The Chateau de Madrid was regarded as perhaps the best and finest restaurant and summer resort of Paris in the Jazz Age. A favourite rendezvous of Americans in Paris and Parisian society, it’s allure was because you could dine and dance outdoors under the trees in the cool night air at the height of the Paris social season.
The original Chateau was an old royal residence, built by Francois 1 in 1527, and named it is said in memory of his captivity in Spain. It was situated in Neuilly, on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, just outside the Porte de Madrid one of the gates of the Bois. The original chateau and gardens was used as a rendezvous for the French royal court, but it fell into disuse in the 17th and 18th centuries
The original building was demolished by degrees in 1793-1847 but seemingly part of the remaining outbuildings became a fashionable restaurant in the Second Empire from 1852-1870 and a favourite haunt of the theatrical world.
The ‘new’ Chateau was built in 1910 in the style of the old chateau most likely incorporating the surviving out-buildings and was thought to represent a latter day effort to repair a great artistic wrong in the demolishing of the old Chateau. It was designed from the outset as a hotel with 160 rooms and a restaurant of the more expensive kind and was under the management of M. Bonfils. It also had extensive gardens and riding stables and horse riding and taking tea in the late afternoon became a popular pastime. At the back of the new chateau were a series of fine tennis courts and there was usually a lively tournament taking place with the balconies and verandahs of the restaurant furnishing the galleries.
The Chateau was a 3-mile drive from Paris and part of a network of pleasure resorts in the beautiful Bois de Boulogne on the western fringe of the citywhere Parisians created ‘a very paradise of artistic artificiality.’ Scattered within the leafy interior of the Bois were a dozen or so cafes and restaurants that besides the Chateau de Madrid included the Armenonville, the Pre-Catalan and the L’Ermitage. Visitors were thought to be those who liked to live in the city and country at the same time getting the charm of one and the comforts and convenience of the other.
On approach to the Chateau de Madrid there was a reception porch with ranks of liveried retainers who line up to receive everyone as an honoured guest. There was a cunningly planned archway, garlanded with a half-circle of softly-shaded wine-red lamps. Beyond, to the side, were the buildings of the Chateau but the jewel in the crown, and the major attraction of the entire place, was the gardens which was regarded by many as a vision of splendor with the tall and lush deep blue-green trees, framed by the beautiful architectural background of the Chateau itself. Within the trees were great cart-wheel turquoise tinted lamps that swung in intervals and also lights on the tables and were cleverly arranged so that the play of light and colour changed with every hour. Over the tables that are somewhat formally square about the dancing floor, lean rather less formally, bright vermilion and white sun umbrellas. The special dance floor itself was of some rainproof substance – probably linoleum – raised on piles under the trees with the dance band at one end. The Bystander observed ‘one may sit beneath trees to drink in deeply the rich scents of the rain-washed leaves and flowers, forgetting completely the summer odours of the capital.’ You were made to feel like a member of country house party and the outside space did resemble a garden party given at the Chateau of some private estate. The Bystander thought that it was not too difficult to imagine the Chateau as one of the stately homes of England.
If you are not keen on dancing there was the option to stroll around the cloistral garden pathways or make a longer promenade and include a little boat trip on the lake. Of course if you danced too late to go home you could rent an ‘apartment meuble’ at a reasonable rate from the concierge.
The Chateau de Madrid was the smartest place for tea and fashionable for luncheon in the summer. It was a favoured destination after the races when everyone stopped for tea and dancing before trouping back to Paris. In the evening one could dine in the open air, dance to a well-known jazz band and watch an accomplished ballroom dancing team perform. Basil Woon described the gardens and festivities as being ‘of fairylike enchantment. Coloured lights in the trees, soft strains of a perfect orchestra, the glistening of hundreds of immaculate shirt-fronts, the flashing of jewels – the audience is composed one third Ritz, tourist and business.’
At the height of the summer season there could be upwards of 500 guests. It was the fashion to dine in small groups at tables around the dance floor where enthusiasts dance between dinner courses. Vogue noted that here was the smartest set, who were also to be seen at Les Acacias, the Alcazar and at the Golf Club but the Bystander in 1922 thought that the Chateau had almost entirely been taken into the possession by the Americans.
The season usually commenced in May and throughout the summer there were gala nights alternating with the other Bois entertainment places often giving a weekly rota of choice. In July 1921 there was the American dancing team of Cynthia Perot and Elliott Taylor, followed by Mme Laurka, an American dancer who presented her striking Burmese dance and the dancing of Donald Sawyer and Eduard de Kuryio. In July 1923 there were the dancers Dina and Ghirardy.
In May 1924, the dancers were Donald Sawyer and Miss Roberts followed by Doreen Read and Frank Levenson and in July 1924 Billy Revel and Betty De Laune demonstrated how to dance a L’Anglais, a l’Americaine and a la Francaise to Kel Keech’s orchestra (from the Riviera).
At the start of the summer 1925 season, in May, there was a night of Arabian Splendour with 50 artists from Algeria presenting a spectacle. For the 1926 season the first gala was with Jill Astor and Jack Gavin, followed by Gypsy Rhoumaje and Florence Walton and Leo Leitrim and then Helen Goody and Maurice Lupue. During the 1927 season De Frus and Moros, Divina and Charles, Fay Harcourt and Nicholas, the Lorraine Sisters and Jack Gavin and Gill Astor appeared. In 1928 there were Fay Harcourt and Peppy de Albrew, June Day and Alfred Arnold, Peggy (formerly of Cortez and Peggy), Moiret and Fredi and Balliol and Merton.
During the 1929 season Marguerite Wale and Nicolas, Tina and Ghirardi, Bernard and Rich, Iris Henderson and Weldon, Cleo and la Mar, Fowler & Tamara, Vernille and Holland, Roseray and Capella with Sylvio.
Detail about the activities at the Chateau de Madrid are sketchy for the 1930s. It opened for the 1932 season and the first gala soiree for 1933 was held on 8thJune 1933, but thereafter perhaps activity ceased.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
British Newspaper Library
Paris a La Carte by Somerville Story
How Paris amuses itself by F. Berkeley Smith
The Paris That’s Not in the Guide Books by Basil Woon
Western Mail 2/8/19
Vogue (UK) 1 Aug 1922
The Bystander 30 August 1922
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 14 July 1923
Vogue (US) 15 May 1925
Dancing Times July 1921
Variety 7 July 1926
Theatre World May 1927
Variety 25 Aug 1926
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 22 May 1925
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 8 April 1921
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 24 June 1921
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 25 July 1921
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition Aug 1921
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 12 July 1923
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 11 June 1918
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 7 May 1926
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 26 June 1926
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 24 June 1927
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 29 May 1928
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 14 June 1928
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 11 July 1928
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 19 July 1928
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 23 May 1929
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 20 June 1929
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 4 July 1929
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 18 July 1929
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 18 May 1932
Chicago Tribune Paris Edition 7 June 1933