T.T. has a seafront shot of an unknown location which looked to me like the French Riviera in the 1920’s, and so I searched for a similar vintage photo of a seaside with a church with two spires and a Roman Style Boathouse. Boy was I wrong. Come to find out the church in the photo with the two spires is a kind of church, but not the religious kind (although the jury is out on that philosophical point); that building, so distinctive as seen from the ocean, is the Casino de Monte Carlo. The photo is a panoramic view, an aerial photo; typically, aerial shots in 1920 were the purview of the armed forces, called the Girard Observers.
Looking for where the “church” was, I decided not to use Google Images, and to challenge my sleuthing ability. The structure resembling a Roman Boathouse had to have something to do with water, and in fact is part of the Oceanographic Museum. So, I was kind of right about both a ‘church’ and a ‘boathouse!’
The Casino de Monte Carlo is a complex of gambling, entertainment and arts offices, housing the Opera de Monte Carlo and the office of the Ballets de Monte Carlo. The whole complex is operated by the Société des Bains de Mer et du Cercle les Étrangers de Monaco, which means, the bathing and seaside society for strangers in Monaco. Why Strangers? The founder of the Casino believed that the locals might be morally compromised if they worked in or gambled in the casino, so they were/are banned. It is a revenue producing place using foreigner’s money, and the income is received mostly by the Royal Family of Monaco, who have since the mid-19th century owned the founding company. The genius behind this all was, of course, a woman, The Princess Consort of Monaco, Maria Caroline Gibert de Lametz (1793-1879), who became a Grimaldi after her marriage to Florestan I (1816-1856). When they married, both were actors in France, and Florestan had no great designs to be a Prince; Marie Caroline was destined to be a Princess however, as she was shrewd and wily. It was her idea to turn the Grimaldi poverty into the Grimaldi fortunes, and to do so, she amended the tax laws, and began the plan to imitate the greatest of all Casinos, the Bad Homburg. She chased the entrepreneur responsible for the Bad Homburg’s success and over a few years persuaded him and his ailing wife to move to Monaco, which at that time was not Monaco as we know it at all. It was a place with few roads. But Francois Blanc set up the plans for a great casino in 1863, with his major investors being the Bishop of Monaco and Cardinal Pecci of Monaco, the future Pope Leo XIII. She named the enterprise after her heir, the future Prince Charles/Carlo.
Mr. Blanc knew everybody, having lent money to the French Third Republic so that France could complete the great Paris Opera House, and because of this he knew the greatest Beaux Arts architect, Charles Garnier, who designed and built the Paris Opera House, now the Palais Garnier. The Monte Carlo designs 1878-79 turned into the fabulous architecture we see today, having been changed significantly on the inside, but the façade is Mr. Garnier’s.
Because it is now Monaco and all that that name implies, the Casino Monte Carlo (that looks like a church) has been the center of the world of high-style gambling for years. After all, it is James Bond’s favorite casino, seen in Never Say Never Again, and of course GoldenEye. Ocean’s Twelve happened there in 2004. And much more, such as experiments in physics: “The Monte Carlo Effect,” and various notorious gamblers who tried to beat the odds in such a palatial setting.
The first was “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” (1892) celebrated in an eponymous song by vaudevillian Charles Coburn, about the discovery of an off kilter Roulette Wheel. Another attempt at breaking the casino’s bank was written by Ben Mezrich as a team of MIT students try “Bringing Down the House,” and in “Busting Vegas,” a young team of math geeks (based on a true story) attempt to break the bank by counting cards. The books describe the establishment’s reactions to the MIT students (whoa).
The value of the photo, although I can see it is a silver gelatin print, is not all that high because the photo is not signed.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.