A losing struggle for historic preservation
About This Chapter
As early as 1912 when it appeared that the closing of Saint-Lazare might be imminent theCommission Municipale du Vieux Paris began to talk about historic preservation issues with respect to the ancient fabric of the prison. The 1927 decision to close the facility had been accompanied by the authorization to tear it down.
First Article: The buildings comprising the maison d’arrèt et de correction of Saint-Lazare, located from the chapel to the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, and presently occupied by the quarter judicaire and the general services department, will be demolished. The land that will become available will be sold by lottery, with the provision that the central part of the lands will be reserved to create a public square with a minimum surface area of 3,000 mètres carrés.
Once this decision had been announced, a sub-committee from the Commission du Vieux Parisvisited the prison. They concluded that whatever “moral, social, urbain” reasons had created the “veritable anathèmes” against Saint-Lazare leading to its closure as a prison, the actual physical state of the historic buildings was “solid, perfect, and strong.”
The Commission went on record in 1930 as supporting the historic preservation of Saint-Lazare “parmi les monuments historiques” and floated a variety of proposals that envisioned this preservation within the context of a new public purpose for the buildings.
One proposal was that the edifice serve as an annex of the Museum of the History of the City of Paris (the famous Carnavalet) dedicated specifically to the history of the revolutions that had taken place between 1793 and 1848. Another proposal put forward was that the complex could serve as a needed annex to the Bibliotheque Nationale. There was even a plea, if all other efforts failed, to at least save the façade of the main building and re-use it as the entrance to the planned public garden space.
However, in March 1931, the Commision des monuments historiques declined to give protected status to the building on the basis of cost. With all appeals finished, the demolition of the old prison started in June 1933 with the right wing of the second court. It would take seven years until May of 1940, before the wrecking crews would finally demolish all the prison’s extensive fabric of buildings and walls.