In 1969 my parents and my siblings and I went to Europe for the first time. I was 13 yrs old. My father was an hotel executive and worked for a large hotel chain linked then to United Airlines. The itinerary was Ireland, France and the UK. My younger siblings were 10 and 7 yrs old. It was very exciting, back then very few people travelled to Europe unless you had the means to do so, the age of mass tourism was yet to come.
I remember Ireland was still an impoverished country, very green and agricultural, lots of sheep everywhere. Apparently to this day there are more sheep 5.6 million in Ireland than people 4.8 million. We flew from Montreal on Aer Lingus to Shannon and then drove to Dublin.
We then flew to Paris and stayed at the Hotel du Palais d’Orsay which in 1969 was part of the old Railway station of the same name, located across from Le Louvre and the Tuileries gardens. The original old Palais was burned by the Communards in 1871 like so many other buildings and Palaces in Paris during this period of revolution to put an end to the Imperial regime of Napoleon III, a vain man who came to power in a coup with lots of populist ideas, it all ended badly for him. He fled to London with his wife Empress Eugénie. The Communards wanted a Republican regime so that the goals of the revolution of 1789 would finally come to pass instead of having one royalist regime after another. This is the period of Les Misérables from the famous book by Victor Hugo.
The Gare d’Orsay was built in 1899 to accommodate the rail line from Orléans to Paris and with it came a grand hotel. The new buildings had to match the grand buildings around them like the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur next door and the Louvre across the Seine river.
The Musée d’Orsay today formerly the gare and hotel. The hotel portion is on the right of the picture.
My father booked us into the Hotel, he wanted to see it because his company was in negotiation to purchase the site, the railway was being discontinued and the French government wanted to get rid of it, sort of a modernizing craze for Paris. The President then was General De Gaulle who would resign, pushed out by demonstrations. The Minister of Culture was André Malraux (1901-1976) and he was against modernization. Malraux was a novelist, author of La Condition humaine which won him the prestigious Prix Goncourt. He became famous in France for his anti-Fascist and anti-colonialist views and for being an adventurer.
Le Corbusier was the architect hired to build the new convention centre and hotel. Very different from the whole neighbourhood and I disapproved of this plan, I could not understand why anyone thought this was an improvement but it was the 1960’s.
My father thought it was a fantastic idea, who needs all this old stuff anyway. He also famously said: Once you see one cathedral you have seen them all.
A few months after our trip to Paris we learned that Malraux idea prevailed and the whole concept was shelved for good. The Gare d’Orsay became this beautiful museum with its important collections and the old hotel transformed into more museum space while preserving all of its architectural details and famous chandeliers.
The front door with its 1950’s look.
The entrance Hall lobby with its grand staircase back then, it was impressive.
The former hotel, Salon des Fêtes with its garland chandeliers.
These great spaces are used for exhibits and for receptions, keeping intact the beautiful decor.
the former restaurant of the hotel with modern furniture to serve the public in the museum.
The great clock in the main hall of the former railway station, now the central exhibition hall of the museum.
I am glad that André Malraux prevailed I think it would have been a mistake to demolish this beautiful building.