When the “zoo de Vincennes” opened its doors to Parisians in 1934

With more than 500,000 visitors each year, it is one of the five most visited zoos in France. Property of the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN), Paris Zoo stretches over nearly 15 hectares within the Bois de Vincennes, southeast of the capital. Hence its historic nickname Vincennes Zoo.

The park is home to no less than 2,500 animals of more than 200 species in structures that were completely restored a few years ago. With the exception of Grand Rocher in particular. 65 meters high, this cliff is a historical emblem of the place. It consists of a metal frame and shotcrete, which today requires a major facelift.

MNHN has also launched an appeal for donations to participate in its restoration. Because the history of this Grand Rocher, like the Zoo, goes back a long way. It was in the spring of 1934 that the establishment opened its doors to complete the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes with dilapidated and reduced facilities.

Residents arousing curiosity

In the making for several years, the project was relaunched with the creation of a temporary zoo on the occasion of the Colony Exhibition 1931. An exhibition with a very positive economic balance, and which aroused the audience’s curiosity for the so-called “exotic” animal. Once the new zoo is born, its abundant fauna does not take long to get people talking about it.

It appears from this article published June 1, 1934 by The little Parisianone day before the inauguration:

Let us mention among the most interesting and rarest inhabitants of the collection that will be visible in Vincennes: a unicorn rhino, a unicorn rhino, a giant hippopotamus, the three amazing giraffes from the small zoo, two gays from India who are among the least common bovidae in captivity, a black-backed tapir, two grizzly bears […] As we can see, a large number of animal species will be represented in the Zoo, and some even very widely. Especially bears and lions will be particularly numerous.

A day later, June 2, 1934, the newspaper The work wondering about its slits in this brand new “large zoo”, “decorated in the most modern way“to present to its visitors”the most seductive look“.

Paris had no zoo, at least no zoo worthy of such a large capital, whereas so many foreign cities offer their inhabitants and tourists the spectacle of magnificent parks where the most diverse animals frolic. And a zoo is not a contemptible element of a city’s charm: the fame of the establishment of Hagenbeck in Hamburg, that of Antwerp, that of Berlin, of many others, still proves it abundantly.

The presentation of the animals was particularly nice. Large stones have been established in several places; one of them exceeds 60 meters, and from the top of this cement mass (because you can reach the top by elevator) you will discover the whole park; then we can explore the 13 hectares Zoo de la Porte Dorée, the rocks of the big cats, the rocks of the monkeys and all these animals with such complicated names, with such bizarre shapes.

The zoo is inaugurated in the presence of the then President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun, and several officials. But the hundreds of animals frolicking in the middle of coats and top hats are not struggling to steal the limelight from them in the newspapers. A sea lion “that goes“, a bear “who does gymnastics“or monkeys sitting on their huge rocks are already scattered on the pages of everyday life The newspaper…

when The morning, tells about the president’s visit, and focuses instead on polar bears.

On the side of Paris nightJune 3, 1934 highlights the extensive facilities of this new “zoo”, which is exposed through a “beautiful” panoramic and aerial view of the premises, alongside a Japanese wedding, preparation of a stratospheric flight and an exhibition at. Palais du Trocadéro.

A popular success despite the “unaffordable price”

If some dailies do not hesitate to describe the Zoo as one of the most beautiful in Europe, the latter will of course not get rid of the scrapers. June 15, 1934 is the title Yours sincerely which publishes a report condemning the working conditions of the workers who participated in its construction, as well as the entrance fee, which was then fixed at three francs.

Finally, Paris has a zoo! That is it ! It was inaugurated. The animals were visited by the President of the Republic and did not appear to suffer too much during this ceremony. They do not know Mr Lebrun … The workers and staff of the Zoo had their day off on the occasion of this ceremony. Unpaid leave, of course! Their presence would no doubt have ruined this party. Do you see poor buggers in blue jackets in the middle of officials in jackets or coats?

3 francs per person is an prohibitive price for many purses. In vain do catalogs and guides announce that the Zoo is within everyone’s reach; 3 francs access, it is for those who have the full purse. The zoo was created to attract “foreign tourists”, honestly admitting the same guides and catalogs.

We needed a new attraction: We built the Zoo at top speed. In the last weeks before the opening, the workers were overworked. One of them fell a few days before the inauguration, exhausted from work for twelve consecutive hours, and killed himself.

However, these criticisms did not prevent the zoo from quickly becoming a huge success with Parisians and becoming a popular venue for festivities and shows. Just over a month after its inauguration, the daily Paris night agrees with the museum to host a series of nightly parties there. The park is back in the newspapers as the title The day announcing the event on July 10, 1934:

The zoo will be open for the first time in the evening from 20:30 to midnight and will be brilliantly lit. It is in magical surroundings that the animals will appear to the public in the “natural surroundings” where they live. The planned illuminations, by their splendor (flaming by the great rocks, luminous fountains), reserve a completely unprecedented spectacle.

And here are a few days later, the pelicans pointing the end of their beaks into the pillars of Paris night greetings and “real setting for the Arabian Nights“.

After a record year, the popularity of Vincennes Zoo will continue to grow in the following decades, stimulated by the presentation of new species and new facilities. From the early 1980s, however, signs of wear and tear on certain constructions began to appear, and the need for work could be felt.

Some conservation and renovation measures have been taken, but it will be necessary to wait until the 2000s before the zoo experiences a major facelift. After six years of closure and 27 months of work, it is a completely restored place, which reopens its doors in 2014, precisely to celebrate its 80th anniversary with great fanfare.

The Paris Zoo now offers a 4 km route, divided into five “biozones” with new facilities designed to promote the well-being of resident animals and the immersion of visitors.

➤ Find in this episode all articles in collaboration with RetroNewsthe press page for BnF.

Also read:

The Pillar of July: the little-known story of the emblem on the Place de la Bastille

The Eiffel Tower: the construction of the mythical iron lady told by the press of the time

The Eiffel Tower: the construction of the mythical iron lady told by the press of the time

Retro-style archeology (5/5): The decilation of the mythical sphinx of Giza

Retro-style archeology (5/5): The decilation of the mythical sphinx of Giza

Leave a Comment