All of the subjects covered by Invisible Bordeaux over the past twelve months have been an absolute pleasure to compile and research. I...

2012 in review: the year’s most rewarding Invisible Bordeaux items

All of the subjects covered by Invisible Bordeaux over the past twelve months have been an absolute pleasure to compile and research. It feels wrong to be singling any of them out, but here are five subjects that proved particularly interesting when peeling the layers away! Click on the titles or pictures to read the articles.

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2012 is drawing to a close so the time has come to take stock of the past twelve months and finish off with a couple of items looking bac...

2012 in review: the year’s most popular Invisible Bordeaux items

2012 is drawing to a close so the time has come to take stock of the past twelve months and finish off with a couple of items looking back on some of the features produced on the blog throughout the year. This first set rounds up the five most-read articles, which are a varied bunch in terms of subject matter. Click on the titles or associated pictures to read the items!

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|| PART OF A TWIN FEATURE PUBLISHED WITH INVISIBLE PARIS! || One of the most influential (and yet often overlooked) sons of the Bord...

Max Linder: the overlooked silent movie star from Saint-Loubès


One of the most influential (and yet often overlooked) sons of the Bordeaux region is Max Linder, the successful actor, director, screenwriter, producer and comedian of the silent film era.

He was born Gabriel Leuvielle on December 16th 1883 at the home of his wealthy vineyard owner parents in Cavernes, a district of the quiet town of Saint-Loubès to the north of Bordeaux, close to the south bank of the Dordogne river. Growing up, Gabriel showed little interest in viticulture and instead he found himself to be fascinated by the shows put on by travelling entertainers and circus troupes. He rapidly developed an interest in drama and theatre.
The birthplace of Gabriel Leuvielle/Max Linder.

As a youngster, Gabriel proved an energetic handful for his parents, who dispatched him to Talence where he became a boarder at the Lycée de Talence (now Lycée Victor Louis). While there, he put on a number of drama shows with fellow students. In 1899, one Dr Ducan, mayor of Saint-Loubès and a friend of the family, became aware of this fruitful pastime and, unbeknownst to the family, helped Gabriel enrol for tuition at the Société de Sainte-Cécile/Conservatoire de Bordeaux establishment.


Come July 1903, the then 19-year-old actor won the Conservatoire’s awards for first prize in comedy and second prize in tragedy. His acting career had already been gaining momentum with contract performances at the Théâtre des Arts. Gabriel’s father went on to forbid him from using the name Leuvielle, so his surname momentarily switched to Lacerda. The budding actor soon realised this stage name lacked clout. In 1904, he saw a better option staring at him from a bootmaker's shopfront. From then on, he would trade as Max Linder.

Also that year, a fellow actor, Charles le Bargy of the Comédie-Française, urged Linder to audition for the Paris Conservatoire. Although rejected on three occasions, Linder relocated to Paris and worked his way into the theatre circuit there before appearing, from 1905 onwards, in a number of short comedy films for Pathé, many of which were made at studios in Montreuil that still stand today (as documented by Invisible Paris). When Pathé’s slapstick star René Gréhan left the company, Linder took over his role, retaining Gréhan’s high-society dandy-ish demeanour. Linder’s recurring character became aptly known as “Max”: a wealthy figure who would frequently get into trouble because of his taste for womanising.

Max Linder with (left) Charles Chaplin.
The character became well-established, the films became enormously successful and by 1910 Linder was one of the most popular actors in the world. By 1912, he was such a bankable name that his contract with Pathé earned him one million francs per year. Over the following two years he was at his peak, producing films including Max Virtuoso, Max and His Dog and Max and the Jealous Husband. When war broke out he attempted to enlist in the French army but was turned down as it was considered he had a role to play as an entertainer for the people. He did however contribute to the war effort (possibly as a dispatch driver between Paris and the front lines) before being dismissed in 1916 after an injury or illness, probably a result of the hours he spent in freezing cold water in a bomb crater after an explosion.
"To the one and only Max,
"The Professor". From his disciple,
Charlie Chaplin. May 12th 1917."

That year, Linder moved to the United States, committed to making twelve short features for the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, whose Charlie Chaplin – who described himself as a "disciple" to Linder and went on to become a close friend – had recently moved on to Mutual Film. The first two American-made Max films were unsuccessful, while the third, Max and his Taxi, fared a little better. Essanay were struggling financially though and, with no turnaround in sight, the remaining films were cancelled.

Suffering from ill health and homesickness, Linder returned to France, acquiring the Kosmorama movie theatre in Paris. It became the Max Linder Panorama, and is also documented by Invisible Paris in the other part of this twin feature. He appeared to have been profoundly affected by the Great War and it would be some time before he began making films again. In 1921, Linder decided to have a second attempt at breaking Hollywood and formed his own production company there.

A still from Seven Years Bad Luck (source: Silent Volume).

His first production, Seven Years Bad Luck, became regarded as his career masterpiece and included a famous scene where Max stands before an empty mirror frame while a servant stands behind the frame mimicking his gestures. Although not the first instance of the "human mirror" gag, it was particularly well-executed and may have inspired the similar scene in the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup. Seven Years was followed by Be My Wife. A third film, The Three Must-Get-Theres, which pastiched The Three Musketeers, was also a moderate success but Linder retreated to France where he made some more “serious” films (Au Secours and Le Roi du Cirque) before neurasthenia (a mix of depression and post-traumatic stress) began getting the better of him.

In 1923, he married the 18-year-old Hélène "Ninette" Peters and together they had a daughter, Maud, born in 1924. The Max Linder story came to an abrupt end though on October 31st 1925 in a Paris hotel room when Max killed his wife before taking his own life. This tragic finale is detailed over at Invisible Paris.


Throughout both the glory years and the troubled years, Max Linder never forgot his roots, regularly returning to his hometown (the 1911 film Max en Convalescence was even set there!) and holidaying in Arcachon. It is reported that the express train from Paris to Bordeaux would stop especially at the tiny station in Saint-Loubès so that the star could alight in his hometown. His final resting place is the Leuvielle family vault in the town's cemetery, just a few hundred metres away from the house where he was born. Although his stage name does not feature on the tombstone, lasting tributes throughout the small town include a community hall, a secondary school and a street which all bear his name.

A still from "Max en Convalescence"
 

Over in Bordeaux, Max Linder’s legacy is far more difficult to detect, although this may change in the coming years with the arrival of the massive MECA artistic and cultural hub (its name stands for Maison de l'économie créative et de la culture), built on the ashes of the city’s old slaughterhouse. A cinémathèque, or cinema library and multimedia centre, is planned and Max Linder will be among the local silver screen personalities who will be given pride of place in the new institution. Invisible Bordeaux will be monitoring developments closely!…


In the meantime, recent years have been fruitful for Max Linder followers. A DVD box-set (containing ten films, two documentaries and a book) was released by Éditions Montparnasse, and his films have been shown, with live musical accompaniment,  at venues around France and Europe. One of those sessions was a homecoming performance in Saint-Loubès in 2013, where daughter Maud, then 89, gave a talk reflecting on the years she spent recovering, compiling and restoring films, photos and artefacts featuring the father she lost when aged just two (although it wasn't until she was quite a few years older that she learnt the truth...). Maud passed away in 2017, just a few months short of her lifelong ambition being achieved of seeing his legacy celebrated in a permanent institute much like the one being planned in Bordeaux.

Let's sign off with this trailer for the box-set!


Click here if video doesn't display properly on your device.
> Find the Max Linder-related locations on the Invisible Bordeaux map: birthplace and grave, Rue Max Linder, Collège Max Linder and Salle Max Linder, Saint-Loubès; Lycée Victor Louis, Talence; Société de Sainte-Cécile/Conservatoire, site of former abattoir, Bordeaux. 

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The haven of tranquility that is Place Georges de Porto-Riche is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, despite being a stone’s throw away...

Place Georges de Porto-Riche: the secret square


The haven of tranquility that is Place Georges de Porto-Riche is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, despite being a stone’s throw away from the hives of activity that are Rue Saint-Catherine and the Grand-Théâtre.
Georges de Porto-Riche
(source).

The square is named after a playwright and novelist who was born in Bordeaux in 1849 and spent much of his life in Paris. After a short period working there as a bank clerk, his initial breakthrough came aged just 20 when his first historical dramas were performed at theatres in the capital. Around the same time, his first collections of poetry were also published and well-received.

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Looking at the picture on the left, readers familiar with Bordeaux will have recognised the Colonne des Girondins , which stands at the w...

1907 International Maritime Fair: when Bordeaux was the maritime capital of the world

Looking at the picture on the left, readers familiar with Bordeaux will have recognised the Colonne des Girondins, which stands at the western end of Esplanade des Quinconces. What is a more unusual sight is the extravagant “Grand Palais” structure to the right. This ephemeral edifice was just one of many built especially for festivities held between May and November 1907: we give you the international maritime fair, or “Exposition maritime internationale de Bordeaux”. 

The six-month extravaganza was the brainchild of the Ligue Maritime Française, an institution which aimed to develop and promote the nation’s military and merchant shipping industry. The decision was made to open up the exhibition to other countries, many of whom accepted the invitation to take part in the event which was also an excellent opportunity to commemorate the centenary of steam-powered shipping. From there the event developed further still to showcase other wide-ranging sectors of activity as well as being the venue for 50 trade conferences.

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Invisible Bordeaux has once again teamed up with real-world and online acquaintances to proudly present another set of faded hand-pain...

A second selection of ghost signs in and around Bordeaux


Invisible Bordeaux has once again teamed up with real-world and online acquaintances to proudly present another set of faded hand-painted adverts and signs or, if you will, "ghost signs"! (And don't forget that they can all be located in the handy dedicated GoogleMap!)

This first find is from the right-bank suburb of Carbon-Blanc. It promotes "Meubles Bayle", the furniture outlet founded in Bordeaux in 1854. In the early 1900s, heir Émile Bayle went on to set up a number of neighbouring shops catering for different furniture needs and tastes on Cours d'Albret in central Bordeaux (or "Bx" on the ad, the "ET" probably being the final letters of "Albret").
Today, that concept remains but the location and scale have changed. Bayle now run a host of branded furniture shops (But, Crozatier, Fly, Monsieur Meuble and Cuisine Schmidt) which are all handily positioned next to each other in what they still like to call "le Village du Meuble" in Mérignac.


There are obviously at least three generations of adverts competing for space here, although the white and blue sections on the right have only recently resurfaced. They had previously been covered up by a modern advertising hoarding, as can still be seen on the September 2008 shot that is currently visible on Google Streetview (as pictured right). The metal rods that supported the hoarding are still in position. [Find it]

***
This ad for a Renault garage can also be seen in Carbon-Blanc. This incarnation of the Renault logo was used by the car manufacturer between 1959 and 1972. [Find it]

***
"À La Ruche" (the beehive), in the right-bank district of La Bastide, would have supplied haberdashery and sewing products and materials, as well as textile dye and shoes. (Photo: @Bordeaux_Expats[Find it]
***
Rue du Loup is on the el Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route through the city, hence the scallop shell on the street sign. Perhaps pilgrims could carry out a few running repairs on their footwear at this supplier of leather (cuirs) and shoemaking tools and materials (crépins). [Find it]
***
I have a funny feeling that the current owners of this property no longer supply the neighbourhood with "charcuterie de campagne", but I may be wrong... (Photo: Gilles Rose) [Find it]
***

This fantastic old shopfront was spotted by @Bordeaux_Expats and @GillesRose. Could find no traces of the "waterproof clothing manufacturer" Emel on Google so if anyone has any further information, do get in touch! (Photo: Gilles Rose) [Find it]

***
Today, this building is home to TOC, or "Trouble Obsessionnel Culinaire", a designer kitchen ustensil boutique. In bygone years it was a parlour providing hair care, massages and manicure services (not to mention "postiches", i.e. wigs or toupees) for a male and female clientèle. Spotted by @mllebordeaux. [Find it]


 ***

Rue Capdeville: there's a lot going on here, with various generations of painted signs all fading and blurring into a virtually illegible succession of messages. One appears to be promoting the painter and glazier (peinture et vitrerie) entreprise générale Marcel Salles (formerly Messieurs Magot), located at 74 (?) Rue du Loup.

Further down the wall are just hints of other activities: sommiers (bed frames), immobilier (real estate). Given the state of the walls, it looks as if these signs could soon be fading away for good... [Find it]

***
Dubonnet is a wine-based apéritif that was first invented in the mid-19th century (its creator, Joseph Dubonnet, was in fact aiming to create a cure for malaria!). Since 1976, the drink has been distributed by the Pernod-Ricard group. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dubonnet became synonymous with its advertising slogan: "Dubo, Dubon, Dubonnet".

The brand and the slogan remain an occasional roadside sight throughout France, as here in Gujan-Mestras on the Bassin d'Arcachon. Other Dubonnet ghost signs can be viewed on the ghostsigns.co.uk and Painted Roadside Advertisements websites. [Find it]

***
A double-whammy for this charming house in the centre of Saint-Loubès. The front wall displays the tenant's status as "garde champêtre", the country warden or rural policeman. Either side of the upper-floor windows are carved "RF" homages to the République française.

Around the corner is this faded advert for "Chocolat Louit", the chocolate manufacturer founded in the 19th century by Émile Louit, heir to a successful family foodstuff business and the man who created Le Journal de Bordeaux... as well as funding a number of buildings in Bordeaux including a doomed theatre, initially known as Théâtre Louit. The Louit chocolate factory was situated in the area where the France Télévisions TV studios can now be found. [Find it]

  • Other Invisible Bordeaux ghost sign features here and here.

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The card game “ 1000 Bornes ” is a perennial toy department bestseller in France, with more than 10 million sets having been sold. The...

'1000 Bornes': from Edmond Dujardin's basement to international success


The card game “1000 Bornes” is a perennial toy department bestseller in France, with more than 10 million sets having been sold. The story began in a basement in Arcachon.

Arthur Dujardin, whose pen name was Edmond Dujardin, was born and raised between the wars in Lille. He was a musician and prolific inventor who began trading as a printer then as an author of highway code books and driving school teaching materials. In the 1940s, he began to suffer from acute asthma and travelled to Arcachon to take in the town’s renowned quality sea air. Dujardin elected to stay and, in 1947, moved into number 63, Boulevard de la Plage.

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|| SECOND PART OF A TWIN FEATURE PUBLISHED WITH INVISIBLE PARIS! ||  In the closing paragraph of the previous post , Invisible Bordeaux ...

Tracking St James’ Way pilgrims towards Santiago de Compostela – part 2: Bordeaux

In the closing paragraph of the previous post, Invisible Bordeaux was poised to enter Bordeaux via the inland route from Le Bouscat as followed over the years by thousands of Way of Saint James pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain: the el Camino de Santiago pilgrimage known in France as les Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle.

The 8.4-km route through the city itself, which has been added to the Invisible Bordeaux GoogleMap, leads out of Le Bouscat along Avenue de Tivoli. A small square marks the official arrival in Bordeaux... and that may just be a scallop-shaped sculpted feature there to greet the pilgrims!

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|| PART OF A TWIN FEATURE PUBLISHED WITH INVISIBLE PARIS! || For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have followed routes from differ...

Tracking St James’ Way pilgrims towards Santiago de Compostela – part 1: Le Bouscat


For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have followed routes from different parts of Europe to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain, where it is believed that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. The pilgrimage is what the Spaniards know as “el Camino de Santiago”, the French as “les Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle”, and what English-speakers call “the Way of Saint James”.

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Bordeaux trams have become such an integral part of the landscape in the city that they even feature on postcards. The 21st-century ...

The VAL light railway network that never happened


Bordeaux trams have become such an integral part of the landscape in the city that they even feature on postcards. The 21st-century transport infrastructure could have been very different though because, for many years, the plan was to build a light railway network which would have looked something like the artist’s impression pictured above.

Trams in Bordeaux are nothing new. Horse-drawn trams were introduced in 1880, followed 20 years later by the city’s first electrically-powered trams. The network went from strength to strength over the following decades, and by 1938 160,000 people were travelling daily on the 38 different lines, which covered a cumulative distance of 200 kilometres – many lines extended beyond the city itself to suburbs such as Créon, Cestas and Saint-Médard-en-Jalles.
The central Bordeaux tram and bus network in 1940 as featured in "l'Histoire des Tramways et omnibus à Bordeaux" and previously published by in Mysticktroy's Blogpaper.
Come the late 1940s, the network was in a bad shape and the trams were ageing. A new era was dawning and buses and private cars were set to reign over the streets of Bordeaux, as elsewhere. Mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas (elected in 1947) and his municipal council decided to pull the plug on the tram network, and lines gradually folded until just two remained in service. These ceased operating on December 8th 1958, in ceremonial scenes that were caught on camera.


By the 1970s, the uglier side of the age of the automobile was only too plain to see, and Bordeaux drivers and commuters regularly had to contend with gridlocked roads and boulevards. At the time an underground transport system was considered but the project was soon dropped because drilling through the city’s swampy terrain would have had disastrous consequences below the surface and at ground level.

Tentative plans were aired in 1981 for a new-generation tram system, championed by Michel Sainte-Marie, then mayor of Mérignac and chairman of the greater Bordeaux council (Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux or "CUB", now Bordeaux Métropole). The following year, the city’s urban planning agency presented a full project, featuring a network that was similar in shape to the one in place today.

Work was scheduled to begin in 1984… except that in 1983, the man who replaced Sainte-Marie at the helm of the CUB was none other than Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the man who had phased out the first tram network 30 years earlier and who made his position clear: he had no intention of reintroducing into the city this form of transport, which he considered outmoded.

Instead, Chaban-Delmas’s vision was that of a VAL (Véhicule Automatique Léger) light railway/metro system, like the one in Lille which was big news at the time, having rolled out in 1983 (in fact, VAL originally stood for Villeneuve-d'Ascq - Lille, after the first line). The underground option had become a legitimate solution given that technical advances meant it was now possible to drill underground without upsetting the groundwater table. The company Matra was commissioned to conceive the system.

How the VAL network would have looked.
(Source: “De la ville à la métropole, 40 ans d’urbanisme à Bordeaux”)

With the exception of the Communist representatives, the project was initially supported by all parties and the Chamber of Trade and Industry. But as the plans began to take shape, cracks began to show. Members of the general public (some of whom joined forces to form the association Trans'Cub) were also increasingly vocal about their reservations, favouring a shift back to trams. 

The main issues were the high costs involved in delivering a network (initially estimated at 4 billion francs, 600 million euros) that would be made up of just two lines covering a lowly 11 kilometres in all, and solely within central Bordeaux despite funding being provided by all the local councils making up the CUB. (A second phase was planned but lack of finances meant it was impossible to say when it would roll out.) Secondly, unlike tram stops, metro stations were expensive beasts and a frustratingly small number were planned. Finally, in order to cross the Garonne, the VAL would have to travel at depths of at least 25 metres. At the nearest planned station, passengers would be faced with a hike back to ground level that was equivalent to that of ascending an eight-storey building.

Costly studies on the VAL continued until 1994. In January of that year, members of the CUB voted for the implementation of the project which was now well on course for delivery in 2001. However, a final vote was held in July 1994 with a view to finalising the proposed concession agreement. This was narrowly rejected, in turn delaying the project launch. An additional sub-plot was the upcoming retirement of the then 80-year-old Jacques Chaban-Delmas from political duties. His successor, come 1995, was Alain Juppé.

Juppé later related* that when passing on the baton, Chaban-Delmas said to him “Dear friend, you’ll build my metro” (Cher camarade, vous ferez mon metro). In response, Juppé remained silent. He had other plans, soon backed up by existing studies and formalised in a 1996 report (le Schéma directeur des déplacements urbains communautaires). This publication was the final nail in the coffin of the VAL project, and was the first of a succession of green lights for the large-scale new-generation tram network, the first three lines of which were delivered in 2005.

* In his foreword to the book “De la ville à la métropole, 40 ans d’urbanisme à Bordeaux
> Further information about VAL light-railway networks, which are operational in Lille, Toulouse, Rennes and at Paris Orly and Roissy airports.
> Additional 1988 news report on progress, worth viewing until the end if only to briefly see the newsreader's massive shoulder pads.
> Excellent piece about this subject on Mysticktroy's Blogpaper.

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In this internet age there is an active online community of people who track down ghost signs, those faded hand-painted advertisements an...

Ghost signs: phantom letters continuing to haunt the walls (chapter 1!)

In this internet age there is an active online community of people who track down ghost signs, those faded hand-painted advertisements and signage from bygone years which have somehow survived this far into the 21st century.

In France, particularly rural France, ghost signs (such as the one above to be found in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc) remain a fairly common sight. With a little help from real-world friends and Twittersphere acquaintances, here is a first selection of a few such adverts and signs to be spotted in and around Bordeaux. A dedicated GoogleMap (which has also been added to the right-hand menu) will help you locate them all. There will be many more to come in other posts further down the line!

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A fourth self-guided walking tour of Bordeaux is now available to download and run on different iDevices. The latest addition to this ran...

New guided walking tour now available: Elegant Bordeaux

A fourth self-guided walking tour of Bordeaux is now available to download and run on different iDevices. The latest addition to this range of lovingly handcrafted tours will take you on a meandering walk through the most elegant parts of the city.

Setting out from Esplanade des Quinconces, the two-hour Elegant Bordeaux Tour trek takes in the fine architecture, picturesque streets, peaceful market squares and magnificent churches of the Chartrons and Saint-Seurin districts.

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A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux / Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by ...

Mitt Romney’s Latter-Day Saints basecamp in Talence


A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux/Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by Mitt Romney, the unsuccessful Republican candidate in the 2012 US presidential elections. During the six months he spent as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints missionary in Bordeaux in 1968, the apartment he called home was on Place du Maucaillou in the Capucins district. Meanwhile, the centre of gravity of his missionary activities was this Mormon chapel on Rue Pierre-Romain in Talence.

This was the first Mormon church to be built in France (there are now 110 serving 36,500 members). The land, in a quiet residential part of the suburb, had been purchased by the Church in 1963 and the architectural project was initially overseen by the movement’s Thor Leifson. At the time the ward numbered around 35 members and, ahead of the chapel being built, they congregated in an abandoned villa situated within the grounds.

The foundation stone of the chapel was laid on June 8th of that year, some time before the building permit was delivered; the project was rubberstamped by authorities the following October. Construction work could begin in earnest and was wholly handled by missionaries – including a 16-year-old who had travelled down especially from the Breton city of Rennes – and volunteers. At times, there were 50 people working on the site. Church members who couldn’t help with construction work per se contributed by washing and ironing the missionaries’ clothes and by bringing them home-cooked meals. Members also helped with funds by symbolically purchasing bricks of the future chapel, each one costing 1 franc.


Meanwhile, demolition work on the villa was reportedly carried out by a company called Navarro, whose manager had been unwilling to take on the project until he discovered it had been commissioned by the Mormons. It turns out Navarro was a literal Bible believer who had recently returned from an expedition searching for the remains of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey. He had come back with pieces of petrified wood that carbon dating showed were 4,400 years old… whether they were bits of the Ark is another story! 

Throughout the transitional phase, the congregation would meet in prefabricated premises. But by the summer of 1964, the exterior was complete, and attentions turned to the interior which was more or less finished by mid-1965, when the chapel was used to hold sessions of a nationwide youth conference. A few finishing touches later, the chapel was officially inaugurated on December 10th 1965 by Mormon “apostle” Howard W. Hunter (who later went on to serve as president of the movement over a brief nine-month period between 1994 and his death in 1995). The chapel’s consecration followed in March 1967. 


Howard W. Hunter obviously paid a return visit in 1968. In a feature published by The Boston Globe in 2008, photos credited to Marie-Blanche and Jean Causse show Romney alongside Hunter both outside and inside the chapel in Talence. In the top photo Romney is standing fourth from the left, Hunter ninth. Bottom right is the same backdrop 44 years later!
Although precise figures are hard to come by, the Talence ward went from strength to strength over the following ten years, with activities including schooling for 35 children, scout troops, public-speaking and drama clubs, dance lessons, not to mention couscous soirées and fancy-dress parties with a recurrent Wild West theme.

The chapel apparently continues to enjoy a healthy working relationship with the municipality and no doubt continues to serve as a meeting point for new generations of missionaries. Will any of the current crop go on to become prominent political players in the future? 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Mormon chapel, 10 Rue Pierre-Romain, Talence 
> The account of Romney's time in Bordeaux and Paris  
> Detailed history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in France
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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This statue of Charles-Michel Lespée, or Abbé de l’Épée, and his supporting cast of young girls are looking out over the grand main entr...

Castéja: the former school for the deaf with an uncertain future


This statue of Charles-Michel Lespée, or Abbé de l’Épée, and his supporting cast of young girls are looking out over the grand main entrance of a building known as “Castéja” and named, like a neighbouring road, after Pierre Castéja, mayor of Bordeaux between 1860 and 1863.

At the time of writing, Castéja is a massive empty shell and set to become a residential complex led by Gironde Habitat, comprising 180 apartments, an underground car park and a pre-schoo maternelle. The building’s glory years as "L'Institution nationale des sourdes-muettes", an educational institute for deaf and dumb girls from all over France, are therefore long gone.

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Invisible Bordeaux first crossed the path of architect Hector Loubatié when researching the Ciné-Théâtre Girondin near Barrière de Pess...

Hector Loubatié’s architectural endeavours in Bordeaux and Pessac


Invisible Bordeaux first crossed the path of architect Hector Loubatié when researching the Ciné-Théâtre Girondin near Barrière de Pessac. It soon emerged that there were many more interesting examples of the Bordeaux-born architect's eclectic vocabulary to be uncovered in and around the city and its suburbs.  

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In the early years of the 20th century in France, the boom in personal hygiene and a desire to swim coincided with the rise of art deco ...

Bègles Piscine Les Bains: rejuvenating Gironde’s oldest swimming facilities


In the early years of the 20th century in France, the boom in personal hygiene and a desire to swim coincided with the rise of art deco architecture. In some cases, the phenomena combined, resulting in places like the “Piscine Les Bains” establishment to be found in Bègles.

Officially opened on December 4th 1932, the pool was the first of its kind to start operating in the Gironde département. It had been commissioned two years earlier by the town’s Socialist mayor, Alexis Capelle, and was executed to the designs of local architect Louis-Alfred Blanchard. Various specialists brought their specific expertise to the decorative mix: a painter named Bime, a sculptor named Vignal, the ceramist brothers Castiaux and the enameller Duvigneau.

Patrons would enter through the grand entrance on the street corner, and proceed either to the indoor pool on the left, or to the right which was given over to public bathing and showering facilities. In 1964, an outdoor “piscine d’été” was built to the rear of the building.


The establishment led a carefree existence for more than 60 years and in 1991 was granted listed status, registered on France’s “Inventaire supplémentaire des bâtiments historiques”. However, by then the facilities had deteriorated and, failing to meet stringent norms, in 1996 the pool was forced to close down for good. The building remained unused for almost ten years, by which time modern-era mayor Noël Mamère, one of the figureheads of France’s Green Party, initiated plans to refurbish the whole structure.

He called on the architect Patrick Bouchain, whose stated intention was not one of wanting to restore or rebuild but rather “to bring the place back to life. Many monuments are either abandoned or become museums. With regard to the swimming pool in Bègles, it was decided that the building would retain its initial function”. (Source: Batiactu.)


The new-generation establishment opened in 2006 and does a fine job of combining the old and the new. Today's changing facilities are where the public showers used to be. Other than a few interior embellishments, the cubicles look much as they did back then. The outdoor pool area has now been covered with a glass roof, through which the sun shines on the new 12.50m x 25m swimming pool, where water is maintained at a pleasant 28°C. The indoor pool has been transformed into an elaborate wooden activity and fitness course used by children, convalescent adults and senior citizens alike.

Adjacent to this is a modern hammam and sauna installation. Completing the picture is a patio garden that comprises a functional water feature, or more precisely a "phytoremediation pond" where vegetation is employed to remove chlorine from water used in the pool. The processed water is then used in the establishment’s lavatory network or to water the greenery, and also fills the cisterns of the municipality’s street-cleaning vans.


Many of the original art deco features are virtually intact, from the wacky window frames and plaster wall mouldings to the tiled floors and faux-marble benches. The dome skylights in what used to be the lobby are gone though, replaced by a more watertight design embellished with colourful glass baubles. The former lobby is now a bio-food restaurant which trades under the name “Nature et des Courgettes” (a pun on the “Nature & Découvertes” shop name). Meanwhile, the main entrance has been moved further to the centre of the building's right wing in order to accommodate a disabled access ramp.


The new-look venue also boasts its own original artwork. When bathers walk through the foot bath on their way to the pool, they can admire a mosaic conceived by the German-born Brussels-based artist Marin Kasimir, the pixel-like squares merging to create a picture of the corridor to the former showering cubicles, forming another symbolic connection between the past and present – which cohabit particularly well at “Piscine Les Bains” . 


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Piscine Les Bains, rue Carnot, Bègles.
> The town of Bègles has published this excellent Flickr gallery of Piscine Les Bains, including some fine archive pictures.

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