In the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat, alongside the railway line which runs from Bordeaux to Le Verdon, a housing estate serves as...

Yves Gourribon’s self-made neighbourhood in Le Bouscat

In the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat, alongside the railway line which runs from Bordeaux to Le Verdon, a housing estate serves as a reminder of a period not so long ago when people would come together to build their own living quarters and form new communities from scratch. 

The story begins in the 1950s and in these post-War years Bordeaux was experiencing a housing shortage, with around 10,000 extra homes needed according to the city’s then chief architect. One person who decided to do something about this was one Yves Gourribon, a teacher at the vocational training establishment in Blanquefort. He had been heavily inspired by the “Castors” movement that had taken hold in Pessac a few years earlier, resulting in a whole housing estate being built by the residents themselves as part of a “Comité Ouvrier du Logement” structure in which everybody donated 40 hours of manual labour per month until the homes were standing! This approach was also rolled out as part of similar initiatives in Cenon, Mérignac and Villenave d’Ornon.

Typical Gourribon estate housing.
Gourribon’s approach wasn’t quite as literally hands-on, but was a similarly bottom-up approach based on future home-owners clubbing together, then leading, overseeing and sometimes contributing to the construction of standardized houses on plots in a newly-acquired area of land as members of a cooperative society. And so it was that Gourribon founded ABAP, Association Bouscataise d’Accès à la Propriété, which began working in conjunction with an organization known as Le Toit Girondin to collect and manage finances. The concept was simple, it would just be a case of convincing people to buy into the scheme, so meetings were held, information leaflets were handed out and Gourribon gradually managed to generate some interest in his plans: 60 “coopérateurs” signed up to the first wave of the project, committing themselves to monthly payments, from day one, of around 10,000 francs per month (adjusted for inflation, that's around 215 euros according to this online converter) over a 30-year period.
Yves Gourribon's own house was among
the first built. The original gates
are still standing!

Gourribon was on his way and ABAP acquired a large plot of land in Le Bouscat which was bare other than for a mansion house (which was knocked down a number of years later when the final owner passed away). The area was mainly shallow pools and marshland fed by a stream, the Limancet, which flowed down the middle – it was soon channelled underground and diverted around the land that would be welcoming the new housing estate.

The initial development, which came to be known as the Lotissement des Écus, took shape between 1950 and 1954 and was eventually made up of 56 houses. Word soon spread about the appeal of the brand new district (even though it was, according to one observer, like being out in the country in a forgotten backwater: “On allait à la campagne dans un coin perdu”) and Gourribon had no trouble at all selling off the plots that would form Lotissement Ausone, made up of 94 houses built in 1956 and 1957.

Original site plan credited to the architect Jean J. Prévôt, source: Association Ricochet Facebook page. The first Écus estate is to the south of rue Ausone, while Lotissement Ausone would follow to the north.
The situation in 1956: the Écus estate is more or less complete while the Ausone estate is work-in-progress. Source: IGN's Remonter le Temps website.
The situation today as seen on GoogleEarth.
The brand new community which Gourribon had instigated, which would later be completed with the addition of a further 26 houses (Lotissement Montesquieu), rapidly gelled. The residents were, for the most part, young couples, often with small children, who had relocated from Bordeaux, Blanquefort, Talence, or sometimes from elsewhere in Le Bouscat, or else from places further afield such as Macau in the Médoc. The children were in their element, and made the central square their own – for many the days spent playing on “la place” remain the best days of their lives. Symbolically, the square, which was originally known as Place de Chébli, then Place J.F. Kennedy, is now known as Place Gourribon, in memory of the man who was its catalyst but who died in a bicycle accident in May 1981 on the day François Mitterrand was elected French president.
Place Yves-Gourribon, which formed the backdrop to many a happy childhood.
The one-storey semi-detached houses were designed by a local architect by the name of Jean J. Prévôt and were all identical apart from a handful of slightly bigger (and more expensive) corner homes for larger families. The ground level comprised a living/dining room (an archway between the two was an optional extra) along with a separate kitchen that gave onto the back garden, a lavatory and a door leading to the garage… which was rarely used to park cars but rather as a storage and utility space! The upper level was made up of three bedrooms and a bathroom, the latter still being a relative novelty at a time that more or less heralded the beginning of the end of public bathing facilities.

Other notable features included the generalized use of pinewood parquet and a fireplace which most chose not to use as it was often difficult to clear the smoke (residents instead opted for coal or gas burners or even a cutting-edge central heating system). Each home also had its own front door overhang, held up by a distinctive row of three vertical columns.
A trademark front door with its overlay and three vertical columns.
Over the years, many homes have either been extended or substantially modified and renovated, but in most cases they remain easily recognizable with many original characteristics very much visible, right down to the foldaway metal shutters which remain on many of the homes! According to one resident, the homes were “solidly constructed and durable, and over the years there have been very few problems with them”.
Vintage 1950s metal foldaway shutters.
Back in the 1950s, completing the brand new neighbourhood and bringing the brand new neighbours together was a communal building which served as an office, library and venue for gatherings (it was the scene of many a wedding reception). There was even a public telephone where users would pay what they owed for each call, although this was scrapped when it repeatedly emerged that the incoming funds did not always add up to the cost of the outgoing calls! During the district’s golden years, the ABAP association branched out beyond pure administrative tasks and organized group purchases of consumables, white goods, cultural outings and even group holidays both in France and further afield.

Times slowly changed though and the communal building, which was being used less and less, was eventually demolished. After thirty-or-so years, ABAP had also run its course as far as its original vocation was concerned, given that residents’ monthly payments had now ceased, and so in 1983 it redefined itself as the Association Bouscataise d’Activités Polyvalentes until it was wound up in 1990. Meanwhile, in 1983, another association had been set up, AQAEB (Association Quartier Ausone / Écus du Bouscat), initially to defend the rights of local residents. This has gradually taken over the cultural role previously held by ABAP, and AQAEB continues to organize a host of activities, from IT tuition and scrapbooking lessons to outings.

Some of the houses remain as they stood in the 1950s...
... while others have undergone massive transformations!
Meanwhile, the original “coopérants” have now become fully-fledged homeowners, many of the houses have repeatedly changed hands, the feeling of being “out in the country” has faded away with the growth of the surrounding metropole, and the central square is no longer the hub for young children that it once was. But still, when familiar with the accompanying story, there is still a sense that so much more can be achieved when individuals come together than can ever be done singlehandedly, and that an old-school sense of community is something that is strongest when initiated by the people themselves rather than by remote authorities or real estate conglomerates.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Gourribon housing estate, rue Ausone, Le Bouscat.
> This article is entirely based on a guided tour organized earlier in 2018 by Le Bouscat’s Association Ricochet (directed by Damien Guiraud) in conjunction with Pétronille. As such, the account is very much the by-product of the extensive research carried out and shared by Pétronille's Laurent Péradon, with the aid of AQAEB and the valuable eye-witness testimonies of local resident Guy Saint Martin (who was part of the second wave of “coopérants” in the mid-1950s). A big thank you to all of the above!

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On the left bank of the Gironde Estuary, in Jau-Dignac-et-Loirac a little to the north of Pauillac, the quaint Phare de Richard offers ...

Phare de Richard: when size matters on the Gironde Estuary


On the left bank of the Gironde Estuary, in Jau-Dignac-et-Loirac a little to the north of Pauillac, the quaint Phare de Richard offers an instant glimpse into the history of Médocain lighthouses.

The lighthouse was first built in 1843, at a spot on the bank of the Estuary where a tall poplar tree, known as “l’Arbre de Richard”, stood and served as a navigation aid for sailors until it was destroyed by a violent storm in 1830. However, after entering into service, it was soon established that the Phare de Richard had one serious shortcoming: at just 18 metres, it was too small! And so, in 1870, navigation duties were handed over to a less elaborate but taller (31 metres) and more effective metallic structure, and the two lighthouses cohabited side by side for nearly 80 years. 

The way things were: the 1870 and 1843 lighthouses standing side by side (picture source: www.phare-richard.com).
A 1:10 scale model of the second lighthouse, built in 1997 by lycée students in Pauillac, now stands where the full-size version used to be.
But by the 1950s, shipping navigation methods had evolved on the Estuary, switching to the use of beacons or buoys. The second, taller lighthouse therefore ceased operations in 1953 and was demolished three years later to be used for scrap. The surviving older, shorter Phare de Richard, along with the surrounding land were sold on to private owners, who subsequently abandoned the lighthouse, which fell into a serious state of disrepair. 

An orientation table on the bank of the Estuary handily locates the beacons which replaced the use of lighthouses on the Gironde.
That was the case until the 1980s, when a group of local youths took it upon themselves to clean up the site, out of a combination of boredom and frustration when they saw the state of neglect the original lighthouse was now in. In their endeavour they soon gained the support of the local mayor and council, and come 1988 the land was re-acquired by the municipality. Over the following years, the lighthouse was restored from bottom to top, and in 1993 a non-profit association (Association communale du phare de Richard) was set up to bring the lighthouse back to life as a heritage site, to draw tourists and organize cultural activities.

And that remains the situation today: the lighthouse is indeed open to the general public all year round, and for a token admission fee (two euros) visitors can climb the 63 steps to the top of the structure and, from a small platform that stretches around the top of the circular building, enjoy a unique vantage point over the Gironde Estuary. As well as being able to see over to the north bank and the village of Talmont-sur-Gironde, the view takes in a long row of carrelet fishing huts

The view from the top, looking over towards Les Monards, Mortagne-sur-Gironde and, somewhere over to the left, Talmont-sur-Gironde!
A neat row of carrelet fishing huts.
At ground level, a small but perfectly-formed museum (and low-key souvenir shop) provides an overview of the history of the lighthouse and of the Gironde Estuary’s fishing culture and heritage. At the base of the lighthouse, a carrelet that was built in 2008 by the association which oversees the site is also available to rent. And the surrounding land has been converted into a pleasant Estuary-side picnic area. There are indeed worse places to enjoy a picnic… 

Looking south over the carrelet built by the association.
The work and dedication has paid off: every year around 12,500 visitors to the Médoc, best-known for its wine-growing credentials, take time out to stop off here at Phare de Richard, breathe in the bracing Estuary air, and soak up a little bit of the local fishing and shipping culture.

A bird's eye view of Phare de Richard, as enjoyed during a flight over the Atlantic Coast and Gironde Estuary sometime ago.
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Phare de Richard, Jau-Dignac-et-Loirac
> Official website: www.phare-richard.com (including an interesting video compilation of pictures retracing the lighthouse's highs and lows here).  
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

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