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.”
As SOS Piscine Molitor President Frédéric Maynier put it, you went to Piscine Molitor to be seen. The women posing in the photo above was from a nautical-themed gala in 1932. This was a place heavily influenced by the fortunes of Hollywood from the sightings of celebrities and starlets with their glitz and glamour, effectively bridging France to the United States during the height of the 20th century American Dream culture of success.
Three years after Piscine Molitor was opened, the pool was temporarily converted into an ice rink for the first time in 1932. This brought a sense of diversity to the complex with the luxury French venue being able to attract an affluent crowd during any time of the year.
Women who visited and stayed at Piscine Molitor were always ready to soak in the sun, in addition to the high-spirited swimsuit competitions that frequented the luxurious venue. Winners of swimsuit competitions, such as this one in 1933, took it as a rise in their symbolic status of glamorous prominence.
By 1946, glamor was taken to another level when the world’s first bikini debuted at Piscine Molitor. This gave women at Molitor a new fashionable sense of sexy glamor, such as this woman modelling a bikini and parasol poolside in 1947.
The outdoor summer pool of 1985 looks much the same as its rebirth in 2014, which is what those involved in reviving the complex aimed to do to retain its original Art Deco feel – effectively amalgamating then with now.
Four years before its closure, sunbathers in the picture above sat poolside in 1985, enjoying the luxury lifestyle and experience that Piscine Molitor offered them. By 1989 though, the experience was over when the facility was closed to make way for a new residential development.
After the luxurious Piscine Molitor swimming pool and hotel complex was closed in 1989, the facility was overtaken by urban artists and ravers. Local community groups devoted themselves to try restoring the pools that once were a staple for luxury experiences in Paris, France.
It wasn’t until May 2014 when Piscine Molitor was reborn. The decision was made to restore the complex, which resulted in a renovation cost of €80 million (about $109 million USD), with French hotel group Accor taking on the project and Colony Capital financing the investment. What was once under the reign of graffiti artists for the last 25 years was now going to be home to luxury experiences again, just as it was when Priscine Molitor opened in 1929.
As renovations ensued, the mosaics and stained-glass windows were restored to their original state, with much of the building’s exterior having 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.
Renovations were completed by May 2014 and the complex was ready for public access. Today, the indoor swimming pool exudes an unmatched glistening luxury experience by night. One day of swimming at Piscine Molitor costs up to €180 (about $245 USD), with annual membership fees of €3,300 ($4,500).
Careful attention went into maintaining the original layout and design of Piscine Molitor. The chambers of the renovated Molitor retain the same yellow-blue color scheme as the original, which was designed to look like an ocean liner.
The newly redesigned lobby combines contemporary design with Art Deco aesthetics. This was done to respect the urban culture that kept the spirit of Piscine Molitor alive through their own artistic language during the facility’s 25-year closure.
“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 designer Jean-Philippe 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.”
And so the urban haven of graffiti artistry that overlook Piscine Molitor during its 25-year closure was not ignored, it was respected as a nod to its eventual rebirth and so its memory remains with new urban art inside the complex.
A view of the outdoor pool from above gives you the grandeur sense of importance that Piscine Molitor once again serves for the luxury community with a lifestyle and experience in Paris, France that is unmatched around the world because while such a facility can very well be replicated, the history dating back to 1929 cannot.
As dawn hits and sunset ensues, the interior design of the luxurious Piscine Molitor swimming pool and hotel complex begins to take on a life of its own, transforming with the natural elements of day to night.
By nightfall, Piscine Molitor marvels with the shimmering transformation of Paris’ city lit skies and the glimmering lights within the luxury swimming pool and hotel complex. It’s a luxury experience that can only truly be appreciated if experienced in person like the many sunbathers, ice skaters, celebrities, and starlets who made a lifestyle out of visiting Piscine Molitor from the time it opened in 1929. It is truly a glimpse back to the decadent age of luxury without equal.