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Every day, thousands of vehicles drive along Quai de Paludate and past Château Descas, which is ...
Château Descas: the wine merchant’s warehouse turned nightclub... which is now an empty shell
Every day, thousands of vehicles drive along Quai de Paludate and past Château Descas, which is simultaneously one of the most spectacular and one of the most mysterious buildings in central Bordeaux. I thought it might be interesting to investigate the subject!
Although the central section of the building currently lies empty, it is best known as having been the eponymous offices and wine cellar of the wine merchants Descas, whose founder Jean Descas (1834-1895), an Entre-Deux-Mers wine barrel manufacturer turned trader (and also the mayor of his hometown Camiran), first installed his then 20-year-old company here in 1881. The location was strategically close to Saint-Jean train station, giving him easy access to the burgeoning railway delivery network, and thus an extra edge over his counterparts who were traditionally positioned further north in the Chartrons district. This decision was also compounded by Descas’s focus on supplying affordable wine to customers in France, while the Chartrons players built their wealth on the high-end export market.
The property acquired at an auction by Jean Descas had, since 1661, been home to the city’s first general hospital, Hôpital de la Manufacture, the ancestor of today’s “CHU” (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire). For many years the establishment also provided a safe haven for abandoned children, with a peak of just under 900 being accommodated around the time of the French Revolution in 1789.
|The way it was: Hôpital de la Manufacture in an 1830 portrayal by the lithographer Légé; picture borrowed from http://bordeauxmaritime.free.fr, the website which was expertly curated by the late, great Hervé Guichoux.|
|Plenty to spot, from the lookout tower to Jean Descas's initials, and the face of a man who appears to be surrounded by a full year's supply of grapes.|
The company and its château warehouse continued to go from strength to strength for the best part of a century, until they were taken over by the Merlaut family in 1979. Descas’s assets were relocated to the right bank of the Garonne and a modern-day warehouse just off Quai de Brazza. This remains Descas’s head office and is where its director Denis Merlaut monitors the group’s many contemporary business interests, which range from wine production and trading to the ownership and rental of business units.
|Mercury and Vine.|
Then the château was turned into a short-lived disco known as le Rikiki Palace, which hosted DJs including Bob Sinclair. The following, final nocturnal incarnation was le Mystic, a “restaurant-club” described by observers as a “haunted venue” where little people manned the door and, even more bizarrely, a gigantic animated mask served as master of ceremonies. Business ceased in 2007.
And, ever since then, an ugly legal battle has been underway between Descas and Bordeaux city council over unauthorised structural work carried out inside the building (which included the complete gutting and removal of the third floor), as noted when the municipality’s lease expired in 2003. Descas are claiming damages of 6 million euros to get the premises back into shape, although the ongoing legal efforts have been undermined by the use of the building beyond 2003 to house Rikiki Palace and le Mystic.
Which brings us to the present day’s empty shell, albeit one which is flanked by two wings which are occupied by various companies, associations and even a bar, le Point Rouge, not to mention the swish old people’s residence which has gone up behind the château, sandwiching what GoogleEarth would suggest is a pleasantly symmetrical garden/square.
|The current view from GoogleEarth. The next time I go back I'll try heading round the back via rue... Jean Descas!|
|This aerial view from sometime between 1950 and 1965, as featured on the fantastic http://remonterletemps.ign.fr website, clearly shows the extensive warehouses behind the château.|
|Ground-floor trompe-l'oeils: Ceci n'est pas une fenêtre. Et ceci n'est plus un restaurant club.|
|A naughty look at the inside view where work appears to be in progress in between the marble columns.|
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
One sight which is visible from most points along the waterfront in central Bordeaux is the Bou...
Pylône de Bouliac: the vertical line on Bordeaux’s horizon
The mast goes by a number of names according to where you look: antenne TDF (which originally stood for TéléDiffusion de France), pylône TDF or pylône de Bouliac. You might think that one thing that cannot be disputed is its height, but even that information differs in places! Most sources record it as measuring 252 metres, some round it down to 250 metres while others downgrade it to a lowly 232 metres. Whichever figure it might be, if you can picture the Eiffel Tower, the Bouliac mast tops out at the equivalent of a bit above mid-way between the second and third platforms.
|This is kind of how things would look if the Bouliac mast was in central Paris. |
(Eiffel Tower picture source: Wikipedia.)
The mast was first installed in 1957 and was soon ranked as one of TDF’s seven main transmission masts; illustrious counterparts on that list include the aforementioned Eiffel Tower and the Pic du Midi in the Pyrenees. The pylon was replaced in 1988 but, that short overhaul period aside, the antenna has been a permanent fixture on the Bordeaux skyline for almost 60 years. Around 1 million people are served by the signals it emits, either directly or via one of six relay antennae that are strategically positioned throughout Gironde (Arcachon, Bordeaux Caudéran, Langoiran-Portets, Latresne, Lesparre and Soulac).
|Close-up views of parts of the mast including the tip and the base.|
Anyway, as you gaze upstream along the Garonne river taking in the waterfront, the Miroir d'Eau, the buildings and the bridges, do not forget to gaze upwards towards Bouliac, the balcony of Bordeaux and the TDF mast!
|Yes, that's our pylon over there on the left, beyond the Miroir d'Eau and the Pont de Pierre.|
> Clicking here will take you through to Wikipedia's guide to the tallest structures in France
> Cet article est également disponible en français !
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Charlotte, a Dane living in Marseille who took part in the competition on Facebook, wins two nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation for two people at Novotel Bordeaux Lac, along with two 2-day Bordeaux Metropole CityPass tickets, offering unlimited travel on public transport and reduced rates for guided tours and admission to museums.