Restoration – the first act draws to a close
The removal of La Samaritaine’s original decorative elements is almost completed.
Frescoes, friezes, handrails, enamelled tiles, crests, doors, wooden window frames – every separate piece has been taken down and stored in workshops outside Paris for restoration. For Jean-François Buytaert, in the Rue de la Monnaie loading bay during the delicate operation of bringing down the skylights from the fifth floor of the Jourdain building, it is the end of a process that has lasted nearly 10 months. The project manager – seconded full-time to the site by SOCRA, the authorised representative of La Samaritaine’s “Historical Monument” group – admits that this phase has been a headache because of the logistics. “The assembly of the scaffolding, procurement, loading of the trucks – everything is extremely restricted due to the narrowness of the construction site, plus the fact that we’re in the heart of Paris in the midst of heavy traffic. This is an exceptionally complex site,” he continues, “which demands flawless organisation of tasks, as everyone is affected if there’s even the slightest glitch”.
Despite these frustrations, the schedule is still on track. A team of around 20 experienced restoration specialists, including metalworkers, carpenters, locksmiths and engineers, set to work painstakingly dismantling the décor, numbering each piece and preparing them for departure, meticulously avoiding any damage in the process. “The excellence of our creative professions starts here,” explains Buytaert.
Founded in 1990 in Marsac-sur-l’Isle in the Dordogne, Socra is known for its renovations of prestigious heritage projects, including the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, the sculptures of the Opéra Garnier, the Chauvet Cave replica in the Ardèche and, more recently, the archangel of Mont Saint-Michel, among others. Over time, this company of master craftsmen, in the noblest sense of the word, has combined its know-how with new technologies and extended its field of expertise and scope to include mosaics and tiling, stone and metal work. “La Samaritaine’s restoration is an extraordinary operation,” says Jean-François Buytaert. “Our next challenge is to work with the companies making the new components, and to integrate them with the historical elements.”