There are two buildings facing each other, Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. One of them is quite well known to most of us, the restaurant / café “Le Procope”. It opened around 1686 and is generally considered to be oldest restaurant still in operation in Paris and with a lot of its own history, especially during the revolutionary years.
But this post is rather about the building on the opposite side of the street.
At that time, official theatre companies and actors were named (designated) by the Royal court. They moved around a lot, but finally found a rather long-lasting place to perform - in this building. They moved in three years after the opening of “Le Procope”, in 1689, after having transformed a “jeu-de-paume” (the predecessor to our modern tennis) court to a theatre and played here until 1770, which means that many works have had their world-première here with authors like Voltaire, Diderot, Beaumarchais… Among the first actors and actresses, who were referred to as the “comédiens ordinaires”, you may mention Armande Béjart, Molière’s widow – Molière was already dead, in 1673. It’s obvious that this part of the street was very much in fashion during a number of decades - actors, authors, intellectuals, nobility…
What we refer to as the “Comédie Française” had actually been founded by Louis XIV, by merging different “companies” a few years earlier, in 1680, before the opening of this theatre, but it took some time to find a suitable place for performances. As said above, the theatre company remained here until 1770 and after moving around again for a while, they finally settled in a fixed theatre, in 1799, the theatre we know today (although of course remodeled since) at the Palais Royal (see previous posts here).
So, what can we find of this 1689-1770 working theatre? Not much. The front building has got one or two additional floors since then. What remains of the original façade is a sculpture representing “La Minerve”, executed by Etienne Le Hongre (1628-90), who has also left a number of statues around the Louvre, Versailles… .
I have searched rather desperately to find information about the theatre, but have been able to find only very little information (I was able to “steal” only one recent artistic drawing of what the theatre may have looked like - see the lower left corner on the below collage), nothing about the when it was demolished… .
When you open the gate you will find a courtyard. Obviously this is where the theatre once stood. Where the stage curtain once was would correspond to the modern building / façade which obviously dates from 1989, but seems to be completely abandoned. I also understand that the “Comédie Française” used the premises for some time as a storage space. I would be happy to learn more, if someone knows…