Paris: Let’s Drop in on Galeries Lafayette

View of the Opera and the Eiffel Tower from Galeries Lafayette's rooftop (Photo by Wendy Brack-Fritz)

View of the Opera and the Eiffel Tower from Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop (Photo by Wendy Brack-Fritz)

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.

In 1919 Jules Védrines landed his plane on the tip top of G.L.'s rooftop (T. Brack's collection)

In 1919 Jules Védrines landed his plane on the tip top of G.L.’s rooftop (T. Brack’s collection)

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!”

The aircraft hit the mark, thanks to strategically-placed sandbags and friends (Pathé 1919, Ina.fr)

The aircraft hit the mark, thanks to strategically-placed sandbags and friends (Pathé 1919, Ina.fr)

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.

At the end of WWI, "speed demon" Védrines stepped up to the plate, er, the plane (T. Brack's collection)

At the end of WWI, “speed demon” Védrines stepped up to the plate, er, the plane (T. Brack’s collection)

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!”

Védrines used the big feat to promote his dream mission: (Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Védrines used the big feat to promote his dream mission: (Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France)

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.”

Strike up the band: In 1921 Galeries Lafayette celebrated Jules Védrines and his visionary contributions to aviation with a rooftop monument (Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Strike up the band: In 1921 Galeries Lafayette celebrated Jules Védrines and his visionary contributions to aviation with a rooftop monument (Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France)

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 )

Petal Pushers: The logos were installed specifically for this bird’s-eye view (All Photos below by T. Brack)

Petal Pushers: The logos were installed specifically for this bird’s-eye view (Photos below by T. Brack)

Tip: G.L.'s house brand is often on sale. Recent scores? A crushed velvet tracksuit in blue, a black belted trench coat, and a packet of honeycomb-like silky anklets—spotted at the free fashion show

Tip: G.L.’s house brand is often on sale. Recent scores? A crushed velvet tracksuit in blue, a black belted trench coat, and a pair of honeycomb-like silky anklets—spotted at the free fashion show

Do take the time to smell the (sometimes synthetic bottled) roses, whilst gazing up at the dome (Photo by T. Brack)

Do take the time to smell the (sometimes synthetic bottled) roses, whilst gazing up at the dome

Heaven: Stained glass dome by Ferdinand Chanut and Master Glassworker Jacques Gruber (Photo by T. Brack)

Heaven: Stained glass dome by Ferdinand Chanut and Master Glassworker Jacques Gruber

Another aerial view of the intricate maze of "produits de beauté" #Becauseoneisneverenough (Photo by T. Brack)

Another aerial view of the intricate maze of “produits de beauté” #Becauseoneisneverenough

Going up? One of the last surviving elevators at the centuries-old grand grand magasin (Photo by T. Brack)

Going up? One of the last surviving elevators at the centuries-old grand grand magasin

On the flip side: Behind the soda pop machine, there's a peekaboo view of the exterior peak of the dome

On the flip side: Behind the soda pop machine, there’s a peekaboo view of the peak of the dome

Love on Top: Exterior view of the dome on the rooftop with the G.L.'s forward-thinking green garden in view

Love on Top: Dome on the rooftop with the G.L.’s forward-thinking green garden in view

Teamwork by the dome: Védrines and Équipe (Image: Roger-Viollet and Parisienne de Photographie)

Huddle by the dome: Védrines and Équipe (Image: Roger-Viollet and Parisienne de Photographie)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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61 thoughts on “Paris: Let’s Drop in on Galeries Lafayette

    • I’m with you! There are ab-fab views on each and every floor. (Do you have a favorite department?)
      Enjoy the weekend,
      Theadora
      (Printemps is another magical place. B.H.V., too.)

      Like

    • Ah, thank you. Yes, Jules Védrines was a character. Witty, too.

      After he won the 1911 International Aviation Cup in Chicago, one paper wrote:

      “Legends have grown up about Vedrines temper. We have found him bien aimable; afflicted with a temperament, rather than with a temper. He is truly a poet, whose rhythmic cadences are reeled off in paeons of speed.”

      Wonderful description!
      Theadora

      Liked by 2 people

    • I know. I know. I’ve never failed to get a little weepy while looking up at the dome. Heaven, I tell you. Galeries Lafayette has always been one of my favorite havens on the planet. (Did you find any treasures whilst touring the grand magasin?)
      Cheers!
      Theadora

      Like

    • GREAT to hear from you. As always, thanks for the thoughtful words.
      And keep on snapping. I thoroughly enjoyed your recent Moose River shots. Especially the water reflections.
      Stunners!
      Theadora

      Like

  1. My heart jumped with joy to see a post from you, T. Hurrah… and hurrah for the daring (young) man in his flying machine. Quite a feat!! It’s funny that Jules Verne is mentioned in your post as I first read “Jules Verne” instead of “Jules Védrines.” Luscious shots by you as usual. I thought of you today as I booked my ticket to France. The trip home is broken in Paris, but only for 3 1/2 hours. 😦 So close, but not enough time.

    janet

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Janet! Yes, Jules Védrines was inspired by Jules Verne. In fact, he wanted to call his global tour: Around the World in 90 Days. Oh, he was a character. And by the way, the rooftop monument is still on the roof.

      A jaunt to France? Enjoy the trip planning phase. It’s all about the process . . .
      Theadora

      (And I’m happy to see your photographs in the wonderful world of Instagram. I especially loved the cat portrait, of course.)

      Like

      • Our younger daughter adopted the cat, an almost feral cat. Both cat and woman are sweeties and they’re so good for each other.

        As for France, the biggest planning for me is getting the right airline. Once I’m there, we’ll figure out where we’ll go and what we’ll see. Can’t wait! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Merci! It was a fun post to create. I’m now obsessed with Monsieur Védrines. Apparently after the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, he flew with a reproduction of the painting on the side of the plane.

      “It is because I have found the real Mona Lisa that I have won the cup for France!” he told the reporters, after winning the International Aviation in Cup in Chicago.

      My favorite daredevil had a way with words, always.
      T.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. MILLE MERCI pour ton super-post, chère amie! ❤ we lived in Paris for several years and we used to go there twice/a year… but we go up to Paris 3-4 times/year to visit with our close relatives and we always return to GL… 🙂
    * * *
    have a bright Friday and a fabulous weekend! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, Merci, Mélanie! Do you have a favorite centuries-old department store in Paris?

      I also love the rooftop café at the tip top of Printemps. OH! And not to be outdone in the potted plant department, Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV) Marais now has its very own rooftop terrace. “Perchoir Marais” is open after the store closes. BHV indoor café also has a view and affordable drinks. Mini-cheese platters, too.

      Enjoy the weekend. And as always, thanks for the daily inspiration!
      Theadora

      Like

    • Great to hear from you! I know. Wacky people were needed then. They’re needed now.

      According to my digging, Védrines was not a fan of acrobatics in the air. He took safely very seriously. So every phase of the big feat was planned. Prior to the flight, he consulted with the manager at Galeries Lafayette. Plus, he practiced for days.

      Cutting to the chase: The police did fine him. He had to pay between five to 16 francs. Each time he told the story, he increased the number!

      Theadora

      Like

  3. Thank goodness he missed the fabulous glass dome! We do love a bit of eccentricity don’t we? I’ve notched my bedpost to remind me to pay another visit to GL when next in beautiful Paris, home of my heart. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes! Add G.L. to your list. And if you do, stop by the old-school lounge. Benches. Flattering light. And gorgeous view of Sacré Couer!

      Védrines. I love his lucky checkered hat with the missing top button. “It was windy up there!” he’d tell the press after winning a completion.

      The joke probably never, ever got old!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Mary, The free old-school lounge for the ladies is on the 5th level, near the fashions for children. Follow the “TOILETTES” signs. The place is quite large. You’ll find beaucoup benches and mirrors with natural light. Windows with views of the city, too. B.H.V.’s lounge also has some lovely views. Located near the lingerie department, this “powder room” is also worth a peek!
        Theadora

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So good to see you Theadora! This was a fascinating story, how daring of Védrines back in 1919 to do such a landing. He proud he’d be to read your post and then to see the photographs of today. This was a real treat my dear!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a dashing story you tell and then bring it to life in your magnificent city! Wonderful photos! I would certainly travel to Paris if I could. My apologies for crude comments about Paris from a certain man in government. He puts down everything and everyone but then he has no class and would probably not appreciate your city. Sadly, we are stuck with him for the time being. Outstanding post as always as you carry us away to exotic places full of adventures. Cheers for the weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tricky times! Oh, la la. Thanks for your thoughtful words. I enjoyed the Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s twitter response: “We celebrate dynamism and spirit of openness of Paris at the Eiffel Tower with Mickey and Minnie.” Perfection.

      Cheers!
      Theadora

      Like

    • Thank you! And speaking of daredevils, I’ve also been spending time with WWI pilot Marie Marvingt—the first woman to complete the Tour de France in 1908. Ahead of the curve, she was also a balloonist, boxer, wrestler, tennis player, swimmer, and mountaineer. Incredible story. Stay tuned!

      Enjoy the week,
      Theadora

      (I think James Mason was in the Blue Max . . . )

      Like

  6. Great to see the GL from so many other angles Theadora! I think I was too much in awe to take more than two photos. And you aren’t letting heights deter your dainty climbing feet. Thank you for sharing these delights. How dare that fellow do it twice. Cheers! Philippa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci, Philippa! It’s always difficult to stop snapping whilst surfing the moving steps up to the rooftop. So many centuries-old architectural details are still there. And YES. I always try to keep a firm grip on the balcony railing.

      I’m always on the hunt for old-school treasures. Back in January, I stopped by Macy’s on 34th Street in New York. I was happy to find my favorite old Otis escalators still working. So loud. So wonderful.

      Enjoy the day!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A nice post. I’d completely forgotten about Védrines’ “exploit”. (Fact is you could land those planes just about anywhere, so light and slow. But the feat remains)

    Liked by 1 person

      • A favourite rooftop, no… Montmartre would be the equivalent. My sister had a flat there “sous les toits”. But come to think of it, no. Beaubourg, top floor?I have made a mental note to go the Galeries Laffayette this year (your influence), AND climb the stairs in the tower of Notre-Dame.
        Take care Theadora.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Richard. Jules Védrines was a character. It was a complete pleasure to dig up the old newspaper clippings. The photogenic pilot had a way with words. Daredevil. Story teller, too!
      Theadora

      Like

    • Thank you, Frank. Yes, Galeries Lafayette is a great place to stroll, brainstorm, and write, too. Especially on the rooftop. And speaking of scenic walks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your “Seashore” series. I loved the shell shots.

      Perfect mini-break!
      Theadora

      Like

  8. It’s called One Summer: America 1927. The book largely focuses on 1927 and the celebrity of people like Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh, but it also covers, in some detail, the history of aviation and the various stunts, exploits and records set before Lindbergh famously crossed the Atlantic in the Spirit of St Louis in 1927 (many of which were far more impressive yet now long forgotten!). It’s a great read.

    Like

  9. What an amazing story Theadora!! (but I’m surprised they would want pilots trying to land near that glass dome!!) ANd– love loved the exquisite details from around the store. Dreaming of traveling to Paris to see it for myself! What a fun post!! thanks! xo

    Like

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