Paris: Let’s Drop in on Galeries Lafayette
By Theadora Brack
Paris is no longer Paris? Au contraire! The City of Light is still a special place, a very human place, and a place for the whole world to cherish. And as this world turns, I think yes, the city changes a little—but then again, it always has. After all, that’s what made it what it is today.
So in celebration of international friendships and robust innovation, let’s ride the escalators up to the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette. Located on Boulevard Haussmann, here my inner-lion never, ever fails to roar after a soda pop and some tête-à-tête action with WWI pilot, Jules Védrines.
Grab your goggles and tweed knickerbockers, and follow me. I’ve got a story to tell.
Setting the scene
The year was 1919.
At 12:45 p.m. on the 19th of January, aviator Jules Védrines landed his Caudron C-3 biplane on Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop. Through thick fog, the aircraft hit the relatively slender mark, thanks to some strategically-placed sandbags and a handful of friends, hired to grab its stacked wings and struts in the nick of time to keep it from dropping to the streets below.
“French Airman Lands on Roof!” reported the Associated Press. “Jules Védrines won a prize of 25,000 francs as the first airman to land on the roof of a building—intentionally, at least. He landed on the All The Rage department store, in the center of the city!”
According to Scientific American, l’aviateur had utilized the “pancake move.”
As he approached Galeries Lafayette, “Védrines shut off his engine and volplaned toward the roof. Skimming the parapet by a few inches, he made a spectacular landing, although the machine was slightly damaged!”
Here’s the squeal
Celebrating a supreme makeover in 1912, Galeries Lafayette had offered a cash prize to the first flight to alight on the rooftop. Making much ado about the redo, the flagship promoted the whole shebang, including its new-spangled stained glass dome, gilded staircase, and elevators and escalators by Otis.
But, at the end of WWI, Védrines stepped up to the plate, er, the plane. After consulting with the department store manager to confirm that the prize was legit, he set his plan in motion. The next day, he began making practice landings in a field marked off to a space of only 20 square yards. Finally, it was time to fly. Rocking a cocky fresh attitude and his lucky checkered cap, the daredevil took flight.
Paths of Glory
Afterwards, he confessed to the New York Times, “I’ve been horribly nervous, though, I couldn’t sleep a wink last night. I was not nervous about the stunt itself, of course, but I was so afraid that those darned police would get wind of it and stop the whole business!”
“About noon, when the fog showed no signs of lifting, I jumped at the chance, and three minutes later I was safe and sound on the Lafayette roof. There was one nervous moment when I ran into a fogbank over the Eiffel Tower and felt sure I should never find the way to propel by. But luckily I ran out of it over the river and landed without a scratch or a shadow of difficulty!”
Rebel with a cause
It was a nervy stunt, but one with a message. For starters, the date Védrines picked for the feat was the second day of the Paris Peace Conference. Publicity savvy, the decorated war hero knew he’d have the world’s eyeballs and ears, too. Not missing a beat, he held a press conference after the landing at a nearby café.
“I have a much bigger scheme than that if I can get proper backing. My idea is to fly around the world in 90 days!” he told the reporters. “I have worked out the whole scheme and reckon it would take three or four months allowing for stoppages, or perhaps less. But it’s perfectly feasible!”
With the showman prowess of a modern day Kickstarter whiz, the charismatic Védrines used wit and the rooftop spectacle to create a buzz about his dream mission: The establishment of commercial passenger lines between cities worldwide.
The Public Ledger agreed. “Ocean flight is well within sight; it may occur within the year, and the trip of Védrines, rivaling in the air that of Phineas Fogg, of Jules Verne’s romance of ship and train, is easily a possibility . . . For everything today binds the people together; neither the air, nor seas, nor land separate.”
Like a room without a roof
I completely concur. Now, let’s embrace a little change with a glass of wine, and what better place than up on Galeries Lafayette’s 2016 renovated rooftop, now decked out in a checkered race-flag-like tile pattern.
After all, as Jules Védrines himself once said, “We should go easy, easy but all the time, go! We should take the best machine we have, and find a place to improve it. Then stand at the new place and do a little better!”
Words to fly by. Words to live by.
(Sending a big thank you to Wendy Brack-Fritz for sharing the gorgeous top notch rooftop shot. Here’s a link to Wendy’s Instagram photography: @shilo.cottage )