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La Baule-Escoublac: A train station with character

Portrait of a station
SNCF – SARDO - National Archives ©All Rights Reserved
SNCF – SARDO - National Archives ©All Rights Reserved

As soon as you lay eyes on La Baule-Escoublac train station -with its structure and exposed beams that celebrate timber, its granite elements and flat-tiled “rustic” roof- you simply know you’re dealing with something special.

Ever since the building sprang up, nearly a century ago, it has provided a first taste to the town for arriving travellers before they fan out to explore every nook and cranny. Drawing on architectural regionalism, the station formed part of a movement that had wind in its sails after the First World War. It stood out in an era where train stations were becoming increasingly homogeneous under the influence of the International Style, which arose in the 1920s. When Adrien Grave and Roger Pons conceived the Belle Bretonne, as Alain Charles calls the station in his book on La Baule and its villas (Massin, July 2002), their intention was to match the building to the city’s opulent mansions.

Locally-inspired architecture

From the platforms, to the concourse and the façade, the vision of the two architects still seems timeless. With its vernacular architecture that uses local materials, La Baule-Escoublac station is a pioneering building among regions threatened by industrialization. The walls skillfully combine granite and concrete, giving the edifice a strikingly distinctive character complemented by the timber ceiling decks on either side of the building.

Inside the building, the baggage lockers, the lower parts of the concourse walls and the waiting areas showcase oak and fir timber elements, while the fireplaces feature granite and marble mantels.

SNCF National Archives ©All Rights Reserved

Preserving heritage despite transformations

The most striking thing about La Baule-Escoublac train station is that the successive transformations have never prevailed over its regional identity”, points out Claude Le Breton, an AREP expert on heritage issues. “For example, in the 1930s two more bays were added to the existing three in the west wing, but the extension was invisible to the naked eye because the materials were exactly the same as those originally used”. The same guiding principle underpinned the 1961 concourse extension, which added a slightly more modern touch (panelling, wrought iron, moulding, etc.) without spoiling the aesthetics of the building. Fifty years later, when it was time to transform the station into a multimodal hub, “our approach focused on heritage preservation”, recalls Alicia Montreuil, then AREP project director.

Elements of architectural regionalism. 1991 photo from the AREP and Gares & Connexions archives. ©All Rights Reserved

Making accessibility a key issue

Over the years, the interiors have been entirely renovated, a linking passageway has been built to facilitate movement between the train station and the coach station, and the entire site has become accessible to people with mobility impairments. None of these changes, though, has ever affected the unique character of the building. What is more, “the recent modernizations have further highlighted some of the building’s elements, such as the joinery and the faux-bois ceilings”.

The granite forecourt, formerly congested by parking, has morphed into a green setting that highlights the edifice to best advantage. Today, the station reflects AREP’s approach and commitments and acts as a “city booster”. It is an urban hub, delivering a more comfortable and user-friendly experience, whose singular features have proudly stood the test of time.

The station in 2011 ©AREP Photo The passageway connecting the train station to the coach station

La Baule-Escoublac: Key dates

1927: The passenger building and the train station opened to the public. La Baule-Escoublac replaced the original station, which was built on the same spot at the late 19th century. In that same year, a second train station, La Baule-les-Pins, was built in the town.

1930: Left-luggage facilities were added to the train station.

1961: Concourse extension.

1990-1997: Redevelopment of the station to accommodate the arrival of the Atlantique HSR line.

2008-2009: Complete revamp of the concourse and of the ticketing area. The forecourt and the car park were redesigned.

 

*This article is from AREP’s Heritage Division document collection

* Written by Damien Guillou, based on texts and studies by Claude Le Breton, an architect at AREP’s Railway Heritage division who has been carrying out studies on railway stations and other rail facilities for the past 20 years.