Paris was about to receive a major new Universal Exhibition in 1900. After the Saint-Lazare train station in 1889, it was the turn of the Gare de Lyon to take the appearance of a palace, and in particular to magnify the new PLM Company (Paris Lyon Marseille) terminal, which operated lines of the Southeast network at the end of the 19th century. The project was entrusted to the architect Marius Toudoire, who built the 64 meters belfry (the Clock-Tower) and the monumental façade of the station.
The Management of the railway company wanted to build a prestigious buffet, symbol of travel, of technical innovation, of comfort and luxury. The project was given to the same architect, who built the buffet in the building at the centre of the station.
The station’s buffet was unveiled in 1901 by the President of the Republic Emile Loubet.
In 1963, Albert Chazal renamed the buffet as « Le Train Bleu » (the Blue Train), honouring the legendary « Paris-Vintimille », legendary train with as its destination the Côte d’Azur.
Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Jean Gabin, Marcel Pagnol and many other famous people were regulars of the Train Bleu, while several movie scenes were filmed there: « Nikita » by Luc Besson, « Place Vendôme » by Nicole Garcia, « Les vacances de Mr Bean » by Steve Bendelack as well as « Filles Uniques » by Pierre Jolivet.
Gildings, carvings, mouldings, chandeliers and frescoes cover all the walls of the restaurant, giving it the appearance of a museum of the 1900s. Twenty seven French artists, some awarded with the Prix de Rome, have worked on this unparalleled decor.
The 41 paintings mounted on canvas were painted by the most prominent artists of the time: François Flameng, Henri Gervex, Gaston Casimir Saint-Pierre, René Billotte, etc. They illustrate views of the main cities and sceneries viewed from the PLM Company trains during the 20th century: Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Orange, Villefranche, Monaco, Nice, Saint-Honorat, the Mont-Blanc massif, etc.
Along with these bright reminders of the railway sceneries are several portraits, some of the PLM Company’s employees, such as Gustave Noblemaire (General Director), and key figures like Sarah Bernhardt, Réjane or Edmond Rostand.
To preserve this rich heritage, a privileged witness of the Paris of the 1900s, the Train Bleu was classified asHistoric Monument in 1972 by Jacques Duhamel.
Le Train Bleu was recently renovated (summer 2014): resuming to its former glory. Click on this link to have a look at the construction site that lasted 2 months, featuring all trades.