Monday, November 17, 2014

The Eiffel Daughter

In the town where I live there is a long-standing oral tradition that Gustave Eiffel worked on one or several of the villas along the esplanade. It is mentioned by a number of people and in a number of places. Some of these people and some of these places do not always apply the sobriquet "oral tradition", in the hope that — repeated a sufficient number of times — through iteration the oral tradition becomes verifiable fact. It is also said that Gustave Eiffel came here on vacation and that is totally possible, but design a villa? Eiffel was an engineer, not known for being an architect, and after the success of the "Tour" why would he want to do a balcony in a beach town, as tony as Mers may have been à la Belle Epoque? And exactly what villa is it?

Henri Rivière, "La Tour en construction, vu du Trocadèro" Musée d'Orsay

Inventaire Picardie

In a much earlier post on this blog I wrote about Edouard-Jean Niermans, a well-known, bona fide, architect that indeed did design a number of villas in Mers-les-Bains, one of them — named after his children — was built with the hope of providing the family with rental income:

Villa Jan et Villa Hélèna

Inventaire Picardie

Inventaire Picardie

Jan being this Netherlandish native's spelling of his son's name and Hélèna being his daughter.

Since moving here on a full-time basis I have become quite interested in researching the other architects who designed villas in Mers and whose work can be attested through written documentation, a non-negotiable requirement in my scholarly "déformation professionnelle" warped mind.

Théophile Bourgeois

Inventaire Picardie
There is, for example, Théophile Bourgeois from Poissy in the suburbs of Paris, the architect responsible for the villa "Bon Abri" in Mers and who also built a number of villas in the region, in the wooded development known as the "Bois de Cise."

Inventaire Picardie

from Les villas de Villennes et leur histoire

Monsieur Bourgeois published a catalogue describing all the different models of villas that he could build for his clients. The descriptions of the villas went into great detail regarding the prices of the various options offered in order to appeal to all budgets.

All this brings us back to Monsieur Eiffel and his connection to Mers-les-Bains.

Les Algues

The villa most often identified with Gustave Eiffel is called "Les Algues" (aka Seaweed…sounds so much better in French). Les Algues is a quite unprepossessing villa; its current state does not recall its former glory.

Les Algues ca. 2000 Inventaire Picardie

According to the inventory conducted in 2002 by Elisabeth Justome, Les Algues was built between 1896 and 1899 for Maurice Toussaint Legrain, an army officer living at 184 blvd Haussmann in Paris.

Les Algues ca. 1900 Coll. D. Cayeux
And M. Legrain just happened have been married to...Gustave Eiffel's second daughter, Laure Eiffel, thus, making M. Legrain, M. Eiffel's son-in-law. So, it is plausible that Gustave Eiffel came to visit his daughter on vacation at Mers-les-Bains. Now, whether or not he designed their villa is quite another story and one I cannot tell at this time without further research.

Anonymus, Laure Eiffel between 1883 and 1891, Musée d'Orsay

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