Piscine Molitor was an iconic luxury swimming pool and hotel complex that opened in the wealthiest administrative regions of France in the District of the Paris Region in 1929. This region was renamed Île-de-France in 1961 and 28 years later, the Art Deco splendor that was Priscine Molitor was closed in 1989.
During its time, the prestigious and luxurious Piscine Molitor was infamous for sunbathers lounging among celebrities and starlets in unison across white deck chairs, with many often topless in typical European fashion at the time. One of the resort’s first lifeguards was Johnny Weissmuller, known for winning five Olympic gold medals for swimming in the 1920s and later for his role in Tarzan films in the 1930s and 1940s.
“It was an iconic place,” said Frédéric Maynier, President of SOS Piscine Molitor, a local community group devoted to the preservation of the indoor and outdoor pool. “You didn’t go there just to swim, you went to be seen. It has always been like that.”
With its cruise-ship like design facilitating some of the most provocative trends of its time, it was here where the world’s first bikini debuted in 1946, followed by the ill-fated monokini nearly two decades later. During the winter season, the pool transformed into an ice skating rink and as summers rolled along, the venue hosted galas and fashion shows.
As the 20th century drew to a close, Piscine Molitor was closed in 1989 when the city of Paris wanted to replace it with a new residential development; however, the building was kept from destruction following protest from local associations. That didn’t save the facility from its former status though as it quickly fell into despair from a lack of maintenance. Instead, the property attracted skateboarders and graffiti artists who converted it into a cathedral of urban culture. The Olympic-sized pools became center stage for raves and concerts, while the clean rows of cabins designed by architect Lucien Pollet were marred by spray paint.
Even as Piscine Molitor was decaying, the pool was certified as a French monument historique on March 27, 1990 as locals held hope for its revival. Those hopes would not come to fruition though until May 2014 when the complex was finally reborn from the result of an €80 million (about $109 million USD) project from French hotel group Accor, with financing from investment firm Colony Capital. Those involved in reviving the complex aimed to retain its original Art Deco aesthetic, but it wasn’t easy.
Extensive work went into restoring its mosaics and stained-glass windows, as much of the building’s exterior had to be rebuilt. The south-facing side is all that remains of the original facade, as the central pools retained its original blue-yellow color scheme. Inside there are 124 hotel rooms, repleted with modern furniture, espresso machines, as well as a spa, gym, and rooftop bar. According to designer Jean-Philippe Nuel, the venue will now host regular exhibitions from local artists in a nod to its more recent past to illustrate a visual narrative of Piscine Molitor’s illustrious 85-year transformation.
“The approach was to look at the pool like a character with many histories, many cultures — a birth in 1929 and today, a certain maturity,” said Nuel, who designed the interiors at the new Molitor. “The challenge was to connect these two points — its birth and current renaissance — with sometimes contradictory facets, like the 1930s windows next to a bomb of spray paint… Two worlds that have nothing to do with one another, and suddenly connecting them with a thread.”
“Children would do cannonballs, women would wear one-piece bathing suits and swim topless, you’d have a smoke after a swim, fingers still humid,” recalls Gilles Rigoulet, a Paris-based photographer who shot a black-and-white series at Molitor during the 1980s. “Thirty years ago, in pools, the norms of security, hygiene, aesthetics weren’t the same. There were divers, hair, and bare breasts everywhere. It was the era of pleasure pools.”
To better illustrate the 85-year history of Piscine Molitor, The Pinnacle List presents a series of photos that captures the transformation from its iconic glamorous beginning to its decline in fortunes and to its current revitalization and how the story of its luxurious glamour continues today.