Turning off the final roundabout leading to Bordeaux’s international airport in Mérignac, there is no alternative other than to drive pas...

The past and future of the urban wasteland near Bordeaux-Mérignac airport (or the air base, the housing estate and the business park)

Turning off the final roundabout leading to Bordeaux’s international airport in Mérignac, there is no alternative other than to drive past a mysterious expanse of urban wasteland. The derelict area has not always been that way: it was once the location of a US Air Force air base, which then made way for a residential estate. And it will soon be the location of a large-scale business complex comprising a conference centre, office blocks and a hotel. Let’s get the full story! 

Rewinding back to the early 1950s, Bordeaux-Mérignac airport was slowly getting back on its feet after the Second World War, as detailed in a previous Invisible Bordeaux item. With the Cold War gaining momentum, the United States Air Forces in Europe sought to set up bases to the west of the Rhine river out of easy reach of potential attacks by the USSR.

While the historic military base to the south of the airfield (BA 106) had been returned to the French Air Force, this area to the east of the airfield was given over to NATO forces in early 1951 and in August of that year work started on the construction of dedicated facilities. Before the year was out, the 126th Bombardment Wing of the US Air Force and their 48 Douglas B-26 Invader bombers and three C-47 military transports were stationed here.

The Bordeaux Air Base wing headquarters and aircraft maintenance hangar, photo © NARA, source: www.france-air-nato.net
Strange as it may seem, this is the view from more or less the same spot today.
The base was a bona fide village that developed around two massive aircraft maintenance and base supply hangars. A map produced at the time shows the extent of the facilities available for the military, whose home US bases were in Illinois and Missouri. Ominously though, the “base theater” is labelled as being unfinished. They may therefore have been a little short on entertainment!

Map of Bordeaux Air Base. Picture © Jerry McAuliffe, source: www.france-air-nato.net
There were grand plans for the base to develop further with a view to becoming the European hub of the US Military Air Transport Service and hosting a number of key combat, rescue and training units. This, however, was not in line with France’s desires to boost the airport’s nascent passenger transport activities (the airport’s original passenger terminal, located to the north of the airfield, had been destroyed during the Second World War). The plans were therefore soon abandoned.

In 1952, after just six months, the 126th Bombardment Wing relocated to Laon in north-eastern France and were replaced by the 12th Air Rescue Group and their fleet of Sikorsky H-19B helicopters and Grumman SA-16 Albatross seaplanes. Their stay was equally short-lived and the base became home to the 7413th Air Base Group, a training and support unit for USAF staff in transit, whose presence was also thought to be laying the foundations of a logistical air base capable of accommodating and equipping forces if and when Europe-wide deployment was to be triggered.

The scene in 1956, very much in line with the plan further up the page. Aerial photo source: https://remonterletemps.ign.fr
By the mid-1950s, tensions continued to escalate between US forces and the French authorities, who remained faithful to their plans for a large-scale commercial airport. Finally, in October 1958, the US Air Force closed the military base for good, officially citing economic reasons. This move paved the way for the creation of a brand new passenger terminal which was inaugurated in 1960 (the building still stands today, albeit in heavily-altered form, and is now referred to as Terminal A).

Meanwhile, the land vacated by the air base was to become la Cité Maryse Bastié, a residential estate with around a dozen low-rise apartment blocks, built mainly to house employees at the new airport facility. Very little is known about this estate, but one eye-witness I spoke to thinks each building comprised four to six apartments. Likewise, photographic evidence has been impossible to find, but the Institut Géographique National’s excellent “Remonter le Temps” website does include aerial shots such as this 1970 picture, which gives a good idea of the scale of the buildings.

Once again, courtesy of https://remonterletemps.ign.fr: Cité Maryse Bastié in 1970.
When was the estate demolished? Whatever, little or nothing remains of it today: viewing the area on GoogleEarth, the outline of the old road structure can more or less be made out, but other than the occasional stretch of tarmac or concrete, the area appears to be the territory of trees and other assorted forms of greenery.

Today's GoogleEarth imagery shows traces of the old roads, one of which is labelled "Cité Maryse Bastié".
To get a feel of the area, I headed over to the urban wasteland to see for myself. As GoogleEarth suggested, there wasn’t much to be seen. Ironically enough, given that this part of the metropole saw 6 million travellers pass by in 2017, my sole live company in all the time I spent there was some wild rabbits. And unlike many other areas of urban wasteland, it didn’t even feel as if it had become the territory of bored local youths; the only sign of human activity here was a burnt-out motorcycle. The old road infrastructure was indeed still there though; it was strange to see bits of old pavement where local residents once walked – it did feel a little like a ghost-town.


But things are set to change because work is soon to begin on “45e Parallèle”, a brand new business park. The development will include a 154-room four-star hotel and a 1,400-capacity conference centre, along with five office blocks and multi-storey parking for 1,000 vehicles. The project initially took shape in 2012 but the first lead contractors, Thalium Promotion, hit on hard times and were declared bankrupt in 2016. Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport, which still owns the land, has now allocated the 80-million-euro project to Nexity, who have committed to retaining the original plans.

What the urban wasteland will look like soon, as viewed looking away from the airport. Picture source: Objectif Aquitaine / La Tribune.
The complex is scheduled to open in 2020 so it’s safe to say work will start shortly - the building permits are certainly in position. Just like the US military of the air base and the airport workers of Cité Maryse Bastié, those rabbits and that burnt-out motorbike will have to find a new home.


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Urban wasteland, Bordeaux-Mérignac airport
> Big, big thanks to Marc Montaudon who suggested this subject and provided valuable insight and tips.
> Additional photos of Bordeaux Air Base can be viewed here: http://www.france-air-nato.net/STRUCTURE/Pages_web/Bordeaux_Historique_Fr.html
> If you're interested in renting office space in the new 45e Parallèle business park, check out the phone number featured in the picture at the top of this page! 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

3 comments:

  1. I tried once to find informations online about cité Maryse Bastié but I didn't find much...

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  2. I'm not surprised - when researching this piece I couldn't find anything! It was great at least to be able to insert the aerial photograph of the estate as it was at the time. But you never know, sometimes information crops up further down the line, if so I'll update the article...

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  3. Interesting post we see this area quite often so it will be good to see it well developed. Diane

    ReplyDelete