La Samaritaine, a World Heritage Site

Love locks on Pont-Neuf with Samaritaine in the background
Love locks on Pont-Neuf with Samaritaine in the background

La Samaritaine closed in 2005, 135 years after its foundation!

The iconic department store was listed World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991, after the restoration campaign that was launched between 1984 and 1989 to restore its stunning Art Nouveau and Art Deco decors.

The Magasin no2 and the facades and roofs of the Magasin no3 were listed Historical Monuments on July 25, 1990.

LVMH acquired the buildings in 2001 and spent the following four years upgrading them to modern safety standards.

Unfortunately, they didn’t pass the fire test and were closed on June 15, 2005 after decision of the Préfecture of Paris.

La Samaritaine then employed 1,506 employees.

Who’s involved in the store redevelopment?

LVMH obtained a building permit in December 2012 and entirely funds the redevelopment of the store, estimated at €450 million.

La Samaritaine Art Nouveau facade
Art Nouveau facade

The architectural project has been entrusted to the architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa from the Japanese agency Sanaa (Pritzker Prize 2010).

Peter Marino, who regularly works for Vuitton, and the architect Edouard François, who designed the Fouquet’s Hotel, were commissioned for the interior decoration.

About 1,200 people are involved in the work that was then delayed due to complex planning applications issues and huge controversy.

This renovation, redevelopment and restructuring project is indeed quite tricky, because 80% of the buildings (Art Nouveau and Art Deco features and structures) are classified Historical Monuments.

The Historical Monuments Department therefore closely supervises the transformations.

Master ceramists, stonemasons, blacksmiths and sculptors are working on the redevelopment.

What will the new Samaritaine look like?

The new La Samaritaine will still spread over two blocks and 70,000m2.

La Samaritaine - Iconic Art Deco logo
Iconic Art Deco logo

26,000m2 will be dedicated to retail space, 21,000 m2 to office space and 7,000m2 to the creation of 96 social housing to accommodate 250 people and a nursery for 80 children.

The buildings located between Rue de Rivoli and Rue Baillet are not listed Historical Monuments and have been redeveloped. Inner courtyards bring light to the various shops and offices.

The Rue Baillet will end up as a covered gallery with a glass roof and will access the nursery, then more office space.

An ultra modern building with a wavy glass facade (derogatorily nicknamed the shower curtain by the opponents to the development) now overlooks the Rue de Rivoli.

It’ll access a luxury department store and traditional stores including food stalls and a vast cultural exhibition space.

These will extent under the magnificent historical glass roof (verrière), which is being recreated to its original splendour.

It is estimated that this shopping centre will have 20,000 to 30,000 visitors per day and generate 4400 jobs.

La Samaritaine named after a water pump!

Let’s go back to its creation.

La Samaritaine pump
La Samaritaine pump

Ernest Cognacq and Louise Jay met while working in the already well-established Le Bon Marché department store.

On March 21, 1870 the Cognacq-Jay opened a “grand magasin de nouveautés ‘ (new fashions store) in the 48m2 backroom of the Café de la Samaritaine.

This cafe then stood at the corner of Rue du Pont-Neuf and Rue de la Monnaie.

They named their shop after after the water pump that supplied water to the nearby Louvre from 1608 to 1813.

La Samaritaine, Paris most successful department store

La Samaritaine’s immediate success was a direct result of the transformation of the French society after the French Revolution.

The 1st Samaritaine shop
The 1st Samaritaine shop

A new bill, passed afterwards, indeed stated that anyone had the right to sell products they had not manufactured.

The Industrial Revolution then triggered a massive consumption impulse and by chain reaction the development of shops selling affordable goods.

La Samaritaine’s success was also linked to its perfect location.

It’s indeed round the corner from Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church and the Louvre Palace.

But above all, the unique commercial approach of its founder, turned it into the most successful department store of Paris!

Ernest Cognacq’s genius approach to sales

La Samaritaine - Canopy on Art Deco riverside facade
Canopy on Art Deco riverside facade

La Samaritaine became hugely popular with the Parisians from day one, thanks to Ernest Cognacq’s genius approach to business!

He indeed adopted revolutionary marketing techniques, a true innovation at the time.

This included narrow profit margins, price-labeled items and daily promotions, which attracted the crowds in hope of the “deal of the day”.

He adopted also the winning formula used by Boucicaut the founder of the Bon Marché:

‘Sell more to sell cheap and sell cheap to sell more!’

Unsurprisingly, La Samaritaine soon became the leading department store of Paris.

And it remained so for most of the 20th century!

Cognacq-Jay’s, the founder of La Samaritaine

Ernest Cognacq’s good fortune ironically started with the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.

La Samaritaine - Metal curtain on facade overlooking the river
Metal curtain on facade overlooking the river

He indeed obtained the contract for the manufacture of the French army uniforms!

He reinvested the generous profits he made and in 1874 rented the adjoining building.

He eventually purchased the building in 1883 and enlarged it with an upper-floor in 1895.

Over the decades, La Samaritaine occupied four adjacent buildings, that represented 80,000 m2 of retail space.

These spread over the two blocks that linked Rue de Rivoli to Quai du Louvre and were delineated by the Rue Baillet.

La Samaritaine, a masterpiece of Art Nouveau

In 1905, Ernest Cognacq commissioned the architect Frantz Jourdain with the construction of a new building at the corner of Rue du Pont-Neuf and Rue de la Monnaie.

La Samaritaine - Art Nouveau patterns
Art Nouveau patterns

The Magasin no1 was completed in 1910.

This building, commonly known as Jourdain Building, is one of the finest illustrations of Art Nouveau.

The four-storey metal structure is laid out on a central hall topped by a glass roof adorned with a carvings and painted frieze.

A cast iron grand staircase accesses upper floors open galleries.

Francis Jourdain, the architect’s son, designed the stunning Art Nouveau facade that overlooked Rue de la Monnaie.

The painter Eugène Grasser designed the emblematic Samaritaine logo.

The master blacksmith Edouard Schenck and the master ceramists François Gillet and Alexandre Bigot were commissioned for the decoration.

The facade, originally painted bright blue, has turned a darker shade of green over the decades.

An elaborate decor consisting of metal volutes, mullion windows and arches, polished and enameled lava panels adorned with floral mosaics and inscriptions, adorn it.

Art Deco building

The architect Francis Gourdin built the Magasin no2 between 1904 and 1907.

However, Henri Sauvage enlarged this second building between 1922 and 1928.

He also designed the Art Deco facade that overlooks the Seine.

La Samaritaine Art Deco facade on riverside
Art Deco facade on riverside

The solid and square stone facade is framed with woodwork painted in bronze colour and is adorned with balconies and canopies.

Entirely free of any mosaic, it is a perfect illustration Art Deco.

La Samaritaine was enlarged, once more in the early 1930’s, towards Rue de Rivoli.

The ten-storey Magasin no3 was indeed encompassed within the Rue de Rivoli, Rue du Pont-Neuf and Rue Boucher.

The Magasin no4 was open in a group of early 19th century buildings.

These were indeed progressively converted in offices, stores and workshops from 1889 to 1911.

Sadly, Magasin no4‘s original facade was destroyed after the war.

Decline of the iconic department store

Louise and Ernest Cognacq-Jay died respectively in 1925 and 1928.

La Samaritaine - The 'Shower curtain' new glass facade on rue de Rivoli
The ‘Shower curtain’ new glass facade on rue de Rivoli

Their nephew succeeded them but was dismissed after the war because of his collaboration with the Germans.

The Renant family, the new owners, created La Samaritaine’s iconic slogan:

“On trouve tout à la Samaritaine” – “One can find everything at La Samaritaine”

The department store remained popular, however, began an irreversible decline in the early 1970s.

It indeed failed to adapt to the evolution of modern society and clientele.

Directions: 1st District
Metro: Pont-Neuf on Line 7
Coordinates: Lat 48.858638 – Long 2.342342

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Painting by Scotin s in Public domainInitial shop is in Domaine public

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