Art & Photography / In Pictures

What Happened to the Molitor?

AnOther discovers some of the magic is missing in the latest incarnation of one of Paris's most treasured swimming pools

Molitor, Paris, 2014
Molitor, Paris, 2014 Photography by Antoine Harinthe

Who? Let us flash back to the late 1940s. A hot summer's day in Paris at the Molitor, one of Paris's most-loved outdoor swimming pools, described in Life of Pi as “the pool the gods would have delighted to swim in.” The bikini has just launched there (July 1946) and chic women are sporting their favourite two-piece designs; indeed, some are topless, because unlike other pools, it's fine here. Olympic athlete and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller is on duty as lifeguard. There are diving boards, slides, colourful parasols and golden sand. All is well with the world.

"For 60 years, the Molitor was Paris' most popular public pool – the place to see and be seen"

What? The Molitor has a rich and vibrant history. Built in 1929 by Lucien Pollet, with its breathtaking indoor and outdoor pools it was designed to resemble an ocean liner, complete with Art Deco stained glass by Louis Barillet. Pollet called the complex "les Grands Établissements Balnéaires d'Auteuil" (the Great Seaside Establishment of Auteuil) because it was the site of key sporting events at the time. For 60 years, the Molitor was Paris' most popular public pool – the place to see and be seen.

Until the 1970s, each winter would see the outdoor pool transformed into a skating rink. In summer, "we ran and we bombed, the children jumped. Hair and bare breasts were everywhere, it was a time of fun pools, extremely alive," one local recalls. 

The complex was eventually closed in 1989 due to decay and insufficient governernment funding, and it became a venue for legendary raves and a canvas for grafitti artists. However, in May this year, 85 years after it first opened, the Molitor is back as a four star hotel with the tagline "pool-art-life".  

Why? It is disappointing then to experience, first hand, the latest chapter in Molitor history. The opening couldn't have come at a better time: swimming pools, if the recent spell of menswear shows are anything to go by, are so now. Miuccia Prada can always be relied on to kick start a trend and this season, she used a swimming pool as her menswear catwalk. Roberto Cavalli and Versace both sought inspiration from mosaic swimming pool tiles, while Jonathan Saunders' colour palette channelled retro swimming baths. In Milan, Philipp Plein set his theatrical show in the abandoned Caimi swimming pool, complete with jet skis and synchronised swimmers. DSquared2 and Antony Morato both hosted pool parties.

A perfect moment then for a new 124-room hotel opening, with one of the city's most treasured swimming pools at its heart. Sadly, much of the magic has gone. There are strict rules in place for any visitor to the Molitor which go further than the usual pool rules ("no running", "no bombing", "no petting"). A neat white picket fence has no obvious entrance points. The beautiful, glistening pool feels like a forbidden zone, one that looks good but isn't easy to use. The poolside changing cublicles, once the place of much excitement between young couples, are no longer. Gone too are the slides and diving boards. Everyone loves a poolside cocktail but unfortunately drinks are not permitted on that side of the fence. Staff appear unwilling to bend the strict rules, or in fact, to help in any way. Further to this, the pool is eerily quiet and even the most confident swimmer is risk of feeling a little exposed (every hotel room looks onto the pool). To become a member of the Molitor Club costs €1200 to join and €3000 per year; a day pass is €150.

"The beautiful, glistening pool feels like a forbidden zone, one that looks good but isn't easy to use"

Let's hope then, that these are early teething problems and that things at the Molitor will relax a little, and let the latest chapter be as exciting as the rest. For now, as devoted pool enthusiasts, we share a selection of our favourite pools and poolside moments.

Text by Laura Bradley