Chateau St. Louis

Poissy, France

Babu spent the first six years of his life between Paris, Deauville, Cap Ferrat and Poissy where his grandparents, Granny Vanderbilt and WK, had a horse-racing stable and track. It was here where, tragically in 1908, Babu's own father would be killed in a horrible car accident in 1908.
 
But to happier times. Granny married WK in 1903. Several years thereafter, she and WK decided to purchase a horse-racing terrain in an area of Poissy called Les Grésillons, just 20 miles outside of Paris on the river Seine. WK had a horse-raising operation in Deauville, on the north Atlantic coast of France a couple of hours from Paris. On the route to Deauville, and near the Maisons Lafitte, WK and Granny discovered the estates of M. Edmond Blanc who had developed the Grésillons race track around 1882.
 
To see a map of the Poissy estate, click here.
 
Poissy, and more particularly Les Grésillons, was also known as Carrières-sous-Poissy due to the numerous quarries which were located there and which surrounded the estate of Granny and WK. Much of the limestone for the elegant turn-of-the-century Hausseman buildings in Paris came from quarries such as these.
 
Babu's earliest memories were of life at Poissy. And what a life it was! There were three oval tracks. The 2400 metre track was in turf and the 800 and 1400 metre tracks were dirt. The dirt was methodically watered down by a large water tower constructed alongside the Seine for the estate. Stands were built along the tracks for spectators. Of course, Granny and WK built stables, and workshops for taking care of the tack and the animals. as well as enormous greenhouses for plants, vegetables and flowers. They even built an aviary for different exotic birds. A long wall separated the racing areas from the Chateau which was called the Chemin Plat and is now known as Avenue Vanderbilt. When they set about to build the Chateau, no expense was spared. The entire worksite, unheard of in this era, was covered by a wooden structure to shelter the workers in inclement weather and to allow them to continue working non-stop to finish the elegant home. One million francs were spent to completely landscape the gardens which is well over $2 million today. During construction, Granny and WK lived in an adjacent sort of pre-fab building made of steel and shipped from the US. It's interior was lined in cork for sound and heat insulation. It is still standing. The Chateau had its own heating plant, also still standing, which provided the new-fangled American "central heating" to the Chateau and the Hippodrome. The French were flabbergasted. Electricity was hidden in the modern fashion in the walls and was generated by two diesel motors which also provided ice and chilling for refrigerators.
 
The staff for Babu's childhood home was considerable. Over 10% of the town worked for Granny and WK. There were more than 120 people, including fifty 'lads' who worked as stableboys and who attended a private school on the premises where they were taught by a Mme. Laurence. Over ten gardeners farmed and cared for the 4 hectares of flower and vegetable gardens. And, of course, the coachmen, the household staff and Granny's maid, Madame Edmée, and the electrician Monsieur Maes finished out the staff. Of course, everyday with the mail from Poissy, came the hairdresser and the watchkeeper who set the clocks every Monday!
 
WK devoted much time and money to his racing stable and became one of the major winners on the French tracks, three times taking the Prix du Jockey Club. The Aga Khan remembered that he met WK in France in 1905 when William helped him start his long career in horse racing by allowing him to visit Poissy. The Aga Khan wrote in his memoirs, "Mr. Vanderbilt said to me, I think you'll get more pleasure out of a free run of my stables than out of a free run of my house". In fact, on June 14th, 1908, the day after Babu was born, WK's three-year-old "NORTHEAST" won the Grand Prix de Paris in front of an estimated 300,000 spectators screaming "Vanderbilt...Vanderbilt!!!".
William K. Vanderbilt (ca. 1900)
 
When World War I started, the racing stables were shut down but everyone, whether drafted or not, was kept on at full pay. Shortly after the Armistice, WK and Granny decided to sell Poissy and received what would be almost $40 million dollars today. WK died in Paris just two years later at the age of 71, leaving an estate in 1920 dollars of $54 million. He left Consuelo, Babu's Godmother, $15 million but left Granny just $100,000 and the income from a $1 million trust until her death, this despite their remaining married until his death.
 
I recently revisited the Chateau St. Louis. It is now the corporate headquarters for a local quarry and little remains of its former luxury and glory. One can still see the original interior boiserie or wood panelling in the central great hall and in the dining room which is now a conference room. Otherwise it has been cut up inside into typical office cubicles to the dismay of some of the old employees of the firm who remember its original glory.
 
To see some recent pictures, click here.
The Chateau Saint Louis is now, in 2018, a Maison Communale for the town. It is called Chateau Ephemere