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On May 11th 1879, the first railway train from Saint Nazaire to Le Croisic stopped in La Bôle, an almost deserted village in the middle of dunes planted with pine trees. There stood the station of Escoublac, near a customs office, a hut rather, between Pornichet, Guérande and Le Pouliguen, directly linked to this line.
Burial of Escoublac and plantations
This village, long ago set on the trench of Guerande, round a priory of the abbay of Marmoutier (1050), had to be moved in 1779 to escape the powdery sands brought in twirls by the frequent storms of the end of the XVIII century. Backbiters used to say that the inhabitants of Escoublac had been responsible for their own misfortune in pulling out the sandy plants that had fixed in the dunes so as to make sweeps or by leaving sheep feed on them. The village of Escoublac had to be removed from the seashore and was established on kilometre away from the former one which was buried in sand (the present position of the big dune).
All the time of Restoration, the persisting threat of constantly spreading sands inland brought the local administration to encourage dune planting. The dunes were successively given to several companies in charge of the business, with the deal that the dunes would become their property if successful. The sum of work to be done was huge : 700 hectares of resinous dunes to be planted, forming the seashore beam which would link the former islands of Le Croisic, Batz sur Mer and Le Pouliguen, to the table-land of Guérande. For the continental part, this was done by the Benoit company which gave its name to this area of La Baule, and for the rest by the Dunes company, managed by a businessman from Nantes called Mr Berthault. The seaside resort of La Baule was born from the events of these plantations and the creation of the railway station.
The birth of La Baule (1879 - 1914)
Until 1879, Escoublac was not so much concerned with the tourist phenomenon that appeared as early as 1830 in Le Croisic. Only the fringes of the large sandly lands saw the beginning of a town planning, linked to the development of the neighbour sea resorts : Le Pouliguen - for the Benoit area - and the old Pornichet, a far-off hamlet of Saint Nazaire which soon took its independence with its Escoublac satellite : Pornichet les Pins. At the same time, two Parisians, Mrs Hennecart and Darlu representing the company in charge of the building of the railway, were stuck by the exceptionally interesting situation of the station, in the middle of 1800 acres of pine-trees, close to an 8km long lovely curved bay. They decided to buy a hundred acres of dunes in La Bôle and to set up a comany with the participation of local businessmen and shopkeepers, so as to make up a whole sea-resort.
Under the management of one of them, a spice wholesaler called Mr Gageot and nicknamed the "prefet" of La Bôle, streets were drawn from a line which linked the station to the sea (the present avenue de Gaulle), a sea-front avenue was made as well as a breakwater. Later, two hotels, a chapel, a public garden and houses for rent were built to encourage land sales. Shopkeepers came and buildings. From 1890 to 1914, La Bôle became a true resort and was spelt "La Baule" (1896).
Between these two centres, a vast woodland lied deserted until 1895 when the Dunes company sold it to the "Société des Instituts Marins" (company of the sea institute) founded by the Pavie family from Paris, which bought it to set up a health centre for tuberculous children from wealthy families. These promoters had in mind to attract thes families regularly and to incite them to invest. A web of avenues was established in this aim whereas Mr Pavie used the many new techniques on his land : audacious design of the sea institute, setting up of mail and telegraph services, the first one in the resort, of an electric factory (1900) and a tramway that linked the stations of the bay. Soon, many new houses were built. The Sea Institute was turned into a Palace (1902) near which a Casino was established in 1904. The Pavie area, with the creation of another luxury hotel in 1908, had soon a fashionable character which will prevail.
The great stride
The first world war stopped any tourist activity in 5 years and had unexpected consequences in the Guerande peninsula. This one was an important garrison, landing and resting centre for the allied Force, so that in the following years, it faced a great rush of British tourists, as mentioned in the names of the new hotels (Cecil - Morgane - Select etc...). This rush of foreigners was enhanced by the wish of French people to have a rest after years of bad time. So the tourist phenomenon increased, oriented in La Baule by three people : Mrs André, Lajarrige and Pavie. The first one acted mainly in the area of the land company (the former Sea Institute) and gave more strength to its mundane character. First, in 1920 he took possession of the casino with a 20 year concession, he transformed it and added luxury stores around it. Then he created two new luxury hotels and high quality sports grounds : the interclubs tennis-club, a horse-riding school, a pigeon shooting center, an 18 hole golf in Le Pouliguen.
Therefore, it was between 1920 and 1930, thanks to the action of sir André that La Baule earned the size of an international resort.
Mr Lajarrige action was different ; it mainly consisted in developing the resort up to the Bois d'Amour. In this aim, this Parisian businessman bought this land to the Dunes company in 1921, parcelled it out and built on it. At the same time, to his demand, the railway from Pornichet to La Baule which was running along the coast and therefore prevented any tourist development, was diverted inland. The new resort, La Baule-les-pins was organised round a star-like central square, the "Place des palmiers" (palm-trees) and an shopping avenue that joined the station to the sea, "avenue des Tilleuls" (lime-trees).
The main lively poles were : The information Hall, the market, the Dryades Park, the Tennis Courts and the two Cultural Centres. The new part of La Baule was joined to the others by a seaside boulevard, the famous "remblai" (embankment) which symbolised the unity of La Baule. The tendency of each area to autonomy disappeared at that time especially as Mr Pavie, one of their representatives became Lord Mayor of the city.
Recession and renewal
The 1929 crisis stroke the resort of La Baule. The forecast investments were suspended. International tourism disappeared completely.
Stagnation fell on the city until 1938. A slight renewal appeared, linked to the law about holidays with pay. But the second world war stopped almost instantly until 1952.
From this time, La Baule was given back a new breath thanks to the rise of the living standard, the development of the car and the holidays with pay. Little by little, the large houses on the embankment were replaced by big buildings that give the possibility to a larger number of people to enjoy the seaside, at the time when the social tourist phenomenon appeared camp sites, family hostels and children's holiday camps. La Baule changed, increased its reception capacity. Specially that of holiday residences, to the prejudice of hotels.
After this renewal, today's resort looks for new developments : a spreading of the resort, such as by the means of Congresses so as to make its equipments as profitable as possible, or by opening itself inland to increase its interests and gain new customers.
These ways are difficult but the first results seem to be auspicious for the future.
Zip code : 44500
City : La Baule