Backing on to the Manufacture de Saint Maur is another industrial space, the Usine Spring Court. An attractive mix of steel, glass and whitewashed brick, it at first seems to be a functioning factory, but push the entrance gate (in the Impasse Piver, 75011) and you'll be confronted by a spotless conversion job. Nothing solid is created here anymore, but it remains a centre of creation. In the place of rubber soles and canvas uppers, photographers now use the factory floors as studios.
It was an Alsacian, Théodore Grimmeisen, who created the first elements of this factory in 1870. These buildings are still visible as you enter and were used for the production of rubber stops and lids. Later his son would extend this production to include rubber footwear, but it wasn't until the grandson, Georges Grimmeisen, designed a revolutionary cotton canvas and vulcanised rubber tennis shoe in 1936 that the factory become internationally known. These shoes, the famous Spring Court brand, changed the lives of tennis players at the time, and launched a whole new type of footwear. Sports shoes became fashionable, so much so that John Lennon wore a pair on his wedding day and on the cover of the Beatles Abbey Road album!
As production increased, extra space was needed, and an extension was built at the rear. It is in these sections today that the majority of photo agencies and magazines are installed (the famous Magnum agency had their offices here for several years). The company may have been innovative, but they lacked the vision and marketing skills of German and American competitors, and in the 1980s the factory finally closed. The inheritor, another Théodore Grimmeisen, decided to continue making the shoes, but moved production to Thailand (where they use some of the original machinery). He then set about renovating the site and finding tenants for the newly created offices and studios. He wanted to rent only to companies related to creation and communication, and found no problems attracting interested groups.
Today the site looks almost like an industrial museum, where the pieces are still in place but there is not a sound to be heard nor a spot of oil or dirt to be seen. Even more astonishing though is the "L'Atelier des mélanges" restaurant which has been installed in an old chemistry laboratory. It operates as an upmarket canteen for the people working at the site, but prices are very reasonable and the position is magnificent, so if you are in the area one weekday lunchtime, it could be worth attempting to find a free table! If you have no luck there, head further in and visit the Spring Court factory shop where you can find the famous shoes at bargain prices.
In many ways the site is typical of industrial spaces in cities today, and it is the Manufacture de Saint Maur which is atypical. Given the success of this site, it would be tempting for developers to attempt something similar in the plot behind, but it is unlikely that it would have the same charm. The difference here at the Usine Spring Court is surely that the building still belongs to the same family who originally built the structures, and they look after site with love and care.