The rue Etienne Marcel is a colorless and fairly new extension of the rue des Petits Champs, a street which is so old that, try as it will, it can never entirely change itself for which we may be grateful. Paris was not at all sure of the part Etienne Marcel played in the municipal drama which ended in his death; but she knew that he had been a man of energy, that he had invented a new tax and built a new wall, and she felt that she had better honor him by giving him this street; as a symbol of modern mercantile spirit it does very well and might be considered for or against Marcel, as you like.
But it has one jewel which is much older than the memory of the upstanding Provost of Merchants : the Tour de Jean-sans-Peur. This tower was part of a château built in 1371, but it was probably very much older, a re-construction; its official date is in the 15th century, like that of so many churches which replaced sixth-century chapels. In the banal heart of a very ordinary street we have the perfect example of those towers which were upon all the great mansion-châteaus.
It looked down upon the crowd which left the Hôtel de Bourgogne when the dramas of Racine and Corneille were played here in the time of Louis XIV. Today it looks down upon a schoolyard, where I hope that the children look up with respect, making comparison between the stones of the past and the present within their vision. And when you read the story of how Jean-without-Fear had his cousin, the Duc d’Orléans, killed one night on the rue Francs Bourgeois, do not believe it; the killing was done before what is now 47 rue Vieille du Temple; and it was done very probably by an Italian merchant to whom he owed money, and who knew that he would be paid by the heirs. The proof? That the merchant was at Dijon and speculated very profitably by buying and selling just before and after the murder was known. But Jean-sans-Peur was killed by the friends of Orléans, who knew that he had had good reasons for killing his cousin but that is gossip.
Polonceau, who built the bridge of the Carrousel, the first one in cast iron, was also a railroad builder. The first Paris-Orléans was his work; also, part of the Alsatian line and the railroad which ran between Montparnasse and Versailles. But he ought to have a better monument than the street named after him in the 18th Arr., because he was the inventor of that famous structure which apes ancient temples and serves the Machine Age, the “Round-house.” The idea of the movable roofs upon it, which made it practical, was his.
Hippolyte Lebas, the doughty man who lifted the obelisk of Luxor and carried it to the Place de la Concorde, has a short street two blocks behind Notre-Dame-de-Lorette (9th Arr.), which he built before he went to Egypt. This was long called the church of the demi-monde because Lorette was the general title given to the ladies who composed it. Apropos the “Notre-Dame,” there are eleven churches in Paris which have that prefix to their names.
There are a great many other streets whose stories would make stimulating reading. And there are a great many with their humorous side. They renamed a street called Plaster-Quarry (rue de la Platrière) Jean Jacques Rousseau and if there ever was a whited sepulchre !
They named a little street which runs from a dingy thoroughfare to a cemetery, the rue de Lesseps (20th Arr.). The rue de Suez is in the 19th Arr.; it has the grace to run into the rue de Panama. But a far dingier street has been given to the man who cut the first canal in France, Riquet (1604-1680). To Marc Seguin, the inventor of the tubular locomotive, they have given a still worse street. And, as for Denis Papin, whose discovery of the elasticity of steam made him famous, he has a street of a block in length, and that block is mostly filled with a theater, the Gaieté.
But these are not the only ironies : the street given to Pierre Lescot, who did the first and best part of the Louvre, runs to the Halles, sordid and sad. Whereas Réaumur, who measured heat and cold in a thermometer, had a fine, broad street given him. But they waited long enough to do it, nearly a full hundred years; he died in 1757.
The rue des Usines, as well as the rue du Commerce, the rue de l’Industrie, and the rue Industrielle, speak for those who called them so without the intention of naming them; the name lives on. But there is a quaint street in what used to be the village of Grenelle and is now the 15th Arr., the Cité Universelle, built in 1850. It is only a hundred yards long, running out of the rue Croix-Nivert, between a factory and the remains of a gas plant. Along this street each one of the small houses, in its tiny garden, has the name of a city: Athens, Lisbon, Vienna, Turin, Rome, Naples, Pekin thirteen of the original twenty-three villas have kept the names that the founder gave them. What lies hidden here in this odd assembly?
The names of the cities of the world are given to streets grouped around the Place de l’Europe, north of the Gare St Lazare. Further down, not far from the Hôtel de Ville, the names are those of provinces Brétagne, Picardie, and others. And all the towns lying outside of Paris, to which roads used to run through the country, have given their names to the streets which have taken the place of the roads: rue de Lagny, de Sèvres, de Versailles, de Montreuil, de Château-Landon, and so on.