Behind the Scenes at Société Générale at 29 Boulevard Haussmann

Behind the Scenes at Société Générale at 29 Boulevard Haussmann
Anyone could be forgiven for walking past number 29 Boulevard Haussmann without a second thought, thinking that it is just another Second Empire construction, home to a financial institution, in an area dominated by the large department stores and the imposing Palais Garnier. How wrong that would be! Because behind the ornate façade, where the red-and-black logo of French bank Société Générale glitters proudly, stands one of the most interesting buildings in the area. Outside view of Société Générale. © Société Générale Its story begins at the beginning of the 20th century, when the board of the bank decided that the original headquarters on rue de Provence had become too cramped for its thriving activity. In 1906 the bank acquired 29 Boulevard Haussmann, which at the time housed shops on the ground floor and a mix of offices and apartments on its upper floors (some of them home to illustrious residents, like Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte). The Beaux-Arts architect Jacques Hermant was tasked with transforming the block into a state-of-art office building. He spared the original façade but everything else went. Four underground floors were excavated to make way for the bank’s strong-room. The safe room’s circular door. © Société Générale The architect traveled to the United States to look at the new construction techniques that were making sky-scrapers possible and, upon his return, he pioneered the use of reinforced steel for the structure, crowning the building with a double-domed glass structure in pure Eiffel style. The circular shape of the ground floor branch, sporting ornate Beaux-Arts style, introduced an innovative open-plan lay-out. Top of the Eiffel Tower-style structure © Sarah Bartesaghi Truong. Choosing to use the circle as a leitmotif across the decor, Hermant reprised it in the medallions that surround the SG acronym in the stained glassed heights of the dome, on the mosaic floors and even behind-the-scenes, down in the hidden depths of the strong room, whose precious cargo was protected by a circular safe door (instead of the standard rectangular shaped ones used by French banks at the time).

Lead photo credit : Stained Glass windows at the Société Générale © Société Générale

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Sarah Bartesaghi Truong has lived, studied and worked in Milan, Paris and London. Her lifelong passion for art in all its forms and her entrepreneurial dreams were the catalyst for a career change: she left the world of investment banking to go back to school, at the Sotheby’s Institute of London. Ten years ago, she moved back to Paris, the ideal location for an art-lover. As an Italian in Paris, she decided she would keep playing the tourist in her adoptive home town, always on the lookout for the many wonders the French capital has to offer to the curious explorer. VeniVidiParis, the company she founded, plans curated itineraries in the French capital and its vicinity for travellers wishing to discover the city’s vibrant art scene, but not only. Take a look at her recent discoveries on her Instagram feed, @venividiparis, or contact her at [email protected] for help planning your next Parisian vacation.