We’re in Bordeaux's Caudéran district to see the 300-seater La Pergola, a theatre set in a complex that is a case study in 1930s ...

La Pergola: Caudéran’s art deco theatre and multipurpose complex

We’re in Bordeaux's Caudéran district to see the 300-seater La Pergola, a theatre set in a complex that is a case study in 1930s art deco architecture and is among the select list of local buildings officially listed as 20th century architectural heritage (Patrimoine du XXe siècle).

When it was first built, La Pergola was regarded as a multi-purpose community hall (or salle des fêtes) to serve the locals, bearing in mind that Caudéran was, at the time, a fully-fledged town in its own right (it merged with its imposing neighbour in the 1960s). The local council had commissioned town architect Marcel Picard to conceive the building which was to comprise not only the main hall – which reportedly could originally accommodate up to 600 or possibly even 800 people – but also two wings, one of which was to house a gymnasium and shooting range, the other seven meeting rooms. Work began around 1927 and was complete in 1930.

Ninety years on, the façade remains more or less unchanged. Two tall columns (that each incorporate small lookouts that must offer killer views over the area) tower over the central section that has been embellished with some ornate bas-relief sculptures that were the work of one Edmond Tuffet (who also contributed to the Maison Cantonale in the Bastide quarter), and which represent music and drama. Other remnants of that period include a tiny ticket office window and the forged iron lettering above the doors to the two wings. The gymnasium is now a fitness room and also used for music rehearsals, while the meeting rooms are today home to a music school.

Details from the façade and the tiny ticketing booth.
Inside, many of the building’s original features have apparently disappeared over the years, but there’s still plenty to take in: some impressive tiled floors, a grand staircase and a fine first-floor foyer where the ornate columns link up nicely with the exterior. The large painting which dominates the staircase is a recent addition, although the artwork is inspired by a 1930s piece that is very much in keeping with the overall atmosphere of the place.

In the foyer and a view of the grand staircase.
And then there’s the theatre hall itself, with its neat rows of (recently refurbished) folding red chairs, its elaborate ceiling lighting system and its compact stage, flanked on either side by colourful mosaic fountain things which add a certain symmetry to the place and hopefully don’t distract too much from the action on stage.

The elegant lighting system and one of the understated mosaic fountains.
So why is the venue called La Pergola? The answer is to be found on the out-of-bounds terraces that run alongside the theatre, i.e. above the two wings. A series of truncated columns are all that remains of what used to be full-on pergolas, which must have been a particularly distinctive sight, so much so that that is how this multipurpose salle des fêtes became best known.

Traces of the actual - but long gone - pergola.
Over the years though, the multipurpose nature of the main hall has faded and La Pergola has primarily become a theatre venue that is mostly used by the Compagnie Présence theatre troupe. The company recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and has been synonymous with La Pergola since 1995 when the then Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé agreed to let them use the facility free of charge. These days, some 3,000 performances down the line, the company puts on around a dozen shows each year for audiences of all types. And when La Pergola is not being used by the Présence thespians, the Bordeaux city council makes it available for other one-off events organised by various outfits.

Oh, and one more thing. Just across the road from La Pergola is a tiny police station, which has already made an appearance on the blog in an article about the distinctive snails of Caudéran which featured on the crest of the town in its independence days (and which can be spotted above the entrance). The building is very much a close cousin of La Pergola, dating from the same period, noticeably of a similar feel and colour scheme, and no doubt the work of the same architect!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: La Pergola, rue Fernand-Cazères, Bordeaux
> Big thanks to the Archimuse-Bordeaux student association who were our guides when we visited La Pergola during the 2018 European Heritage Days! (Yes, it's taken more than a year to get round to writing this article!)

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

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