Villages in the city: Grenelle
By Jerry Marterer
Rue du Commerce and St-Jean-Baptiste. Images courtesy of the author.
Grenelle was the first village we discovered. We frequently take the no. 8 métro to the rue du Commerce, two stops south of École Militaire. The street has several clothing stores for children and adults, not designer boutiques but family stores with family prices. The rue du Commerce has all the other necessities covered too: butchers, bakeries and seafood and vegetable markets. Eventually we discovered that it was a self-contained village before 1860. In 1824, about 200 acres was subdivided from the village of Vaugirard by several optimistic businessmen, hence the names like rue du Commerce and square des Entrepreneurs. The new village was named Grenelle. Léonard Violet, one of the founders, built a château near the center. It was one of the 16 villages that were absorbed into Paris in 1860.
At the Commerce Métro stop, exit for the rue du Commerce. It opens at the edge of a rectangular park with a gazebo in the center. Walk around the perimeter to the other end of the park. There stands the former town hall, still inscribed with “Liberté Egalité Fraternité,” the motto of France. It does not appear to be completely abandoned, but it’s not obvious what it’s used for today. Go back to the rue du Commerce and walk in the direction of the church.
Construction of the Church of Saint Jean-Baptiste was started immediately after the subdivision was created in 1824. It has been expanded several times. Facing the front of the church, turn right on the rue des Entrepreneurs. Walk to the place Violet, which will be on the left. A modern firehouse stands in front of the Château Violet. I always walk through the center doorway of the firehouse (no one has ever stopped me) to see the stone façade. A gate at the right front of the firehouse leads to a park on the former grounds of the château. The back of the château is not as imposing as the front. Violet lost the château in 1827 to creditors after living in it for only a few years. After the annexation of Grenelle, the city of Paris took over the château and built the fire station in front of it. The residence is now used for administration and training.
Left to right: Château Violet, Impasse de l'Eglise and the square behind Eglise St-Jean-Baptiste.
At the back of the park, exit and turn left on the rue de l’Eglise, which heads back to the church. A narrow lane, the impasse de l’Eglise, contains a row of small houses that doubled as workshops for tradesmen. The one sign left hanging is for a cabinet and furniture maker. Ahead, the square behind the church is a particularly pleasant setting with trees and a fountain. Walk around the church and back toward the métro stop. Continue up the rue du Commerce and check out the many stores that keep the villagers self- sufficient. At number 51 is Le Café du Commerce, one of the nicest neighborhood restaurants in all of Paris. It’s one of a kind: three stories in an open balconied hall and a changing menu of classic dishes. Our granddaughters love the steak frites.
Left, 27 Rue du Commerce; right, the multistoried interior of Café du Commerce.
The rue du Commerce continues with wider sidewalks that make it almost pedestrian-only. At number 27, cross the street and look up at the old sign and glass panels for the “La Grande Crèmerie de Grenelle,” where the locals as well as the city folk would come to get their milk, butter and cream. There is now a boutique in the space. It’s a short walk back to the École Militaire, as this street turns into the avenue de la Motte-Picquet. The rue du Commerce has great shopping, a wonderful restaurant, plenty of village ambience and it’s close to our apartment. When we take visitors there, they all say the same thing: “I could live here!”
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 email@example.com.