Le Havre, World Heritage Site

The District of Saint-François.

An island: Saint Francois' District

Created in 1541 by Girolamo Bellarmato on a triangular piece of land situated to the east of the King’s dock, the Saint Francois district became an island at the end of the eighteenth century when Commerce Dock and the Barre Dock were dug out. This district holds the last remnants of old, pre-war Le Havre.

Although a great part of the district was destroyed during the autumn of 1944, several important buildings have survived, such as Saint Francois’ Church (founded 1551), the entrance lodges of the Classes de la Miséricorde (a school, 1868) situated at n° 27-33 Rue de Percanville, the old Foyer Transatlantique (Community Centre) erected during the nineteenth century on rue Dauphine; the Hotel Dubocage de Bléville (1739) nowadays housing the Museum of Old Le Havre (Musée de l’Ancien Havre), at n°1 Rue Bellarmato; the hotel  Brocques (private house later become the first Chamber of Commerce) at n° 11 Rue de la Crique; the Shipowner’s Mansion (1795) at n°3 Quai de l’Ile, as well as a few old houses on Rue Dauphine and on Quai de l’Ile. These remains, showing off building techniques of past times (half-timbers, chalky stone, brick, plaster coating, flat tiles, slate tiles) were listed with the Historic Monuments in 1946, thanks to the Société des Amis du Vieux Havre (Society for the Protection of Old Le Havre).

When reconstruction of Saint Francois district was first considered, it was going to be, like the rest of the city centre, part of the main quadrangular grid Perret suggested. But this project was not accepted by the City Council, and decision was made to restore the island along the specific lines drawn in the sixteenth century. The Perret Studio agreed to hand over this part of the reconstruction to local architects. It was impossible to conceive bringing down buildings and monuments which had survived the bombings for reasons of urbanistic homogeneity: they had to be safeguarded at all costs. The fact they were still standing made using the new urban grid difficult. Therefore it was decided to keep to Bellarmato’s grid, the Siennese architect whose initial composition was, from the first, a very rigorous one. This did not stop the architects of the reconstruction from widening the streets, enlarging housing blocks and opening them out.

The central blocks were built by Robert Royon, Robert Gas, Charles Labro, Noël Boucher, Henri Colboc, Alexandre Franche, Henri Vernot, Pierre-André Jouan, Passini. The quayside blocks were built by Duveau, Boudier, A. Rémy, Pierre Groené, Alexandre Franche, Noël Boucher, Henri Vernot, Pierre Le Bourgeois, Henri Gastaldi, Pierre-André Jouan, Passini, Léon Rochin.

The Fish Market (Halle au Poisson), designed by Charles Fabre and Jean Le Soudier, stands at the south of the district. Built with a reinforced concrete structure, the housing buildings have brick facades showing the horizontal lines of each floor. These four storey buildings carry gable roofs with skylights or dormer windows. This sober architecture, showing minimal regionalist inspiration, makes a modest show of its building structure. Using windows floor to ceiling high as requested by Perret, it does not radically move away from the general building principles adopted by the Perret Studio. It needs to follow the shape of the island (hence the arc shaped building along the Quai Michel Féré, following the line of the King’s dock) and respects the remnants of days gone by (as can be seen around Saint Francois’ church).