Le Havre, World Heritage Site

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The 1950s

The 1950s are a time of renewed hope and general recognition. After the difficulty of evaluating war damages, housing blocks are built ever faster. Monuments are added and the Sunday outing is now an opportunity to walk the children in order to admire the Town Hall building site or that of Saint-Joseph’s church, its tower reaching dizzy heights.

In 1956, while cranes add crowns to the monumental buildings, the State General Office for Tourism decides to launch a campaign promoting the town as a symbol of modernity and asks photographer Lucien Hervé for pictures of the new city. A resurrection is starting and the city is looking out for recognition. However, the destitute are still waiting for decent accommodation: young couples living with their parents or disregarded and living in shanty towns. Such precarious living conditions show that the housing crisis goes beyond the problem of war victims.

HLM: Low Rent Housing Schemes

Further efforts were made in order to increase the social housing on offer. Low rent Council Housing, Opération Million, Logeco (economic housing) or Plan Courant (Mayor Pierre Courant’s scheme) will soon allow most applications, even from the most destitute, to be satisfied. Young couples will at last become independent and settle in a house or flat they will be able to furnish thanks to loans and ever increasing wages. The most sought after modern appliances are now available to a great number of buyers, widely appearing in large neon-lit shop windows. Commercial sales are further boosted by important commercial events which mark the advent of modern life such as the Le Havre Trade Fair, set up opposite the Nouvelles Galeries Department store (on Place Gambetta, now Général de Gaulle Square) or elegant fashion shows. Le Havre also claims cultural modernity when Minister André Malraux inaugurates the first “Maison de la culture” within the then Musée des Beaux-Arts, in 1961.

Interior decoration

Not yet supported by state credits, then rather given to education and propaganda, the “feel for decoration” can be found in magazines. In March 1956, the Nouveau Femina magazine shows a first-time interest for the “ideal home of French women”: in the kitchen, a majority of the women in the article want new and easy to clean materials (Linoleum and Formica). Although it is still in the kitchen the housewife spends most of her time, she shows growing interest for the “living-room”. Both a dining area and lounge, it requires attention to many details and is given priority when decorating the lodging; guests will evaluate the “good taste” their hosts are showing through the quality of the food, the choice of dishes, the crockery used, the fabrics, wall-paper and furniture…. For half of the homes mentioned in the article, the women wish for sober, discreet furniture, plain Art Deco style such as could be found in the France Ameublement shop, on Rue Aristide Briand. The other half favours either antique furniture or a rustic style, ”Furniture for the Chic” as an advert for “Maison du Mobilier” on Town Hall Square used to claim. Design, Avant-Garde styles are sparsely mentioned although they can be found in two shops in Le Havre, La Crédence and the Galerie Espace.

Ornaments

Ornaments tend to disappear. After a whole century of success, brass ornaments are replaced by plants (ferns, philodendron, rubber plants, aspidistras, begonias) which can be placed in ceramic pots or cut flowers arranged in a crystal vase. Same as for tapestry (Jean Lurçat) or wallpaper (Paul Follot), artists and craftsmen try to make artistic ceramics more popular. These decorative items change rapidly and, if magazines like Art et Décoration or La Maison Française present pieces by Georges Jouve, some interior decorators like Marcel Gascoin use ordinary stoneware pitchers, made by Pierre Pigaglio in Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, to embellish their furniture presentations. The best items of this artistic ceramics revival can be found in workshops at Vallauris where the best potters or great artists like Picasso produce their work; however famous works of art and clumsy, flashy souvenirs for tourists can be found all mixed up together…..

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