The construction of the Palais de Chaillot or the birth of a theater

Palais de Chaillot
Palais de Chaillot
Patrick Berger

The initial Palais du Trocadéro was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1878 (the Eiffel Tower was not to emerge until 1889). Construction was supervised by architect Gabriel Davioud and engineer Jules Bourdais. The Trocadéro was the only building to survive the universal exhibition. Consisting of a huge rotunda, the building was home to a 5,000 seat auditorium graced with a monumental organ. With the exhibition over, the City of Paris kept the gardens and sold the hall to the State.


In April 1920 Pierre Rameil, the rapporteur of the fine arts budget, announced the conversion of the Trocadéro into a national people’s theater. Actor Firmin Gémier was put in charge of the place. In August 1935 the neon sign “Théâtre national populaire“ was removed due to the poor acoustics of the room and an ill-equipped stage – with no machinery, footlights or striplight, etc. The rotunda housing the auditorium was leveled to allow construction of the “second” Palais de Chaillot – which stands to this day – by architects Léon Azéma, Jacques Carlu and Louis-Hippolyte Boileau – for the Universal Exhibition of 1937. Any sign of the old theater disappeared except for the stage wall. Then excavations began. The blueprint of brothers Niemans was retained for the arrangement and decoration of the auditorium. But a string of strikes and financial scandals took a toll on the pace of construction.


On November 23 1937, the new hall opened to the Exhibition jury who handed out their awards there. The hall was not inaugurated until February 1939. More wide than deep, with no boxes or overhangs but with a balcony, the theater was designed with an eye to adaptability.


Pierre Aldebert took over from Firmin Gémier in 1941, followed by Jean Vilar in 1951, Georges Wilson in 1963, Jack Lang in 1973, André-Louis Périnetti in 1974, Antoine Vitez in 1981, Jérôme Savary in 1988, Ariel Goldenberg in 2000, Dominique Hervieu and José Montalvo in 2008, and Didier Deschamps in 2011.