The Lido des Champs Elysees
Clearly inspired by the growing status of the Lido in Venice as a fashionable haunt of high society,the Lido des Champs Elysees, Paris, opened its doors on 18th February 1928 and was a novelty being a unique combination of a swimming pool, cabaret and restaurant and was described as ‘the seaside resort of Paris.’
The location of the Lido in Venice mirrored the rise of the Lido des Champs Elysees in the 1920s that succeeded the boulevards and the Rue de la Paix as the centre of Parisian elegance. On opening it was regarded as the most luxurious and fashionable establishment that Paris had on offer.
The Lido was in the Lido Arcade building and a block long. Electric signs illustrated the way to an entrance, then to an elevator that descended to the basement and opened upon a magical underworld. Multi-coloured lights illuminated a vast hall that contained a bar, a tea-room, a ballroom and a restaurant. Along one side of this immense establishment was its main feature: the biggest and gaudiest swimming pool in Europe, which was about 150 feet long. Built of pink and blue marble, the water had a faint hyacinthine perfume. Skirted with impressive marble pillars the pool was meant to be a miniature lagoon, imitating that of Venice. There were also steam rooms, a Turkish bath and a beauty parlour.
Many of the walls were decorated with paintings in the Venetian manner by an Italian painter featuring blonde venetian beauties after the fashion of Tiepolo figuring in the Venetian carnival. There were also portraits of Parisians in the groups of gay dancers in his friezes and it was reported that the artist scoured Paris to find models for the golden haired goddess who led the revels on the walls. For some the décor gave the impression of being in a lovely Moorish palace while others said it was possibly ‘even more Venetian than the original’ and even ever-so Romanesque.
The Lido was open from about 11pm to 3am for swimming, relaxing, supping, eating and dancing until dawn and a rather high entry fee separated the wheat from the chaff. It was not necessary to take a bathing suit as suits were on offer to hire and there were dressing rooms. A comfortable array of tables and chairs surround the pool where you could eat, drink, converse with friends and watch proceedings and there were couches for those who wished to doze. The first rate restaurant supplied dinner, supper, tea and cocktails and this could be taken in the restaurant, by the pool, in the tea room or in the luxurious bar that situated at one end of the pool.
On the other side of the pool was a dance hall or ballroom that was like a doge’s palace draped in heavy scarlet velvets and brocades relieved by gold and silver cords and tassels. The floor was of glass lit from underneath with a reddish light and an orchestra invited you to tango or foxtrot. When the moment arises you could slip on a pair of silk pajamas over your bathing suit and a pair of sandals and go dance.
Special fetes or gala nights with a cabaret were frequently staged and in July 1928 the Guy Sisters were the headlining act. In November 1929 the pool area was transformed into a set for a spectacular Venetian gondoliera aquatic tableaux and the cabaret featured the fabulous dancing of the Americans Fowler and Tamara with Don Parker’s jazz band.
There were also numerous private and exclusive parties staged at the Lido and one night in November 1929, for example, the daughter of an English baronet, married to a Russian prince, gathered all her friends around her for a soiree and all ‘the guests arrived in gorgeous fur coats covering bathing suits.’
In the summer of 1930, the Lido was waking up to the possibility of it’s unique combination of a swimming bath with cabaret and restaurant. At the time there was a ballet pantomime by Maurice Rostand entitled Casanova Chez la Doge which had a dreamlike quality in the appropriate setting reminiscent of Venice and an aquatic performance of a Loie Fuller ballet was staged thereafter.
By the summer of 1931, the Lido decided to invent its own sun and installed special electric lamps arranged along the marble strand of the emerald green water of the swimming pool.
In 1946, Joseph and Louis Clerico took over the Lido and transformed it from top to bottom to create a very special cabaret-restaurant that is still running today.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Chicago Tribune, Variety, Dancing Times, Greensburg Daily Tribune, The Milwaukee Journal, the Age
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