Bureau Centrale

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THE EXPLORE:

Visited in 2019 during a 6 day tour of France with Becci  (Ninja Kitten), we had to be careful to avoid the crowds of people who were all around the outside of the building attending a vintage car show and fete on the Sunday morning. Once inside the building we were immediately met by four French chaps who were inside shooting a video for their band. They were a friendly bunch but the tea light candles they had lit - placed all along the stairs and downstairs corridors for effects - meant that part of the building was awkward to photograph. In addition, for furthering their video effects, they let off a very powerful smoke capsule which filled the entire downstairs with thick smoke. This not only prevented photography downstairs for a while but would have ramifications later on.

The interior is quite decayed yet the architectural beauty of the building is still in tact which lends itself to being a very photogenic place. Long corridors with off-rooms dominate the building. Upstairs was some paperwork and an ancient typewriter left behind since the building closed. 

Just as I had finished upstairs, some firefighters came up the stairs much to my surprise - yet unsurprisingly given the events earlier on. The smoke had drifted beyond the glass roof in the main downstairs area and a member of the public had called the emergency services fearing a fire. I was escorted downstairs and after explaining why I was there - and who was responsible for the smoke and tea lights - the fire fighters, police and security were satisfied I wasn't responsible. Luckily I had taken a phone shot earlier of the band shooting their video, which I showed them. Meanwhile, Becci was rummaging down in the basement and was oblivious to all this until she appeared some 10 minutes later by which both of us were allowed to leave by the main entrance. They were nice people and allowed me to nip back to the 1st floor to get my shot of the main glass roofed section of the building which I was unable to get earlier due to the billowing smoke

In reality, being allowed out of the main door was quite nice and saved us a lot of time going the usual route. 

HISTORY:

Bureau Central was the main administrative centre for the de Wendel Family's metal company, an industrialist family from the Lorraine region of France. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the family gained both industrial and political prominence.

The industrial fortune of the family can be traced back to Jean-Martin Wendel (1665-1737), son of Christian Wendel from Koblenz, who was a lieutenant in the army of Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine.

In the early 18th century, Jean-Martin Wendel and his son Charles - Exploiting local supplies of iron and wood -  built Hayange into the largest iron enterprise in Lorraine.

Jean-Martin's grandson, Ignace-François de Wendel bought the Indret forge in 1779 and in 1781 Ignace and the English steelmaker William Wilkinson founded the Le Creusot Company, which was taken by the Schneider family in 1836. This was France's most technologically advanced forge at that time.

Ignace's third son, François de Wendel - born in 1778 - went on to revive the family fortunes during the early years of the 19th century. After the French revolution, in 1804, François de Wendel married his cousin Françoise Joséphine de Fischer de Dicourt (1784–1872). He rebuilt and modernised the furnaces and on his death in 1825, the Wendel concern was the third largest iron enterprise in France. 

François's 2nd son Charles de Wendel (1809) became a steelmaster and Deputy for Moselle and In 1870, Wendel et Cie was the largest iron company in France, employing some 7,000 workers and producing 134,500 tons of pig iron and 112,500 tons of iron a year.

Charles had two sons, Henri de Wendel (1844–1906)  and Robert de Wendel (1847–1903) who both became steelworkers. Lorraine and the de Wendel factories became part of Germany on 1 March 1871. Henri created Les Petits-Fils de Francois de Wendel et Cie. (PFFW) in 1871 to control the Wendel family's steel operations in Lorraine. Wendel et Cie controlled the operations in France. 

Lorraine was annexed by Germany from 1870 to 1918, disrupting the operations. During this period, Henri de Wendel acquired the process invented by the British engineers Thomas and Gichrist to produce steel. Wishing to own a factory in France, the Wendels, associated with the Schneiders and the Seillière bank, founded the Jœuf factory in 1882.

Needing a main office fit for their successful enterprise and centralise the administrative side of the business, in 1892 Central Bureau was built with a further expansion in 1926.

Henri had three sons who were running the company when the enterprise was at its peak before the Second World War began. The Wendels were expelled from Lorraine by the Germans and the factories confiscated. At the end of the war, the industrial situation changed. In 1946, coal mines were nationalised; the last historical great master of forges, François II de Wendel, died in 1949. The company, still directed by the family, suffered, in 1978, the great turmoil that weakened European steel-making and the entire de Wendel empire was nationalised without indemnity. It was then converted into a successful investment company under Ernest-Antoine Seillière.


The Bureau Central building was abandoned in the 1980s. The building itself - despite its derelict state - is listed and protected.