Versailles and Fontainebleau : two projects for hotels inside historical monuments


1. Hotel du Grand Contrôle
12, rue de l’Indépendance Américaine
Versailles
Photo : Didier Rykner

The latest trend is making historical monuments profitable. Although we are generally against the idea, which often accounts for many abuses, we must admit that in some cases, it is well justified. The projects for Versailles – which Jean-Jacques Aillagon presented a while back in his press conference (see news item of 18/12/10) – and Fontainebleau show that the re-utilization of a historical monument is sometimes useful and even necessary in order to preserve it.

Several conditions are needed to achieve this : that the re-utilization of the building respect its architecture, that it not deprive the public from visiting important monuments or those with valuable decors and, of course, that the new function be viable.
The first two conditions are without a shadow of a doubt met at both the Hotel du Grand Controle at Versailles and the Heronnieres ensemble at Fontainebleau. The two monuments share the same recent background : they were occupied by the army and closed to visitors. Their quality is remarkable but they no longer hold, alas, any decors making it impossible – and of no great interest – to rehabilitate them for public visits. They are currently in very poor condition, and thus there is a pressing need to find a way of using them in order to carry out a restoration. A visit to the site will help us better understand the extent of the problem.


2. Hotel du Grand Contrôle in Versailles
Fireplace
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. Hotel du Grand Contrôle in Versailles
Fireplace
Photo : Didier Rykner


4. Hotel du Grand Contrôle in Versailles
Staircase
Photo : Didier Rykner

The Hotel du Grand Controle (ill. 1) is located in Versailles, close to the chateau, at 12 rue de l’Independance Americaine, a street filled with beautiful old homes. It is generally believed (and written in the press release) that it was built in the 1680’s by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. This is a mistaken attribution as confirmed when reading a recent publication, which does not even mention him [1]. The architecture is interesting but the interior, in pathetic condition, no longer has any noteworthy decors except for a few beautiful fireplaces (ill. 2 and 3), after being abandoned for six years. The ceiling over the staircase (ill. 4) has even caved in. It is often better for some monuments to remain under government control, on condition that it respect its responsibilities. The truth is far from it.
Here, it is obvious that the layout of the building (ill. 5) will make it easy to create a “hotel de charme” as described by the President of Versailles in his press conference without depriving the public since it is not worth visiting for its decors but should still be absolutely preserved. The location is very pleasant and the view of the Orangerie (ill. 6) superb. The company Ivy International S.A. has been chosen to manage the hotel which will have 23 rooms ; construction work will be directed by Frederic Didier and is estimated at 5.5 million euros with a scheduled opening at the end of 2011.


5. Hotel du Grand Contrôle in Versailles
Room on the second floor
Photo : Didier Rykner

6. Hotel du Grand Contrôle in Versailles
View of the Orangerie
Photo : Didier Rykner


Jean-Jacques Aillagon is right : this solution will allow a historical monument to be restored, improve the surroundings of the chateau and, last of all, provide a steady supplemental income to the chateau at Versailles for at least 30 years (around 300.000 euros a year).


7. Jacques V Gabriel (1667-1742)
Pavilion of the entrance on the right
The Héronnières, Fontainebleau
Photo : Didier Rykner

8. Pavilion of the entrance on the left (XIXth century)
The Héronnières, Fontainebleau
Photo : Didier Rykner


The Heronnieres in Fontainebleau used to house the stables for the chateau, and covers a much larger area than the Grand Controle in Versailles. It was designed by the architect, Jacques V Gabriel. Only one pavilion, to the left of the entrance, symmetrical to the one on the right (ill. 7 and 8), as well as one whole wing (ill. 9), date from the 19th century in a style which is close to that of the other buildings. This architectural unity makes the block plan very coherent.
The deterioration here is more severe than at the Grand Controle (ill. 10). Some fireplaces were saved by the chateau de Fontainebleau which put them in storage but some have been stolen (ill. 11) and the general conditions are sad to see. The windows are broken, the buildings are open to the wear and tear of the elements.


9. Jacques V Gabriel (1667-1742)
The Héronnières, Fontainebleau
Wing of the XIXth century
Photo : Didier Rykner

10. The Héronnières, Fontainebleau
Fireplace destroyed
Photo : Didier Rykner


11. View of the château de Fontainebleau
from the Héronnières
Photo : Didier Rykner

We would like to recall some of the recent incidents leading to the current situation, when in fact just a few years ago the ensemble was used notably by the army for the “three day” military draft requirement and was perfectly intact. When the Ministry of Defense decided to leave it, a private rehabilitation project respecting its history and even the original use, part of it was to have become an equestrian center, was presented. However, the chief architect for historical monuments, Jacques Moulin, decided to step in again and take over. Claiming that the ensemble should return to the domain of the chateau for which he worked as architect, he persisted and won : the project was finally abandoned and the domain of Fontainebleau recovered the property. At the time, the idea was to create an entrance to the chateau with a parking lot notably for buses. This entrance was in fact totally to one side and located almost one kilometer away from the itinerary, on the other side of a road (ill. 11)… The architect was of course no other than Jacques Moulin, who also suggested destroying the 19th century wing and pavilion although they are in perfect harmony with the rest of the ensemble. Given the many practical obstacles and lack of funds, the project was not carried out but with catastrophic results : after being abandoned by the army for several years, with no occupants and no maintenance, The Heronnieres deteriorated extremely fast (ill. 12) and was often looted.


12. The Héronnières, Fontainebleau
Photo : Didier Rykner



The only viable solution today does indeed seem to be renting it out in order to transform the property which should be preserved but is not indispensable to the chateau itself. Obviously, the right project if carried out in an intelligent manner could produce a hotel offering, for example, conventions or seminars, especially since there is already a lecture hall which could be rehabilitated. The lack of decors makes such a re-utilization possible on condition that the architecture is not altered.

The Centre des Monuments Nationaux has already started discussions on how best to apply a similar policy at other monuments. The chosen criteria seem to correspond to the correct guidelines needed for this type of arrangement, notably making visits to the site compatible with a business operation. Developments should however be followed closely as potential abuses can easily ensue and some individuals might be tempted to bypass the imposed restrictions as shown in the report established by the UMP Senator, Alberic de Montgolfier addressed to the President of the Republic, which despite some very pertinent suggestions, makes several particularly dangerous recommendations (increasing long-term leases, facilitating the possibility of selling government monuments, restricting measures for heritage protection…). We should not forget that the most important historical monument currently concerned by these projects is no other than the Hotel de la Marine which, in fact, should be the first to be protected.


Didier Rykner, dimanche 26 décembre 2010


Notes

[1] Under the supervision of Alexandre Gady, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, 2010. Alexandre Gady confirmed this information to us, explaining that the Hotel was not designed by Hardouin-Mansart and that it was built in the third quarter of the 17th century for Colbert’s son-in-law, the Duke of Beauvillier, after the same model as the pavilions standing alone between the two courtyards.



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