Friday, August 14, 2009

Butte Bergèyre

The apartment buildings along the avenue Simon Bolivar and the rue Manin encircle and conceal the the houses atop the Butte Bergèyre in the manner of walls around a medieval enclave. Only one street gives vehicles acces to the top the Butte. Otherwise, three steep stairways niched between the buildings provide acces to pedestrians. One of these, the one at the end of the rue Barrelet de Ricou, was immortalized by Willy Ronis in 1950.

The hillyness of this neigborhood is illustrated by the stairway that continues going down on the other side of the avenue Simon Bolivar. Sixty years later the traffic light is still there but speeding cars and motor scooters have replaced horse drawn wagons.

On a more mundane note, this is the same crosswalk where a run-away scooter hit me in a freak accident on a rainy day: the driver tried to stop, lost control and the scooter kept going...right into me. The recent photo of the stairs on the right emphasizes its length and steepness. Visible under the apartment window are the louvers of the "garde-manger".

The website of the residents' association of the Butte Bergèyre features a photo of Josephine Baker, whose infamous dance wearing little more than a skirt of bananas had made her a star of the Folies Bergère, at the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the inauguration of the housing develoment.

Like the apartments buildings around it, the smaller constructions on the Butte were built in the late 1920's and the 1930's in the latest architectural styles. Many are single family townhouses with garages and small gardens.

One house, the "Maison Zilvelli", unlike the larger and better known Villa Noailles, is a small, little-known jewel of the Modernist architectural mouvement in France.

The house was designed in 1934 by Jean Welz, an Austrian architect who came to Paris for the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. Welz stayed in France to collaborate briefly with Le Corbusier, Robert Mallet-Stevens and Adolphe Loos before working on a more regular basis with Raymond Fischer from 1927 to 1935. Beginning in 1933, he worked on some individual projects, only two of which are known to have been built. The Maison Zilvelli on the Butte Bergèyre is one of them.

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