Invisible Bordeaux has switched back into English for this latest podcast, which revisits the tragic story of that night in 1959 when ...


Invisible Bordeaux has switched back into English for this latest podcast, which revisits the tragic story of that night in 1959 when a Transports Aériens Intercontinentaux DC-7C crashed shortly after taking off from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport. 

Sixty years on to the very day, I headed back to the area in Saint-Jean-d'Illac where the crash occurred, meeting up with Chris Davey who, along with his travelling companion Paul, had cycled all the way from the south-west of England to view the area. His connection with the event is particularly poignant as Chris’s dad, James or Jimmy Davey, was among the 54 people who perished that night.

Here then is the podcast, in which I retrace the sequence of events that resulted in the crash, and talk to Chris about the story behind his journey in search of his personal history. 


You can also find the podcast on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice... 

> This podcast is an adaptation of the blog item published earlier in 2019 that you can find here, complete with archive and modern-day photos, and a map showing the crash area. 
> The obituaries of 'Jimmy' Davey and Hilary Morris can be found here.

So yeah, water towers don’t get much press, do they? They stand tall and proud above our villages, towns and cities, “at a height suffi...


So yeah, water towers don’t get much press, do they? They stand tall and proud above our villages, towns and cities, “at a height sufficient to pressurize a water supply system for the distribution of potable water, and to provide emergency storage for fire protection” (thanks Wikipedia), and here at ground level we barely notice them. Well, all that is about to change, as Invisible Bordeaux guides you through some of the Gironde’s finest water towers, and as you’re about to find out, they’re all fascinating for different reasons, starting with this one, which can be found in Le Porge.

What I find interesting about this 1950 water tower in Le Porge is its slender art deco style, complete with elegant lettering, and the fact it’s bang in the town centre, right between the mairie and the church, making it just about the most prominent local landmark. 


The most unusual thing about these two water towers in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles is how close they are to each other. They’re both located just inside the tall perimeter fences of massive grounds belonging to ArianeGroup, although many locals still refer to the area as “la poudrerie” given its centuries-old history of producing gunpowder and explosives. These days the facility produces the fuel and gases used to launch space rockets and missiles. 


This water tower in the hamlet of Blagon (part of Lanton) promotes far more leisurely liquid pursuits, in the shape of its faded advertisement for “Rhum St Esprit”. This brand of rhum was created by the Bordeaux wine trader André Teissèdre in 1867 and an article on durhum.com suggests the brand continued to be marketed until the 1990s.


The distinguishing feature about this next water tower in Cours-les-Bains is that it has been built at the highest point in the Gironde département. Some time ago, with my occasional travelling partner Vincent Bart (blogger and social media star) we went on an impromptu road trip to Cours-les-Bains just to see what would happen at such dizzying heights (altitude: 167 metres!). Possibly because we didn’t cope well with the lack of oxygen, nothing much happened at all, so we never got round to writing about the non-adventure… but I’m glad the water tower is getting a belated namecheck here.  


This 1970s water tower, in an area of Carcans known as Le Pouch, is possibly my favourite, just because of the slightly mad painting that was added when it was given a complete overhaul in 2010. The circular mural, which takes up the whole surface of the tower, was the work of one Francis Lecoq, a painter-decorator from central France. It’s all very cheesy but also quite likeable. And if you want to see how things used to be, check out the picture here.   


This is arguably a reservoir rather than a water tower (but at what point does one become the other?), but the incredible 1927 reinforced concrete structure in Talence known as the Réservoir de Lavardens deserves its 15 minutes of fame here. Despite its scale, little information about the place is available online, although one document I came across suggests the reservoir is no longer in use. (See page 90 here.)


I like this 1970s water tower in Le Haillan just because of its other-worldly, supersize-me scale. It’s some thirty metres tall and looks straight out of a science fiction movie. 


The Château d’eau de Montalon in Saint-André-de-Cubzac is of a similarly impressive scale, although it has more of an old-school feel with its small windows and openings. Above the ground-floor entrance, the name “Syndicat des eaux du cubzaguais fronsadais” appears in smart lettering. 


This spherical steel number in Ambarès-et-Lagrave is anything but old-school! The space-age tower can easily be spotted from the A10 motorway and is actually located within the grounds of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.


There’s a similar retro-futuristic feel about this water tower in Lormont, which was erected around 1965. Apparently, an extensive reservoir can be found at the base of the tall tee which is holding up the golf ball-shaped tank. It has been known to look very different, such as the time the artist Olivier Crouzel projected pictures on to it, as pictured here and here


A much more conventional water tower can also be spotted in Lormont, in a densely-populated residential area. This one was built in 1952.


This water tower, which can be found in central Bordeaux on rue de la Croix-de-Seguey, looks like it should really be part of some medieval castle! It was in fact built in 1857 and is just one part of the enormous waterworks in the area, which also comprises the famous Paulin 13,000-cubic-metre underground reservoir, used to stock water that is piped in all the way from the north-western suburbs of the city.  


The shorter of these two water towers in Podensac was the first of influential architect Le Corbusier’s projects to roll out in France, and the 1917 25-metre-tall circular steel-reinforced concrete tower, which ceased to operate in 1940, has already been featured on the blog. It is set to be renovated and may even open to the general public in the coming years. Meanwhile, the taller, more modern tower on the left is probably just getting on with its daily water-related chores! 


And we finish off looking over rows of vines towards Château Segonzac in Saint-Genès-de-Blaye, whose magnificent water tower wouldn’t look out of place on the rooftops of New York, wouldn’t you say?


Of course, this is all barely forming a ripple in the surface of Gironde’s water towers, and I’m sure many readers will be in touch with fine examples I have either forgotten about or never knew existed. Fortunately, there is a whole website dedicated to France’s water towers (http://chateau.deau.free.fr) with a worryingly complete page about Gironde showing there are plenty more great water towers to be spotted in Barsac, Cestas, Cussac-Fort Médoc, Haux, Léognan, Libourne, Pauillac and Saint-Trojan, amongst others!    

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

The eighth episode of the monthly French-language Invisible Bordeaux features one of Gironde's most famous radio voices, that of J...


The eighth episode of the monthly French-language Invisible Bordeaux features one of Gironde's most famous radio voices, that of Jean-Pierre Gauffre, who officiates daily on France Bleu Gironde. But Jean-Pierre, who started out as a journalist, is a master of many artistic trades, having written countless books, plays and stand-up shows... and founding a newspaper! 

In this chat we talk about the work that goes into his daily France Bleu pieces, the stories behind his live shows (the most recent being Les Monologues du Vin in which he dissects the world of wine), the thinking behind the Petit dictionnaire absurde & impertinent series of books, and his favourite haunts in Bordeaux and his beloved Médoc.

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice! And scroll on down for additional resources!


Click here if player does not display properly on your device.

> Jean-Pierre Gauffre's website provides full information about his work and can be found here: http://jeanpierregauffre.fr/
> His daily France Bleu Gironde piece can be heard here.
> The full series of Petits dictionnaires can be found on the Féret website here.

A few weeks ago I was once again out and about overlaying old postcards on the same modern-day views of Bordeaux. Among those pictures c...


A few weeks ago I was once again out and about overlaying old postcards on the same modern-day views of Bordeaux. Among those pictures connecting the early 20th and 21st centuries was this one of the Jardin Public, and the card featured some lines from an “Ode à Bordeaux” written by one Lodoïs Lataste. Who was Lataste and what more do we know about his ode to the city? 

Lodoïs Lataste was born in Bordeaux in 1842 (and died in 1923) and various sources suggest that throughout his career he headed up a mutual benefit society in Bègles, was the deputy general secretary of the French mutualist press union, and – in Paris – was in charge of the drafting reports and laws passed by France’s lower parliamentary house (chef du service des procès-verbaux et de l'expédition des lois de la Chambre des députés). But Lataste was also a writer and composer, delivering, amongst many others, the lyrics to a work known as “Le rêve de l’orphelin” (1866), writing the words and music for a piece called “Fontainebleau !” in 1888, and also the patriotic work “Les deux sœurs”, celebrating the ties between France and Russia (1894).   

Above all, Lodoïs Lataste is remembered for his 1904 “Hymne à la Mutualité”, an anthem that takes the form of a military marching tune. On the Musée de la Mutualité française website, the piece is described as “a piece of patriotic bravura in every sense of the word; General André, Minister of War, requested it be played in military parades and the anthem asserts itself as an educational act in favour of the reforming doctrine of mutuality”. Lataste earned a new nickname and became the "Rouget de l’Isle of mutuality", Rouget de l’Isle being the composer of France’s national anthem la Marseillaise.

While hunting down further information about Lataste’s anthem to mutuality, I came across a blog run by one JC Togrege, who had discovered an original score of the piece in among documents that had belonged to his parents. Togrege states that "In total, there are six couplets that include emblematic words such as freedom, proletarian classes, workers' pensions, social happiness, providence, etc." He also adds that "it is easy to poke fun at this largely bombastic style, but do not laugh at the values ​​that are proclaimed. Remember that [France’s] Social Security system only dates back to 1945! Before that date, social protection was the domain of the mutualists, first and foremost through the mutual benefit societies that were the ancestors of today’s mutualist private insurance companies."

A musical score dating from 1905 as originally featured in a dedicated article on the Chroniques de JC Togrege blog (recommended reading!).
How about Lataste’s Ode to Bordeaux then? Obviously, the excerpt that features on my 1913 postcard praises the joys of the Jardin Public (the name of which rhymes in French with that of the Flemish Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck…):

Un ravissant Eden où coule une rivière
Près des lilas en fleurs, c'est le Jardin Public.
On y voit des babys jouant sous l’ombrière,
À tenter le pinceau d’un Greuze ou d’un Van Dyck.

(A lovely garden of Eden where a river flows
Near the lilacs in bloom, this is the Jardin Public.
We see toddlers playing in the shadehouse,
Scenes that could have been painted by Greuze or Van Dyck.)

Thanks to the wonders of the worldwide web, I have found two further postcards that also showcase Lataste’s written tribute to his home city. Here is what he had to say about the Tourny statue:

Source: mistercard.net
Ce joli monument consacre la Mémoire
D’un Maire de Bordeaux, l’Intendant de Tourny.
La splendeur de nos quais est entière à sa gloire,
Il sert toujours d’exemple aux Maires d’aujourd’hui.

(This pretty monument consecrates the memory
Of a Mayor of Bordeaux, the Intendant of Tourny.
The splendor of our quays is entirely to his glory,
It still serves as an example to today's mayors.)

And here is his homage to Gustave Eiffel’s now-disused iron railway bridge that spans the Garonne:

Salut beau Viaduc, jeté sur la Garonne
Imposant et léger ainsi qu'un arc-en-ciel !
Celui qui te conçut a parfait sa couronne
En créant à Paris la belle Tour Eiffel !

(Let us salute this fine viaduct that crosses the Garonne
As imposing yet as light as a rainbow!
The person who conceived you perfected their crown
By creating the beautiful Eiffel Tower in Paris!)

So there we have three verses of Lataste’s poem to the glory of Bordeaux, but just how many verses and questionable rhymes were there in all? In ancient Greek literature, an ode was traditionally made up of seven verses, so if Lataste applied that rule what other four city sights did he immortalize in poetry? As I have yet to find the full text, that pleasing sense of mystery will remain… unless you can help me reconstruct, in its entirety, Lodoïs Lataste’s ode to Bordeaux. If you can, do get in touch! 

This story starts in the garden outhouse of a colleague, who earlier this year was doing some renovation work in the Bordeaux-Caudéran ...


This story starts in the garden outhouse of a colleague, who earlier this year was doing some renovation work in the Bordeaux-Caudéran residence she moved into in 2017. She came across a small metal Kodak Plus-X 35mm camera film canister. On the lid it was specified that the film was to be developed by October 1955. She opened the box and found a long roll of negatives inside. 


Her natural reaction was to head to a nearby camera shop to get the negatives converted into digital files, and what emerged from the film were no less than 51 priceless pictures: family photos at home, out on picnics and relaxing on the beach in Arcachon, pictures of Caudéran and Mérignac covered in deep snow, and what appears to be a child’s birthday party. There were also lots of cars and family pets!
When my colleague showed me and others her unexpected finds, I instantly thought of the subject as a potential Invisible Bordeaux item. And when she showed us this incredible Robert Doisneau-like scene of a kid and an adult sitting on the bumper of a car, I realised that the logical challenge was to track down that child 65 years down the line! Where could he be and where could we start? 


The previous occupiers of the Caudéran house had acquired the property in 2000. The related paperwork noted that the sellers at that time had been one Jacqueline D. and her two children Jean-Claude D. (born 1948 in Talence, residing in Draguignan, south-eastern France) and Christine Marie D. (born 1956 in Bordeaux, residing in Louviers, northern France). Cross-referencing with many of the photos featuring a little boy, including the two birthday party pictures where the cake sported seven candles, there was a fair chance that that little boy was Jean-Claude who, over time, could conceivably have become one of the owners of the property. 

I had instant dreams of triggering a massive search on social media but instead chose the old-school “pages blanches” online telephone directory, and soon tracked down a Jean-Claude D. in a town some thirty kilometres from Draguignan, and sent a message providing a brief explanation of what had been found. Later that same day, my phone rang, and it was one Stéphane D., confirming that, yes, it was his dad on the photos.

This 1955 picture of the seafront in Arcachon was among the finds 64 years down the line!
He explained that the house had originally belonged to Stéphane’s great-grandparents (i.e. Jean-Claude’s grandparents), and Stéphane himself had fond childhood memories of the house and the surrounding area. In the 1950s, the young Jean-Claude would spend his holidays there with his parents, and activities were captured as stills by his father, a keen amateur photographer. I promised to send Stéphane the pictures, which he would then show his dad. I zipped the files and sent them to him. 

The next day, my phone rang once again, and this time it was Jean-Claude himself calling from south-eastern France. He was suitably delighted with the surprise package and to be discovering these photos almost 65 years after they were taken. We quickly established that the place where the canister had been found had been the location of the darkroom where his dad developed his own photos. Viewing the pictures, most of the faces were familiar and Jean-Claude recognized family friends, uncles and aunts, not to mention the cousins alongside him in the pictures that immortalized his seventh birthday celebrations! 

Jean-Claude's seventh birthday party in October 1955! Check out the lovely radio in the background.
Jean-Claude pointed out that the pictures of snowbound Caudéran were taken in the winter of 1956, which was one of the coldest spells on record in France and throughout much of Europe. He also mentioned that the picture of a new-born baby was that of his sister Christine, in the arms of their uncle and aunt. 


Finally, the picture which had triggered the quest was of him with a friend of his father, somebody he remembered as being a good-natured “clown” and who, upon closer inspection of the photo, was clearly enjoying a monster-sized ice cream. The car behind them was a now-classic Renault 4CV. Of course, for this mission to be truly accomplished we really needed to be able to finish off this report with a photo of Jean-Claude today posing in a similar way against a car. I have therefore requested a 2019 remake of that picture which had remained hidden away for all those years and hope to be able to add it to this report sometime in the future. To be continued? 

Anyway, there you have it, the story of how finding an old roll of film resulted in an interesting  small-scale investigation! One final thought: now that we are very much in the midst of a digital age, will future generations launch into similar quests upon coming across old USB drives and memory cards? Will digital data survive as long as those negatives did? We’ll see in sixty years’ time… so, to paraphrase Disco 2000, the famous Britpop-era hit by Pulp, let’s all meet up in the year 2080!  

> Big thanks to Agnès for sharing the photos and to Stéphane and Jean-Claude for filling in the gaps! 
> Cet article est également disponible en français !

In recent years, there has been much talk about the Ginko eco-district to the north of Bordeaux, a dense new-build residential area tha...


In recent years, there has been much talk about the Ginko eco-district to the north of Bordeaux, a dense new-build residential area that aims to tick all the right social and ecological boxes. It was about time Invisible Bordeaux headed there to get a feel of the area! 

First things first though, what on earth are eco-districts (or écoquartiers in French)? The relevant Wikipedia page defines the term as designating “urban planning aiming to integrate objectives of sustainable development and social equity and reduce the ecological footprint of a neighbourhood, urban area, or region.” Cue Ginko, the first such high-level eco-friendly district in Bordeaux proper, built on land flanked to the west by the large artificial lake that took shape in the 1960s, to the north by the Bordeaux Lac hotel, business and exhibition complex, to the east by the massive Bordeaux Lac shopping centre, and to the south by the Aubiers high-rise residential estate.


The Ginko project took shape from 2006 onwards, with building work beginning in 2010. The first residents moved in in 2013, but the district will only be complete come 2022. The design of the Ginko eco-district was the brainchild of urban planners Christian Devillers and Olivier Brochet, with the project being rolled out by civil engineering firm Bouygues. 

In terms of raw figures we’re ultimately talking a total surface area of 32.6 hectares comprising 2,700 homes for around 7,000 residents, a wide variety of housing types designed to attract an equally wide range of profiles, with greenery accounting for around 40% of the neighbourhood. The creation of Ginko was also coupled with a new northern extension to tram line C, not to mention the incorporation of a number of shops and restaurants, a primary school, and the first new Catholic church to be built in Bordeaux in 40 years.  


All of which is very well, but Ginko has struggled with a poor reputation over its first years of existence, with many social media-shaped fingers being pointed at the density of the area and its living quarters, the inhospitable atmosphere that reportedly reigns there at night, and the debatable quality of the building and furnishing materials used – as highlighted by the highly-publicised collapse of a fourth-floor balcony in 2015 (thankfully, no injuries were reported other than that of the tarnished image of Ginko and Bouygues). In surveys though, residents have stated that they are globally happy at Ginko although most have noted defects in their homes as well as raising issues about litter and noise in the area.

The infamous collapsed balcony (source: Sud Ouest) and, on the right, the restored balcony today.
Whatever, it was with an open and receptive mind that I headed there on a sunny Sunday morning. I opted to work my way from the north to the south of the district and back again, starting out near the “40 Journaux” tram stop, which also appears to be an unofficial depot for Auchan supermarket shopping trolleys. From there, the wide boulevard which stretches from north to south, Cours de Québec, very much splits the neighbourhood in two, and is itself divided down the middle by the tram line. Ground level anonymity is occasionally broken up by restaurants (including a pizzeria and an HFC, Halal Fried Chicken), a newsagents and a launderette, and at its heart by Vaclav Havel primary school, surrounded on all sides by tall fences that make it look a bit like a giant cage.

Cours de Québec splits Ginko in two. Note: the sky isn't always this blue.
Tram stop shopping trolleys.
Ground-level food options: HFC and a pizzeria.
The cage-like Vaclav Havel primary school.
Heading off into the various perpendicular arteries takes us into a far more pedestrian environment with a number of nice touches such as water features complete with footbridges, a “boîte à lire” self-service borrow-and-lend library bookcase, not to mention further commercial units including a bakery, a co-working café and business centre, and a Montessori school that appears to be the antithesis of its nearby caged counterpart!

Walkways, water features and footbridges.
Co-working café and business centre.
Montessori private school.
The pedestrian channels that run parallel to each other are connected by pleasant walkways that eventually lead to a children’s play area, Jardin du Clown Chocolat (named after the legendary Cuba-born clown who died and was buried in Bordeaux), which from the outside looking in seems to be reminiscent of the Teletubbies set. Moving further south, a linear park features obscure wooden structures and finishes off with a sports pitch that is such a bright shade of blue that it is probably clearly visible from outer space. A modern gymnasium marks the point where Ginko segues into the Aubiers district, as symbolized by the facility’s name, Gymnase Aubiers-Ginko.

Jardin du Clown Chocolat.
The bright blue sports pitch.
Gymnase Aubiers-Ginko. Note the reflection in the window of one of the famous Aubiers residences.
Working my way back northwards, by a large junction the aforementioned Notre Dame du Lac parish church, a distinctly modern edifice designed by Émilie Brochet, is tucked in among all the residential  buildings. Across the road from the church is a whole section where, at the time of writing, work is still very much in progress, on further residential buildings but also on what has been termed the “Cœur Ginko” shopping area, which promises to be a natural connection between the residential quarter and the neighbouring Bordeaux Lac shopping centre. This is where a large Cultura arts, crafts, book and music store is set to open. Bizarrely, to promote this new area to passers-by, the key message forwarded by Bouygues is the promise of 1,530 underground parking spaces.

Notre Dame du Lac parish church.
Work still very much in progress on the Cœur Ginko area.
The attractive selling point of 1,530 underground parking spaces in the near future.
My journey finishes up towards the north-eastern tip of Ginko and what is referred to on maps as the “Chaufferie Biomasse Engie Services” (Engie Services biomass heating plant). It looks suitably modern and eco-friendly but also quite mysterious. Outside though, other than lettering spelling out the “énergie éco responsable” being generated inside, there is no further information on offer. The exterior is instead taken up by a large panel advertising the attibutes of the Cœur Ginko area.

The enigmatic heating plant.
So, what was my general impression of a morning spent in the Ginko eco-district? Well, Invisible Bordeaux is not exactly renowned for its highly-opinionated analyses of local sights, and usually that is down to adopting a voluntarily observational stance. This time though, the general sense was genuinely one of nonplussed ambivalence – I didn’t exactly get very excited about the area, but didn’t find it especially unpleasant either. It is clearly a place to live rather than a place to visit and, this being a Sunday morning, I didn’t expect it to be buzzing, but in fact there was hardly anybody out and about enjoying the fresh air (hence the lack of people on the photos published here...). 

And perhaps that is where things are very much make or break for Ginko. Will the neighbourhood be able to get residents out of their houses and apartments to form a new community? Will the schools, play areas and shared spaces become local hubs for people to meet, greet and get to know each other? At this point in time, that process is very much in its nascent phase; only time will tell how well Ginko will age and whether the eco-district will develop its own sense of identity, its own character and its own distinctive feel and atmosphere which, at present, doesn’t seem to have developed when viewed as an outsider. I will have to check back regularly to see how things progress. 


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Ginko eco-district, Bordeaux
> Official Ginko website to find out how you too can live the Ginko dream: www.ecoquartier-ginko.fr 
> The map I used to find my way around Ginko is available here.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

The seventh episode of the monthly French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available and is a serious case of time travelling ...


The seventh episode of the monthly French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available and is a serious case of time travelling with former musician and beatnik Philippe Serra, who also happens to be a renowned authority on the history of the local music scene (he notably contributed to the benchmark publication "Bordeaux Rock(s))". And together we go in search of a now-mythical entertainment venue: the Alhambra theatre.

There is now an apartment block where the Alhambra once stood on Rue d'Alzon, just off Rue Judaïque, and only the exterior remains of this venue which operated from 1870 until it closed in 1984. The versatile facility hosted concerts, theatre shows and films, not to mention boxing, wrestling, Christmas parties, conferences, debates and political meetings. For a time it even had its own roller-skating rink, and during the First World War became the lower house of the French parliament, which had relocated from Paris!  

Some time ago on the blog, Philippe kindly shared his memories of events that he had witnessed at the Alhambra, his writings based on his draft memoirs. So here we are together with a couple of microphones to go one step further. Philippe talks about Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Memphis Slim, Soft Machine, Pierre Henry and the Stranglers... as well as illustrating how venues like the Grand Parc concert hall and the Jimmy gained momentum, and explaining why the live album recorded by the chanteuse Barbara at the Alhambra is something quite special. Oh, and a live elephant also makes an unexpected and unforgettable appearance!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice! And scroll on down for additional resources!


Click here if player does not display properly on your device.

> L’Alhambra: the iconic Bordeaux venue which hosted some of the most iconic artists of the 20th century
> Philippe Serra's Alhambra scrapbook 

> Further information about the live album by Barbara
> "Veuve de Guerre", live recording from Barbara's 1969 Alhambra performance 

One of Bordeaux’s most distinctive sights is Maison Gobineau, the triangular-shaped building at the southern tip of Allées de Tourny th...


One of Bordeaux’s most distinctive sights is Maison Gobineau, the triangular-shaped building at the southern tip of Allées de Tourny that many compare with New York’s famous Flatiron Building. The ground floor is now familiar to many as the wine bar run by the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) but… did you know that it used to trade as a cinema? 

A little bit of background information first: Maison Gobineau was completed in 1816, executed by the architect Gabriel Durand to the designs begun in 1787 by his counterpart Victor Louis, who was also responsible for the nearby Grand Théâtre opera house which had opened in 1780. The building took shape on land that had been freed up in 1786 by the decision to demolish the fortified Château Trompette (which eventually disappeared from view in 1818, making way for Esplanade des Quinconces). This plot had been allocated to one Thibault-Joseph de Gobineau, a councillor at the Bordeaux Parliament, to become the location of his new private residence. 

The Maison’s aforementioned triangular shape (possibly reminiscent of a boat?) went on to dictate the ways in which the northern flank of Allées de Tourny and the neighbouring Cours du 30 Juillet would intersect and develop respectively. Around 1920, the building – which old postcards would suggest had now become a hotel, including a ground-floor café-restaurant – was given a radical overhaul by architect Raymond Mothe, with the addition of two whole new storeys, raising the height of the building by some margin.

Maison Gobineau pictured around 1918 (including hotel and café-restaurant signs) and 1965 (proclaiming itself as "Maison du Vin de Bordeaux"). Spot the differences!
Quite literally raising the roof around 1920. Picture source: "Bordeaux, je me souviens" Facebook group.
From 1925 onwards, the ground floor of the building hosted the city's first Citroën automoile showroom, which in 1948 made way for the head office of the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (Maison Gobineau became widely known as "La Maison du Vin de Bordeaux"), hence its modern-day ground-floor Bar à Vin incarnation which is open to the general public, who can freely view mid-20th century additions including stained glass windows conceived by René Butheau and a vine-themed Aubusson tapestry by Marc Saint-Saëns.

Elaborate stained glass windows inside the Bar à Vin, left: "Le triomphe de Bacchus"; right: "À la gloire de Bordeaux".
The Aubusson tapestry: "Le vin de Bordeaux, la naissance d'un cru".
All of which is very well, but what about the radical claim that Maison Gobineau used to be a cinema? Well, it just so happens that one evening I was perusing some of the postcards amassed over recent years, including this picture of Maison Gobineau circa 1908:


And I noticed that, just above the main entrance to the ground-floor entrance, the word “CINEMA” can be clearly made out: 


The explanation is that, in the latter years of the 19th century and the very early years of the 20th century, moving pictures were still very much a novelty act/activity, and usually a form of mobile entertainment of the sort you might experience at a funfair. To take in a film – which in those days weren’t so much works of fiction but rather everyday scenes that had been caught on camera – spectators would head to wherever the travelling projectionist was able to set up! Maison Gobineau was one such establishment, and the likelihood is that on designated days at designated times, patrons would congregate in a darkened room here inside Maison Gobineau and enjoy some films!

The inside view in the early years of the 20th century, source: "Bordeaux, Métamorphoses", Max Baumann.
Is this where those early cinema sessions were held?
To illustrate this connection between at-first-glance residential buildings (or offices) and the nascent movie industry, a plaque that can be seen on the other side of Allées de Tourny (at number 10) celebrates the first screening in Bordeaux of moving pictures held there on February 29th 1896 in front of local dignitaries and reporters. The next day, sessions were held for the general public and, according to a contemporary news report, “une dizaine de tableaux, reproductions de la vie courante, ont littéralement émmerveillé les spectateurs”, i.e. the spectators were in awe before the ten-or-so scenes depicting everyday events. (Source: Pierre Berneau, Les débuts du spectacle cinématographique à Bordeaux.)   

Just across the road from Maison Gobineau!
As far as more substantial establishments are concerned, the Olympia theatre (where the Auditorium concert hall now stands) and le Français theatre (now a recently-revamped multiscreen cinema) are recorded as having included films in their evening music hall programmes as well as holding matinee screenings as early as 1898-1899. Bordeaux’s first dedicated cinema facility, le Cinéma Hélios, took shape at 5 Cours de l’Intendance from August 1902 onwards, showcasing the first “sound films” (not to be confused with so-called talkies, which only began in the late 1920s) and boasting a combined cinematographic/phonographic setup that was incompatible with mobile systems. (The establishment, which became known as Cinéma National Pathé and subsequently L’Intendance, closed in 1976.)

Cinéma Hélios, which became Cinéma National Pathé and later L’Intendance (top pictures sourced from "Bordeaux, je me souviens" Facebook group), and the same entrance today. 
Within ten years, the centre of gravity of Bordelais movie-goers was shifting for good from fairgrounds and the backrooms of bars to renowned multipurpose venues, who by now were putting on full movie programmes (for instance, former Invisible Bordeaux subject the Alhambra theatre housed the Alhambra Cinéma Gaumont), and additional dedicated movie theatres began mushrooming throughout the city; according to local newspaper Sud Ouest, by 1945 around 40 cinemas were in permanent operation!

So, how long did Maison Gobineau operate as a cinema? This is a question to which Invisible Bordeaux does not currently have the answer, but it was certainly long enough to merit displaying its cinema credentials to passers-by with a sign above the door! Perhaps the next time you are at the CIVB's Bar à Vin, sipping on a glass of Médoc or Saint-Emilion, you could surprise or confuse the waiters by asking what time the film starts! 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Maison Gobineau, allées de Tourny, Bordeaux
> Further information about the ground-floor Bar à Vin: baravin.bordeaux.com
> Thanks to Rosine Duet and Stéphane Cazabat for information about the Citroën showroom!