Delicate strings of lights enhance the decorative ironwork in the Passage du Grand Cerf. Parisian covered passages all have their own style and character, ranging from the tired and dingy to the chic and glitzy. This passage, in the Saint-Denis quartier, is one of my favourites; light and airy architecture with a quirky selection of independent retailers, craft workshops and other businesses.
The Passage du Grand Cerf (or Big Stag) takes its name from the sign of an inn that formerly stood on the site. Developed between 1825 and 1835, the passage seems to have been intended from the outset for small, manufacturing businesses. The roof is unusually high and the whole building has steel frame. This allowed two stories to be fully glazed, providing a first floor of well lit workshops, below the second floor of apartments.
In 1862 the ownership of the passage passed to the Paris board of Public Assistance, at the bequest of a member of the original developer’s family. This may have been an act with charitable intentions but the Public Assistance soon found that rents received from the tenants barely covered the upkeep of the property.
By 1890 the passage was in a poor state of repair and was put up for sale but no buyer was found. Finally in 1985 the lower, commercial floors were sold to a private developer and the upper, residential floors to a housing association. Almost a century in limbo, with only essential repairs being done, meant that the passage had been unintentionally protected from modernisation.
The passage still has it’s original floor, patterned in black, white and grey tiles; beautiful but slippery when wet. The red (utility grade) carpet appeared recently. Whether intended as festive decoration or absorbent winter doormat, it serves both purposes.