Félix Potin building in Paris: renovated and revealed.
In October 2013, the Félix Potin turret was under wraps. Today the Félix Potin building has been renovated and revealed.
The Félix Potin building is on the rue de Rennes in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. Rue de Rennes was originally designed to connect the Gare Montparnasse (the railway station) with the Left Bank of the river Seine – the river that bisects Parisian suburbs. When trains depart the Gare Montparnasse, one of their destinations is Rennes in Brittany, north-west France. Hence the street was named after the town Rennes.
In 1853, Baron Georges Haussmann, the town planner of Paris, wanted the street to reach the River Seine, and road construction and renovations commenced.
British historian, Richard Cobb, described rue de Rennes as “the most desolate, inhuman street in Paris” because its construction led to the destruction of many historical buildings.
By the late 1860s, the extension of rue de Rennes had only reached the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The northern extension was blocked by the Institut de France, the cultural institute.
The Haussmann plans resurfaced every few years, with the recommendation to knock down the institute to continue the road to the river Seine, but by 1976 the idea was abandoned.
On rue de Rennes is a department store built in 1904 as part of the Félix Potin grocery empire. Designed by Paul Auscher in the Art Nouveau style, the six-storey building has an exterior of moulded concrete casts. On the top is a turret – a free-form bell tower embellished with the name FELIX*POTIN in large, gold letters against a black background.
French architect Paul Auscher (1866-1932) designed several buildings for Félix Potin. The distinctive turrets bearing Felix’s name can still be seen at 103 Boulevard de Sebastapol (now a Monoprix store) and 45 rue de Rennes (now a Zara store).
Félix Potin (1820-1871) was an innovative retailer who pioneered the manufacture of goods under one brand to sell in his own stores – mass distribution retail. He opened his first shop in Paris when he was only 24 years old. By 1860 he opened the first two-level retail store on the Boulevard de Sebastopol and in 1861 the Félix Potin factory in La Villette. In 1870, he started a home delivery service.
After his death, the business continued and another department store was built on rue de Rennes in 1904. By 1923 the business had 70 branches, 10 factories, 5 wine stores, 650 horses (for home delivery services0, and almost 8,000 workers. The American F.W. Woolworth Company chain of stores was based on the Potin retail model, with its first store appearing in 1879.
The business collapsed in 1996 and in 2003 the Societe Philippe Potin acquired the right to use the Félix Potin name for its distribution network in south east France.
So, the renovation of the Potin turret on rue de Rennes, completed in 2019, is a delight to see. And not just the turret, but the whole building. It is a large mosaic frontage with decorative advertising, in white against a pale-yellow background. The words, in English, can still be seen: THE LUNCHS PATISSERIE FIVE O’CLOCK. And Paul Auscher’s signature stamp is still etched into the cornerstone above the first floor.