villa Osouf) dort wohnten wir.-
This means: “My friend Gustav and I playing chess in Bois-Colombes – Sept 1925 (Villa Osouf). We lived there.”
Nearly ninety-six years later, in July 2021, I took a train from Paris to Bois-Colombes (two stops on the J-line) and went looking for Villa Osouf, which turned out to be a pleasant little impasse off of Rue Victor Hugo, just a ten-minute walk from the station.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the word Villa is often used in France to mean not just a free-standing house, but a gated neighborhood. Villa Osouf does indeed have a lockable gate at the entrance, but it was wide open when I was there, so I could go in and have a look.
There are seven houses in Villa Osouf, all built in the early 20th century, but I don’t know which one my father was living in.
During this period, from 1924 to the beginning of 1928, he was working for a wholesale costume jewelry company in Paris, the reason being that his home town (in what is now the Czech Republic) was a town where glass and costume jewelry were the main industries. His family had an export business, and through their contacts to business partners in France they were able to find a job in Paris for their youngest son, as well as a room where he could live in somebody’s house in Bois-Colombes.
Since the company he worked for in Paris was mainly an export company, he was gradually able to meet people from all over the world who were in the costume jewelry business, including a certain Mr. Morris from Morris, Mann & Reilly Inc. in Chicago.
Since 1999, Villa Osouf is one of eight streets in Bois-Colombes which are protected by a municipal zoning regulation aimed at preserving their “architectural harmony” by prohibiting any building projects that would disrupt “the specific character of the alignment or the architecture” of the houses.
Osouf is a family name, but not a very common one.
According to the French genealogical website Filae, Osouf is only the 17,877th most common family name in France, in other words it is quite rare. Since 1890, only 541 persons with that family name have been born in France. Osouf is a Norman name (i.e. from the Normandie region of France), but the name is of Germanic origin, coming from oswulf — os meaning a pagan god and wulf meaning wolf.
In eighth-century England there was briefly a king named Oswulf. He was king of Northumbria from 758 to 759, but he was murdered (as kings often were in those days) before completing the first year of his reign.
I suppose the most famous French person named Osouf was the sculptor Jean Osouf (1898–1996), who was taught or at least encouraged by Aristide Maillol. Currently in France there is a film director called Valérie Osouf, who is known particularly for her documentaries on post-colonial Africa.
P.S. The only thing I know about my father’s friend Gustav Lamm is that he later emigrated to Argentina. In 1931 he was living in Buenos Aires, according to my father’s address book for that year.
My photos and text in this post are from 2021.
See more posts on my family history.
See more posts on Bois-Colombes, France.
24 thoughts on “Villa Osouf 1925”
I love going back to places that I have lived to see how they have changed and sometimes I even get to go back and see where my parents lived to as my grandparents still lived there. Sometimes I can’t find the places again and sometimes the buildings have disappeared (the place where my grandfather lived in the 1870 census has become a freeway and ditto the place where my grandmother was born in Germany), but I always try to look.
Yes, it’s interesting to see what has happened to these places. When I went back to Vietnam, thirty years after my military service there, one of the places was just the same (except that they had electricity and better steps leading down to the river) but the other was completely different (old army compounds having been torn down in the meantime).
Fun Post. I love geneology. I looked at your link to Filae and our family name is pretty unpopular too. It was eleven thousand something. We’ve found it all over France but more in the south. A former Virtual Tourist member who lives in France said our family name was often used by the family who carried the monstrance at Mass because it looks like a large sun. There is probably some validity in that.
Thanks for your comment. I always enjoy hearing from you.
A delightful ramble through the streets.
Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.
It’s a wonderful place & I appreciate the manner in which it has been protected & maintained. How a simple photograph can have such depth in the story & good you visited the place. I enjoyed reading.
Thanks, Vijay. Glad you enjoyed the post.
Such an interesting story! How nice you could visit the place.
Thanks. I never even knew where he lived until I found this photo and noticed the writing on the back.
What a handsome young man 🙂 Nice story. It is amazing to have the opportunity to go back and visit these places
Yes, I’m glad I had a chance to go there.
How fascinating to read about your visit to your father’s past home. Could you find out from census data where he lived? I was fortunate enough to find the house where my 7th great grandfather lived in Denmark, back in 1801, yet do not know where my Great Grandfather or any rellies in between lived. I will continue to look and as more records go on line, you find a little bit more of the piece of the puzzle.
Thanks for your visits and comments. I don’t really know much about my father’s side of the family — or my mother’s, for that matter. I know nothing about any of my great-grandparents except that one of them was supposedly a member of the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves travel to safety in Canada. Another story (perhaps apocryphal) is that when the first motor car came through his village in western Massachusetts he opined: “It’ll never replace the horse.”
Funny story about the car and horse comment. One often wonders what technology holds for us in just another decade, given that mobile phones have changed the face of the entire planet. Machine learning is a daunting prospect in the long term. It will replace us. I hope those words are like the horse anecdote – completely wrong.
What an interesting story, history with a personal touch!
That is a great photo of your father. How lucky you are to have it. It seems so rare to find a photo of someone doing something with a friend in a neighborhood, when most photos I have access to from those times are stiff and based on a family gathering. I love it that you went to find the villa where he lived. When I moved to Portland, I asked my grandmother (who had moved away) for all her Portland addresses, then found each one and took a photo, and sent them all to her. It was a fun exercise, and I was delighted to remember visiting all three homes when I was young.
Yes, I really like this photo, but it took a long time before I got the idea of taking it out of its plastic cover to read what was written on the back.
It was like a brand new treasure, I’ll bet! What a surprise!
How wonderful to be able to trace the street where your father lived! Not everyone would have captioned their photos so carefully. Looking at Villa Osouf it reminds me of the villas we saw recently in La Mouzaïa, although they slope more steeply!
Until recently, I never knew my father had ever lived in a villa. The most famous villas (in the French sense of the word) are only for very rich people: https://operasandcycling.com/villa-montmorency/ — (I think you might have seen this one before.)
Very cool post! I tracked down the house where my father lived when he was q concert master in Vienna. Lots of work but very satisfying.
Nice detective work!