The spot was originally the location of the private gardens of one Baron Pierre de Castelnau d’Auros, and the place where a popular sedentary circus structure was stationed for thirty years from 1836 onwards. In 1867, Émile Louit, heir to a successful family foodstuff business, founder of the Louit chocolate company and the man who created Le Journal de Bordeaux, funded the construction of a brand new theatre, initially known as Théâtre Louit. The 2,800-seater venue, the main entrance of which was on the corner of Rues Judaïque and Castelnau d’Auros, was mainly used for opera.
After a couple of name changes, during which the theatre became known successively as Folies Bergères and Bouffes Bordelais, disaster struck and the venue was gutted by a massive fire. Two years later though it was rebuilt and reopened as Théâtre des Arts. The new edifice, which could seat 1,400 people, was designed by the Bordelais architect Eugène Gervais, who added the features which can still be seen on this rear façade today: comedy and tragedy masks and four lyres. In 1907, the theatre became known as l’Apollo-Théâtre and its stage hosted operetta recitals, variety shows and music-hall artists including Joséphine Baker.
Curiously, in 1914, the Théâtre des Arts even hosted sessions of France's upper parliamentary house, the Senate! The story goes that the Germans had launched a major offensive on Paris in June of that year. The French government therefore fled to Bordeaux to ensure that the entire country could continue to be governed while Paris was under siege. Paris was saved after the first Battle of the Marne in September 1914, and the government returned to the French capital on November 18th.
Back to more artistic pursuits though with the 1932 conversion of the venue into a full-time movie theatre, Cinéma Apollo, which was first renovated in 1952 ahead of being demolished and rebuilt once again in 1972 as a multi-screen complex: Cinéma Ariel. Fifteen or so years later, the complex was taken over by the ever-expanding Union Générale Cinématographique group, more commonly known in France as UGC. And, in 1997, the building was modernised once again, resulting in the fifteen-screen UGC Ciné Cité with which people are familiar today, the main façade of which also shows tell-tale signs of its theatre and concert-hall past!
So… anyone for Thai?
- Find it: 52bis, Rue Saint-Sernin, Bordeaux
- A photo of how the theatre looked in 1907 is featured on the excellent "Du Temps des Cerises aux Feuilles Mortes" website. Direct link to the photo here.