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An Apartment-Sized Time Capsule
October 14, 2010 11:23 AM   Subscribe

For 70 years the Parisian apartment had been left uninhabited, under lock and key, the rent faithfully paid but no hint of what was inside.
posted by Heliochrome85 (65 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Love this kind of shit.
posted by Melismata at 11:27 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


me too. also this week, the story of the family in buffalo that may have a previously unknown painting by Michelangelo worth in excess of 300 Million.

been a good week for art finds.
posted by Heliochrome85 at 11:28 AM on October 14, 2010


1.) Droooooooooooooooool.

2.) Whyyyyyyyyyyyy only two (small) photos?
posted by Gator at 11:29 AM on October 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


See, that's the difference between America and France. If this had happened in America, they would have found newspapers and old junk stacked to the ceiling and the mummified corpses of half a dozen housecats. In France, there was a multimillion-dollar portrait of a beautiful woman and love letters from the Prime Minister.
posted by briank at 11:35 AM on October 14, 2010 [65 favorites]


Did she own or rent? The article later says "The woman who owned the flat had left for the south of France before the Second World War and never returned."
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:36 AM on October 14, 2010


Seriously, that picture is giving me a furniture-gasm.
posted by Gator at 11:36 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Holy wow.
posted by rtha at 11:38 AM on October 14, 2010


Behind the door, under a thick layer of dusk...

cool story, but stupid typo in the very first sentence.
posted by edgeways at 11:43 AM on October 14, 2010


Who paid the rent?

What happens to the property?

How did the granddaughter inherit the painting?

Why didn't she ever come back to Paris?

The story is frustrating . . . it tantalizes but so much information is missing.
posted by bearwife at 11:47 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


It made me snicker that one of the ads on the web page was "Absolute Apartments for Rent Paris". And now there's one more!

I bet there's a lot of stuff in that apartment that's worth a bundle. I too wished there were more pictures and more information.
posted by orange swan at 11:50 AM on October 14, 2010


cool story, but stupid typo in the very first sentence.

dusk: Middle English dosk, alteration of Old English dox; akin to Latin fuscus dark brown, Old English dunn dun, dūst dust

Maybe it's a British thing? But yeah, I'm thinking stupid typo too.
posted by Ratio at 11:53 AM on October 14, 2010


i want to know all.
posted by Heliochrome85 at 11:53 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find it extremely odd that an apartment would be unvisited for 70 years. My parents apartment in Baltimore (they are frequently out of town for long stretches) gets about three visits a year by exterminators, plumbers or other folks the building sends in to keep things from falling apart. I guess if she owned the flat, rather than rented (the article is annoying on that score, among others), then maybe it would be entirely left alone. But really - no burst pipes, broken windows, or other issues came up in 70 years? I don't buy it.
posted by jetsetsc at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Behind the door, under a thick layer of dusk..."

cool story, but stupid typo in the very first sentence.

I thought it was a charming typo, edgewise.

(Like 'the clam before a storm'.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:58 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can see the painting on (caveat: my own) Flickr.

For a Boldini, it's rather flat.
posted by fire&wings at 12:00 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's (another) picture of the Boldini portrait of Marthe de Florian here.
posted by misteraitch at 12:03 PM on October 14, 2010


Speaking of apartments in European capitals.

If I were younger and more carefree and had a job in Rome, I would consider it. I lived in a shithole apartment in a great area of Chicago, and it was awesome. I assume anything else in that area of Rome would be fetching millions.
posted by kmz at 12:04 PM on October 14, 2010


Love this kind of shit.

Hate this kind shit.

You know how many people would kill for an apartment like that? You know… living people? Such a waste of perfectly good, perfectly functioning real estate. So instead of sitting comfy in 9e. some poor Parisian schmuck has to live further outside of town and commute in, creating more traffic, more pollution, more subtle outward construction pressure towards sprawl. Not to mention the fat load of good that painting was doing posterity behind closed, private, unattended doors.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:18 PM on October 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Hate this kind shit.

What Civil_Disobedient said (but maybe with an "of" between "kind" and "shit"). Nothing infuriates me more than the combination of the sprawl I see eating up our beautiful countryside combined with the vast, vast tracts of entirely wasted space sitting empty in our cities.

Ha! It made me think of something that somebody said on MetaFilter a while ago about the "Shit Or Get Off The Pot Act" proposing escalating taxes for unused properties, and guess who wrote it?
posted by Shepherd at 12:24 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


For 70 years the Parisian apartment had been left uninhabited, under lock and key, the rent faithfully paid but no hint of what was inside.

Maybe it's because I'm from the Midwestern US, but my first assumption was "meth lab".
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:27 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know how many people would kill for an apartment like that?

Yes, if only this single apartment had been let, the world would be vastly improved. Your math refuses to account for the mystery and wonder a little randomness provides to all of us. If we all lived in perfectly matched IKEA cubes with our names and intentions written on the door for all to see, there'd be no stories to tell and nothing to wonder about the old man/ woman down the lane in that weird old house they don't build 'em like any more.
posted by yerfatma at 12:55 PM on October 14, 2010 [30 favorites]


I'm currently looking for an apartment in Paris, and let me tell you, it's frickin' difficult.

Paris central has very few high-rise buildings. Most apartment buildings have max. six floors. There is little to no new development centrally (and hey, beautiful Haussmanian buildings, or higgledy-piggledy buildings - still cool). Add to this the Parisian habit of living alone (although this is changing) and you've got very little opportunity of finding a place. All the the large success stories I've heard have been along the lines of "well, I knew this guy, and his family is really close to this other family, who heard that yadda yadda".

So, as soon as any adverts go up (on PAP.fr, FUSAC, the American Church, whatever), the person is bombarded by calls. I've called people up and their voicemail has been full, on the very same morning the ad was posted. Canny people change their voicemail to the date, time and location of a viewing, and never answer their phone.

Anyway, you traipse round to the place (if it's miles away) or go and cram into it (if it's anywhere near central, it's an absolute shoebox. We're talking 9 or 10m2, which includes a sink, loo and shower - although often the last two are on the hallway, shared with everyone). You try and corner the owner, to impress upon them your excellent background, and your unwavering desire to rent the place. You're an excellent prospective tenant, who doesn't smoke and works conscientiously most of the time. You'd also be happy to babysit on occasion for them, should they need.

If you can't show French pay slips, you need a garant to back you up. They need to be French. You also need a dossier, which is all kinds of info.

In short, I've hit one of the minor levels of hell (mainly because I'm only staying for three months, and fair enough owners want those staying for a year or more).

So, yes, Paris housing. Hmph.

Sorry, I just needed a rant.
posted by djgh at 1:03 PM on October 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'd be more sympathetic to "mystery and wonder" if they weren't trotted out every time somebody needs to defend something which negatively affects people, be it an argument against science and in favor of making things up, or an argument against actually using property instead of letting it sit empty.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:05 PM on October 14, 2010


For 70 years the Parisian apartment had been left uninhabited, under lock and key, the rent faithfully paid but no hint of what was inside.

Maybe it's because I'm from the Midwestern US, but my first assumption was "meth lab".

Erm, do you mean Opium Den?
posted by 1000monkeys at 1:05 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


also this week, the story of the family in buffalo that may have a previously unknown painting by Michelangelo worth in excess of 300 Million

Wait what
posted by dersins at 1:07 PM on October 14, 2010


I'd be more sympathetic to "mystery and wonder" if they weren't trotted out every time somebody needs to defend something which negatively affects people, be it an argument against science and in favor of making things up, or an argument against actually using property instead of letting it sit empty.

If the rent is being paid, what do you propose? The tenant wasn't living there, but was using it for storage, and paying for the privilege. So what should be done?
posted by rtha at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait what

Painting from New York home may be a Michelangelo
posted by kmz at 1:11 PM on October 14, 2010


But really - no burst pipes, broken windows, or other issues came up in 70 years? I don't buy it.

If you look in the upper right of first picture there is clearly water damage.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:13 PM on October 14, 2010


Okay, if there were hundreds of little old ladies buying up then abandoning prime Parisian real estate left and right, I'd froth at the mouth. And if there were pirate treasure buried all over maybe I'd complain about "all the wastefulness of burying this perfectly good treasure in the ground when poor people are starving!"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:18 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


A couple of times in my life I've come across old houses in this state. The first, while roof hopping in downtown London Ontario we discovered an apartment that had been sealed up and forgotten early in the century - the block was slated for demolition to make way for a (now also pretty much demolished!) shopping mall, and we pried off a roof hatch and lowered down a ladder that we'd swiped from a construction site. Thick dust, stale air, a tin toilet, gas light fixtures - it was all pretty creepy. I remember there being some dispute over who was going to be the last one left down there as we climbed back out!
It was actually the sons of the late painter Greg Curnoe who made this discovery; they were pretty much the ringleaders in this phase of explorations, looking for material for their own art projects (the old movie theatre next door was a great treasure trove too).
More recently in Calgary my friends and I discovered a house that had been inhabited by a lady named Gertrude Ackland until being abandoned, it appeared by the calendars and other artifacts, in 1974. She seems to have been something of the classic hermit/hoarder. Most of the furniture was gone but all the stuff she'd hoarded from the 1920s onwards was just as she'd left it - newspapers & magazines, old food in jars, clothes, her letters and postcards, just in piles feet high, and plus these rambling notes to herself scribbled all over the walls. There was even a dusty old car from the 40s or 50s in the garage.
The weird thing was, this wasn't on some isolated side street, it was right on the main drag of 17th Avenue SW. By coincidence, a neighbouring building caught fire a week or so after this discovery, and this house's empty existence seemed then to come to the attention of 'the authorities'. It was torn down soon after, and there's a Second Cup there now.
I still have a stash of Gertrude's old papers and postcards though, and a couple of her antique silver forks.
posted by Flashman at 1:21 PM on October 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Must be my favorite kind of landlord, the kind who leaves you alone unless you call for maintenance.

I don't get this notion that empty space, even when paid for, must be put to use as living space, as opposed to whatever use the owner/lessee sees fit. I have a spare couch in the front room of my house that I never, ever sit on. Am I obligated to quarter someone in that room, someone who would otherwise have a fifty-mile commute, simply because I'm not "making use" of that space?
posted by Gator at 1:24 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, if only this single apartment had been let, the world would be vastly improved.

The point is more that if all the apartments that are sitting, unused and unloved, were to be let out to people who need them -- instead of being hoarded, neglected, or forgotten by people so rich they can't keep track of their possessions -- then yes, the world would be vastly improved.

Hoarding usable space in a city nearly unlivable due to crowding is selfish. It's greedy. It's putting your need to own that space above the actual utility of it, aesthetically as well as practically.

Fetishizing it after the fact because it happens to be pretty doesn't make the inherent act of hoarding it any less selfish. Had the furniture fallen to ruin, the painting mildewed, the plumbing broken and the tiling shattered, this wouldn't be anything to celebrate. The happy accident that kept the belongings in this apartment intact are the only separator between this being an obvious and tragic waste, and this being a slightly less obvious but equally tragic waste.

If we all lived in perfectly matched IKEA cubes with our names and intentions written on the door for all to see, there'd be no stories to tell and nothing to wonder about the old man/ woman down the lane in that weird old house they don't build 'em like any more.

Extending your goofy metaphor, if all of the apartments in our buildings were empty because crazy old people were hoarding them from abroad, there'd be no old men and women to wonder about in the first place.
posted by Shepherd at 1:24 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hate this kind shit.

The reason that we're reading this story, the reason it's a story at all, is that this situation is incredibly unusual. Do you really think that a significant portion of Paris real estate is tied up for decades by absentee owners/renters?

I'm totally in agreement with yerfatma -- the wonder/mystery/randomness is worth the cost of having this one flat not fully utilized (for purposes consistent with your wishes).
posted by sriracha at 1:26 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Flashman: "A couple of times in my life I've come across old houses in this state."

This American Life did an entire show awhile back on this very subject: House on Loon Lake. One of my all time favorite episodes.
posted by jquinby at 1:27 PM on October 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


So instead of sitting comfy in 9e. some poor Parisian schmuck has to live further outside of town and commute in, creating more traffic, more pollution, more subtle outward construction pressure towards sprawl.

Something tells me that limiting nearly all new buildings to 37 metres of height is a lot more conducive to sprawl than a few unused apartments.
posted by ripley_ at 1:27 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Related: To Address Its Housing Shortage, Paris Cracks Down on Pied-à-Terre Rentals

Paris simply doesn't have enough affordable housing, partly because of wealth foreign buyers who want the prestige of a Paris address.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:29 PM on October 14, 2010


The perfect gun writes sad and ardent love letters.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:31 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


The point is more that if all the apartments that are sitting, unused and unloved, were to be let out to people who need them -- instead of being hoarded, neglected, or forgotten by people so rich they can't keep track of their possessions -- then yes, the world would be vastly improved.

I hear this complaint a lot, but I've never seen any data indicating that this practice is widespread. Can you point me to a study indicating that it happens a lot in any major metropolitan area?

(for what it's worth, the notion that rich/foreign people are sitting on tons of empty condos has been discredited in my neck of the woods)
posted by ripley_ at 1:34 PM on October 14, 2010


Romantic paintings and the scarcity of Parisian real estate notwithstanding, I find this apartment in Leipzig equally compelling. English-language story.
posted by the_blizz at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Paris simply doesn't have enough affordable housing, partly because of wealth foreign buyers who want the prestige of a Paris address.

That article refers to people who are renting out their property the rest of the year. The property isn't going unused.

Even if the property wasn't being used, paying property tax without consuming municipal services could be a net gain for the city.

Finally, blaming the rich (and foreigners) for the price of housing in Paris seems a bit silly when you consider the crazy zoning laws in effect. Limiting all buildings to 37 metres is going to affect the housing market a lot more than the odd millionaire buying a summer home.
posted by ripley_ at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


cool story, but stupid typo in the very first sentence.

dusk: Middle English dosk, alteration of Old English dox; akin to Latin fuscus dark brown, Old English dunn dun, dūst dust

Maybe it's a British thing? But yeah, I'm thinking stupid typo too.


I'm going to pretend its a British thing. And then start acting all classy when I talk about how I mean for my apartment to be so dusky. "A thin layer of dusk covering all my shelves" sounds so much more poetic.

* * *

As far as the outrage at the empty apartment leading to urban sprawl, considering how much the average square foot of homes in the US has increased since this French apartment was sealed off to the public, I think I can let this particular example slide.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


According to associations like Droit au Logement and Jeudi Noir, about 40000 apartments (10%) are left vacant in Paris (video about this problem in French). Many of those owners are companies (and the State itself), not just individuals. Paris is so expensive now that middle-class people are fleeing to the suburbs, pushing the poorer ones even farther away.
posted by elgilito at 1:59 PM on October 14, 2010


Can you point me to a study indicating that it happens a lot in any major metropolitan area?

You seriously need a study to prove to you that that there are neglected properties in major cities?

Start here. Knock yourself out. There's a lot of material. Googling "vacant and abandoned property [city]" will also be helpful.
posted by Shepherd at 1:59 PM on October 14, 2010


ripley_:
That article refers to people who are renting out their property the rest of the year. The property isn't going unused.
I agree, it's even worse that this apartment sat absolutely empty for 70 years. The linked article illustrates the lack of affordable housing in Paris.
Even if the property wasn't being used, paying property tax without consuming municipal services could be a net gain for the city.
I agree - Let's get rid of all the poor people, cities just for rich people who use less municipal services than they consume!
Finally, blaming the rich (and foreigners) for the price of housing in Paris seems a bit silly when you consider the crazy zoning laws in effect. Limiting all buildings to 37 metres is going to affect the housing market a lot more than the odd millionaire buying a summer home.
Let's make all of Paris look like a Robert Moses nightmare. Then we'll see who still wants to live there, they can have it.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:01 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


You seriously need a study to prove to you that that there are neglected properties in major cities?

I need a study to prove that large amounts of condos are going unused in otherwise vibrant cities, yes.

I agree - Let's get rid of all the poor people, cities just for rich people who use less municipal services than they consume!

Er, wow. I'm suggesting a live and let live approach because I think the overall impact of this practice is ambiguous, and you jump straight to the "you hate poor people!". Nice.

Let's make all of Paris look like a Robert Moses nightmare. Then we'll see who still wants to live there, they can have it.

Again with the hyperbole. I can think of a lot of great places to live with buildings higher than 37 metres. Long story short: if you think that a bunch of millionaires with summer homes in Paris have more effect on housing prices than an amazingly obvious limit on housing supply, you might want to do a reality check.
posted by ripley_ at 2:20 PM on October 14, 2010


The point is more that if all the apartments that are sitting, unused and unloved, were to be let out to people who need them -- instead of being hoarded, neglected, or forgotten by people so rich they can't keep track of their possessions -- then yes, the world would be vastly improved.

Honestly, this is not a real problem. As was pointed out above, this story makes the news because of its rarity. I am willing to be convinced by data that shows a significant percentage (say, above 1%) of apartments in Paris are abandoned year-around for long periods of time, but I highly doubt that would be the case.
posted by Falconetti at 2:21 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I appreciate the concerns mentioned about wasted space, but I'm a sucker for surprise time-capsule stories.

It's like when people pull down a bit of wall and find an old turn-of-the-century playbill only much, much better.
posted by quin at 2:36 PM on October 14, 2010


I was so set to comment on how awesome this is, but I just looked back at my parade and it was covered in pee.
posted by sonika at 2:48 PM on October 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Your math refuses to account for the mystery and wonder a little randomness provides to all of us.

Oh right. The mystery and wonder! …which will last all of twenty seconds until you open the next tab in your browser and promptly be erased from your short-term memory and forgotten. A throwaway "Gee Whiz!" is totally worth seventy years of waste and neglect. What was I thinking?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:59 PM on October 14, 2010


A little filling: the painting that sold l a couple more pics of the place l Mrs. de Florian, demimonde l Boldini.
posted by nickyskye at 3:07 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


mainly because I'm only staying for three months

Dude some people spend longer than that LOOKING for an apartment, let alone living in it. (Also, give up on pap; the traffic is way too fast. I had much better luck with leboncoin. If you're okay with sharing, try colocation.fr or appartager.fr)
posted by whatzit at 3:14 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is all worth it for another glimpse of what Parisian apartments looked like back then.

I guess what happens next is that all this authentic stuff will be sold off at auction, the apartment will be refurbished with cheap imitations and then rented out to American tourists who believe that this is what Paris still looks like.
posted by vacapinta at 3:30 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


The point is more that if all the apartments that are sitting, unused and unloved, were to be let out to people who need them -- instead of being hoarded, neglected, or forgotten by people so rich they can't keep track of their possessions -- then yes, the world would be vastly improved.

In the U.S., it's not eccentric old ladies holding on to property in quantity. It's real estate developers, brokeass landlords waiting for prices to go up, and city/county governments.

And these days, of course, banks. Homes get foreclosed on, the owners get kicked out, and the house sits there empty until the house is sold. Or it remains unsold because it sat empty and so people broke in an stripped it.

One weird little old lady in Paris is really not the person who deserve ire.
posted by rtha at 3:51 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


A little filling

A little filling? A little filling??

Another couple of tiny *awesome* pictures on a blog post that adds no new information?

I need a New York Times, or an NPR, or a Guardian feature on this story, and then a Big Picture photo round-up.

Either someone is seriously holding back to make better money on this story with the complete 'uncovered' look, or it's made up. hrumphh.
posted by vectr at 4:19 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the U.S., it's not eccentric old ladies holding on to property in quantity.

HA!

(By the way, how big is the apartment? Can't find a cite, myself.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:22 PM on October 14, 2010


Wow. I was incredibly excited to read that article and see the apartment. Why did she never come back? Did anyone know about it? Did she want to return? Was there some horrible secret?

Then, nothing, except "Look at the lovely painting. Oh wait, we're not showing it to you. Pretty expensive, though."

Journalism as cocktease.
posted by Quadlex at 4:51 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


this
its just
to able to open that

creak dream
new oiled lock
vintage eyepron
antiquarian
capsulated
auction house
fever.
posted by clavdivs at 5:26 PM on October 14, 2010


Another annoying bit in the article is that the owner left before the Second World War but the apartment is "untouched since 1900." Last I checked there were several decades between 1900 and WWII. Grrr. Things is why I hate reading news stories.
posted by threeturtles at 6:14 PM on October 14, 2010


A tiny soupçon more: a pic of the dressing table l bigger pic of the portrait l pic from the auction house of Marc Ottavi.
posted by nickyskye at 7:45 PM on October 14, 2010


The expert had a hunch the painting was by Boldini

I had a hunch, too, when I saw his huge signature on the lower right of the painting.
posted by empyrean at 8:00 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


If this had happened in America, they would have found newspapers and old junk stacked to the ceiling and the mummified corpses of half a dozen housecats.

If this had happened in Japan, a mummified corpse of a forgotten centenarian would have been found.
posted by misozaki at 1:50 AM on October 15, 2010


misozaki: "If this had happened in America, they would have found newspapers and old junk stacked to the ceiling and the mummified corpses of half a dozen housecats.

If this had happened in Japan, a mummified corpse of a forgotten centenarian would have been found.
"

In Soviet Russia, art abandons you.
posted by jquinby at 5:05 AM on October 15, 2010


The mystery and wonder! …which will last all of twenty seconds until you open the next tab in your browser and promptly be erased from your short-term memory and forgotten

As opposed to righteous outrage, which lasts forever!
posted by yerfatma at 5:28 AM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Possibly a dodgy translation by the Telegraph. I'm guessing she owned the flat and continued to pay some kind of maintenance fee rather than rent.
posted by IanMorr at 9:01 AM on October 15, 2010


What I really want to know is, what kind of place did she have in the south of France?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:07 AM on October 15, 2010


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