Little Bits of History

From Disaster to Inspiration

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 20, 2014
Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

May 20, 1896: The chandelier falls. The Palais Garnier is an opera house located in Paris, France. It was built between 1861 and 1875 for the Paris Opera, the primary opera company of France. It was built on Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris and was originally called Salle des Capucines because of location. It soon became known as Palais Garnier in recognition of the architect, Charles Garnier. His opulent building was highly appreciated by those attending performances. Built during the Second Empire, it was the most expensive opera house to build along with being called “unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank.”

On this date, one of the counterweights for the chandelier came free and broke through the ceiling into the auditorium below. It killed one member of the audience. It also served as an inspiration for Gaston Leroux in his classic 1910 gothic novel, The Phantom of the Opera. It was used by Andrew Lloyd Webber in his musical of the same name as well. The entire story was placed inside the opera house and it is one of the reasons it remains one of the most widely recognized opera houses in the world.

On December 30, 1860, Napoleon III announced a design competition for the building of an opera house for the Paris Opera, since their building had been destroyed by fire decades before. Their temporary home was no longer good enough. Applicants were given a month to submit entries and there were two phases for the competition and 171 entrants managed to complete the first phase. There were five finalists chosen and only four of these actually finished the final submission which was much more rigorous. The directions were received on April 28 and on May 29, 1861, Garnier’s was chosen for its “rare and superior qualities in the beautiful distribution of the plans, the monumental and characteristic aspect of the facades and sections”.

The site was excavated from August 27 to December 31, 1861 but even with pumps running continuously after October, the ground would not dry. Garnier solved the problem by building a double foundation to protect the superstructure from moisture (and make a great hiding place for a Phantom later). The cornerstone was laid on July 21, 1862. The style is unlike other building and when Empress Eugenie asked the not-yet-famous Garnier what style it was supposed to be, since it was unlike those in use at the time, the clever man replied, “Why Ma’am, it’s Napoleon Trois.” The building’s opulence is truly one of a kind.

I call architecture frozen music. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age. – Frank Lloyd Wright

We require from buildings two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it. – John Ruskin

Architecture is the art of how to waste space. – Philip Johnson

Also on this day: Where’s … Waldo? – In 1570 the first modern atlas is published.
We Believe – In 325, the Council of Nicea opened.
I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1899, a NYC cabbie was jailed for speeding.
Sonnets – In 1609, Shakespeare’s sonnets were published.

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