The idylic village of Auteuil
By Jerry Marterer
One of the 16 villages absorbed by Paris in 1860, Auteuil (pronounced “O-toye”) is a pleasure to spend time in. Pre-revolution, it was a verdant plain above the Seine. The land was owned by the Abby of St-Geneviève and was noted for its hot springs and excellent wine. Today it is known for its architecture and the expensive homes of the rich and famous.
To start the walk, take the No. 10 métro to the porte d’Auteuil. Take the third exit to the rue d’Auteuil. The métro sign, in a pale green, is in the Art Nouveau-style, popular at the turn of the 19th century. We will encounter other great examples of Art Nouveau in Auteuil.
Near the métro exit is the gare d’Auteuil, a white two-story building from the era of the Petite Ceinture that was closed in 1937. The well-off quarters in the west of Paris often had buffets in the stations. A trendy restaurant, Mary Goodnight, now occupies the space. The raised tracks behind the station have been abandoned. On the right side of the station, on the corner of the boulevard Montmorency and the rue Poussin is a delightful village café, Le Beaujolais d’Auteuil. Dinner size portions at lunchtime include smoked salmon salads, veal kidneys, duck breast and farm-raised chicken. The wine selection features several Cru’s of the Beaujolais region. Take the rue Poussin, which is to the left. It’s a quiet street with several stand-alone homes, many of which are disappearing as new apartment blocks are built.
After No. 14 on the left side of the street there is a gate with a guard house. Behind it are leafy trees and view of some gables on the roof lines of homes. This is the Villa de Montmorency, a quartier cossu privé or gated community. In 1853 the railroad bought up property in Auteuil anticipating construction of the Petite Ceinture and the station in Auteuil. The unused portion of land was developed in 1860. One hundred twenty homes were built on spacious lots. Many were designed to replicate seaside villas in resort towns like Deauville. The rich and famous quickly moved in, and its popularity has never waned. A few years ago, Céline Dion was reported to have paid 47 million Euros for her Paris pied-à-terre. Recently there has been a case of the blues in the “millionaire’s ghetto.” Wealthy CEOs and movie stars like Gérard Depardieu have left France for other tax venues such as Belgium because of a new 75 percent tax on millionaires. No one outside the villa seems to be worried about the falling prices there. The incongruity is that the neighborhood around it is middle class. Maybe it acts as camouflage to distract the curious.
Take the short street across from the gate to the place Jean Lorrain, with a Wallace fountain in the center. I recommend a short side trip from the place Jean Lorrain along the rue Jean de La Fontaine that features among other treasures, a major Art Nouveau architectural wonder. The walk is a pleasant one and you can always take the No. 52 bus back to the rue d’Auteuil.
At No. 65 is an imposing modern building that houses artists’ ateliers. It was designed by Henri Sauvage and finished in 1927. Its style is described as Art Deco, but the stark lines of the ceramic tile exterior give it more of a cubist look.
A two-story brown stone building stands at No. 40. On one side is a military looking turret, on the other, the entrance to a gothic cloister. Behind the building is the extensive campus of the Apprentis d’Auteuil. Founded in 1866 by a priest, Father Louis Roussel as an orphanage, it has grown over time to a large institution serving over 9,000 poor and orphaned children in multiple locations, training them in culinary arts and the hospitality sector. A beautiful Chapel on the grounds is dedicated to St-Thérèse de Lisieux, where her relics are kept. There is a statue nearby of Father Daniel Brottier, the second director of the institution. Standing with a street urchin on his shoulders, looking curiously like Father Flanagan of Boys Town.
At No. 60 is the Hôtel Mezzara, a mansion built in 1910 by Hector Guimard, the master of Art Nouveau, for Paul Mezzara, a Venetian textile magnate. It fills the entire space except for a tiny courtyard in the front. It is severely asymmetrical, but it all comes together with soft lines, superb iron work, and sculpted stone flowers.
The grand masterpiece of Art Nouveau is further down the street at No. 14. The Castel Béranger was the apex of the movement. It was completed in 1898. It was radical. The Surrealist movement would begin 20 years later, but this could have been a part of it. It was quickly derided as the Castel Dérangé (disturbed). Guimard was only 27 when he started construction on it. It became famous enough for Guimard to get the commission to design over 30 ornamental métro kiosks. In the exterior of the Castel Béranger, curvy lines are followed by sharp angles. The lack of symmetry prevails. Windows cascade down walls of red brick. Each of the 36 apartments has a unique floor plan. See it to believe it. Up the street at No. 17 is a tiny bar designed by Guimard, the Café Antoine, complete with a stone fox above the door. It’s good for a drink or a sandwich.
Because Art Nouveau fell out of favor so quickly, nearly all Guimard’s métro station designs and several of his buildings have been destroyed.
Walk back to the place Jean Lorrain or ride the No. 52 bus. Turn left on the rue d’Auteuil. From here, the village ambience of Auteuil becomes more intense. At No. 42 there is a stylish white building called the Hôtel de Verrières. It was built for a celebrated opera singer, Mademoiselle Antier, and was later offered to les Demoiselles de Verrières, young opera singers, by their royal protectors. It now houses a law office. At No. 40 is the Auberge du Mouton Blanc identified by the sign of the white sheep above the door. Dating back to the 1600s, it counted among its regulars Molière, Racine and La Fontaine, who lived in Auteuil. Its rough stone walls are original, but the interior has been updated. It is a good place to stop for lunch.
From here until the end of the rue d’Auteuil there is more of a 19th century feel. On the right-hand side, several three-story buildings have odd looking gables on their roofs with beams for pulleys extending from them. The narrow stairs inside required large objects to be hoisted up to the second floor. I have never seen these in other parts of Paris. The shopkeepers here are local.
At the end of the street is the place de l’Eglise, dominated by the Church of Notre-Dame d’Auteuil. It was built in 1877, replacing one that had grown too small for the population. The old church had been surrounded by its own cemetery, which was removed when the current church was built. It is in the Roman-Byzantine style and has a 50-meter bell tower. An obelisk across from the church, placed there under Louis XIV honors Henri-François d’Aguesseau, a chancellor of France. On the side of square is a chapel built by the church to honor St-Bernadette, and across the square are hospital grounds that include the former Auteuil town hall among its buildings. This is one of the best laid out squares of all the old villages.
The Art Nouveau métro entrance completes the picture. The No. 10 métro runs east-west across Paris and connects with most other lines. The 32 bus runs from here back to the Opera.
Jerry Marterer is the author of Paris 201 — Uncommon Places in the City of Light. He and his wife, Suzanne, divide their time between Charleston and Paris; he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.