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September 1, 2023

Inside the Marbeuf Garage, the Original Citroën Showroom in Paris

A building to make one gasp at its modernity. The Citroën showroom, Marbeuf in Parisn, built in 1929, designed by A. Laprade and L. Bazin, with Jean Prouvé as engineer. The plate glass facade, gloriously displaying five shelf-like floors to show the cars. It was demolished in 1952.

The Marbeuf garage had six floors and was large enough to show the entire range of vehicles on offer. The almost twenty meter high facade was made up of eighteen huge glass panes offering an unobstructed view of the cars and the lovely art deco cutout-shape of the floors. At first glance it may have looked like a fancy parking garage but it really was a showroom.

Of course, a building like this in a prestigious location doesn’t come cheap, which is where Maurice Bunau-Varilla came in. Bunau-Varilla was the main shareholder of one of the best known French newspapers, Le Matin. He was also one of the people who believed in André Citroën and his grand ideas to change the European car manufacturing landscape forever. He lent Citroën considerable amounts of money, becoming a shareholder in the company. In return, Citroën gave Bunau-Varilla the concession rights to open and run a dealership right in the heart of Paris.

Bunau-Varilla ordered the famous architect Albert Laprade and his partner Louis-Emile Bazin to design and build the new showroom. Construction was started in 1928 and the design fitted right in with the Citroën style of marketing in those heady days, perhaps most memorably expressed by the emblazoning of the Citroën name on the Eiffel Tower with over 250,000 lightbulbs.

The showroom was finished in 1929; hardly ideal timing as a worldwide recession would soon hit the world economies hard. Indeed, in 1934 Citroën went bankrupt. Not just because of the financial crisis but also because of Citroën’s rivalry with Renault and the lengthy and costly development of the Traction Avant that had crippled the company and arguably also its boss. Fortunately, Michelin stepped in and saved the company.

As a result, Garage Marbeuf was closed and converted into a combined cinema and parking garage. During the second world war the building was confiscated by the German army. After the war, Marbeuf was -like many other sites in France – worse for wear after four years of occupation. In 1952 only the cinema downstairs remained but the rest of the once magnificent building was torn down.


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