Saving la Manufacture des Tabacs Timeline of Events

1987: The tobacco company SEITA (the former French state-owned tobacco monopoly) closes the doors of the Manufacture des Tabacs in Toulouse. Tobacco processing had already been moved to Colomiers eight years earlier in 1979. The building had been for sale since then for around 24 million Francs according to 1984 news outlets, with later estimates going as high as 35 million Francs, enough to discourage potential bidders such as the École d’architecture de Toulouse. In November 1987 SEITA and the construction company SAES (a subsidiary of SAE who merged with Fougerolle in 1993 to form Eiffage—currently constructing the new TSE buildings) agree on a contract that specifies pre-emptive rights and fixes an acquisition price.

June 27, 1988: The municipal council adopts the zone development plan for the district of Amidonniers, previously an industrial site. While it outlines the construction of residential housing, including les Estudines, it also foresees the destruction of the Manufacture. However, nothing is lost just yet. SEITA has not yet sold the property to the development company SAES., nor has the demolition permit been granted by the mayor.

July 1988: Bernard Durand learns about the pending demolition plans and founds l’Association pour la Sauvegarde de la Manufacture des Tabacs. The journalist Philippe Emery publishes his open letter on the front page of the main local newspaper La Depeche du Midi, prompting numerous citizens to join the cause. Various associations come out in support, such as Les Toulousains de Toulouse et amis du vieux Toulouse (with more than 3000 members), the Comité de défense des berges de la Garonne, L’association des riverains Toulouse-Sud pour la Défense de la Santé et l’Environnement, the architects chamber of Toulouse but also eminent members of society including theatre practitioners, priests, and professors. They work tirelessly to collect signatures for a petition—about 5000 at the end of the campaign.

August 8, 1988: The developer demands a demolition permit from the mayor and renews its request on the 8th of December. Without explicit action by the mayor, such a permit will be granted by the 7th of April 1989.

Winter 1988/1989: Squatters damage the building, systematically destroying windows, and stealing marble chimneys and the mechanics of the clock in the courtyard.

January 19, 1989: Philippe Emery publishes a beautifully researched story on the building “Voyage au coeur de la manufacture”, also advertising a public meeting of the association taking place the very same night. Almost 100 people attend. Meanwhile, the association’s leadership changes. As of mid-February 1989, Mme Pontonnier takes over the presidency.

National politics

In 1988 Mittérand is re-elected as a (socialist) president. He announces new legislative elections, and Michel Rocard forms a minority socialist government. While the socialists hold power in Paris, Toulouse is governed by a centre-right party mayor (Dominique Baudis – UDF), and so is the Midi-Pyrenees region. The mayor’s job is on the table, however, as municipal elections are held on 12th and 19th of March 1989 and the socialists believe that they have a shot. They have just won the presidency and the legislative elections, and are hopeful to tie the mayor to a development project which has the culturally minded middle class concerned.

January 19, 1989: Guy Hersant, the first deputy mayor, is on record saying that the mayor is not interested in recovering the building for the public as there is no financially viable plan: “Un musée, c’est mort”. Dominique Baudis shares his deputy’s financially non-adventurous spirit, but becomes more cautious in the light of an election that is less than two months ahead. Local citizens’ actions have proven the unpopularity of the destruction of an industrial landmark.

January 31, 1989: L’association pour la Sauvegarde de la Manufacture des Tabacs wisely decides not to side with either candidate. Writing in La Dépêche du Midi, which regularly communicates the association’s statements, Bernard Durand issues the association’s statement “Pas de recuperation electoral”, no political appropriation. This offers the incumbent mayor a path to change camp. The association represented by Durand meets the mayor Dominique Baudis on the 3rd of February. The outcome is dramatic. The mayor became a preservationist and personally lobbies for the classification of the building! La Depeche du Midi and Philippe Emery take his political u-turn lightly, “Oh boudu Dominque, on se la garde notre belle manu !”, a pun that could loosely be translated with “Good God Dominique (Baudis), we get to keep our manufacture!”

February 9, 1989: Fire in the Manufacture! The director’s building is partly destroyed.

February 22, 1989: Monique Pontonnier, the association’s new president, Jean-Jacques Fournié, as well as eminent teacher and architect M. Ménou, meet the minister of culture in Paris. Their objective is clear. They wish to persuade the minister to save the building.
Now it is Jacques Lévy, speaking at a rally in Amidonniers, who announces the minister’s decision to issue a preliminary halt to any demolition efforts. In effect, Jack Lang requests the region’s prefect Christian Dablanc (UDF) to issue a preliminary one-year classification of the building until a decision has been taken in April. The news is widely celebrated in Toulouse. Victory seems near. But, formally, no classification has yet been issued, just a request for someone else to take a decision. And time is running out. On the 7th of April, unless further action is taken, the demolition permit will be granted.

March 12, 1989: Dominique Baudis wins the municipal elections in its first round with 56.96 % of all votes. Meanwhile, the demolition permit is still in the air.

April 3, 1989: Victory? The prefect of the prefecture de Haute Garonne issues an order to inscribe the building as a historical monument for a period of one year. No demolition permit can henceforth be granted.

May 4, 1989: Fire again. What is today’s H building is destroyed. The fire was contained before it could spread further. The judicial investigator suspects a crime.

May 25, 1989: A long story comes to an end. The regional commission CoRePHAE votes to give a favourable recommendation to inscribe the building as a historical monument. The victory could not be narrower. Nine votes against eight. It seems that from this day onward the building is to last. What is not so clear is what the building is meant to become. None of the ideas ranging from the universities vice-chancellors’ offices, the cinematheque, nor an aircraft museum appear to captivate any financial imagination—to the point that the association laments a “total lack of interest from the side of municipality” in the absence of an electoral campaign.

February – March 10, 1990: L’association pour la Sauvegarde displays an exhibition La manufacture des tabacs, cent ans d’histoire… et demain ? telling the story of the building and evoking its future. The citizens are anxious because the building, while saved, visibly suffers from its abandonment.

March 7, 1990: The region’s prefect finally signs the inscription as a historical building. From now on all eyes are set on the building’s future.

December 19, 1990: Every proposal for the building is a dead end. By now the ministry of education led by former Haute-Garonne deputé Lionel Jospin becomes implicated.

January 11, 1991: The mayor proposes to acquire the manufacture des tabacs on behalf of the city for 37 million francs, give it to the ministry of education, and leave it to Lionel Jospin to manage the refurbishment and move in the university of social sciences that was notoriously short on space. To raise 37 million francs, the mayor sells the concession rights both for the currently existing car parks as well as for additional six parks that are to be built for 97 million francs. The only question that remains is whether Lionel Jospin will play along. Refurbishing the university costs a multiple of the acquisition price. Even if one were to deduce the city’s contribution, constructing a university elsewhere would have been significantly cheaper. Lionel Jospin knows this all too well. But on March 12, 1992 regional elections are taking place, and Jospin is set to challenge the region’s centre-right incumbent. While his government has significantly increased the region’s academic budget, how much will that matter when it comes to such a contentious issue such as an architectural landmark?

March – April 1991: Unsurprisingly, Lionel Jospin is evasive. On the April 2, he writes in a preliminary answer to the city that the price tag “should lead him to decline the offer”. A battle of feasibility estimates ensues. The city’s hired consultants project costs of 100 million francs, whereas the shortly after published minister’s estimates go as high as 200 million francs. Meanwhile the region’s president Marc Censi joins forces with the mayor. The region vows to cofinance the building equally with the state, and shortly after doubles down by pledging (combined with the municipality) 70%. Plans are made to launch the first fully regional university. Finally, Jospin is on board. The state will cofinance the refurbishment.

June 9, 1991: La Dépêche reports “Jospin dit oui à la Manufacture”

July 1991: Two fires (arson) ravage some parts of the building within six days. Another fire is lit on September 5, destroying 2000 m² of the roof. The motives and culprits remain a mystery. Local residents (including some association members) are to thank for the fact that the fires did not do more damage, their vigilance cost them many sleepless nights.

December 1991: Initial preliminary works are launched to refurbish the manufacture. On December 20, 1991, the minister of education, Lionel Jospin, signs the university development plan “Université 2000”, which includes la manufacture. Final estimates place the cost at around 150 million francs. The city of Toulouse pays the acquisition price of 37 million francs. The region and the department share 63 million francs, and the state completes the bill, contributing 50 million francs. The site is to primarily regroup the outstanding research department in social sciences that is at the root of what is to become TSE – then only “a future pole of excellence.”

February 1, 1995: La manufacture des tabacs celebrates its inauguration. Some buildings are yet to be completed, but the economic researchers are already in place.

December 11, 1996: L’association pour la Sauvegarde de la Manufacture des Tabacs bids its farewell in the courtyard of the university. Headlines continue to be made, but more so for TSE’s continuing success, rather than for the political thriller which was staged around this venerable building.


It is impossible to give full credit to everyone involved in the manufacture’s rescue. If anything, the current account shows the importance of not one or two people, but of countless women and men whom history will not be kind enough to remember. We owe them gratitude. The story of the manufacture’s rescue is a tale of democracy at its liveliest. It reaches from the bottom to the top, with all its meandering, its institutional imperfections and true and faked idealism, and leaves us with the hopeful message that despite all justified criticism we may take the right turn from time to time—if only citizens find the courage and willpower to act. Several themes stand out. First, the preservationist’s struggle vividly puts the necessity of strong local newspapers on display. And let us not forget: Much of this story would have been inaccessible today, if it was not for the excellent archives maintained by la Dépêche du Midi (many thanks to Philippe Emery for suggesting and facilitating a visit). Second, it shows that democracy cannot solely rely on election cycles but needs informed citizens who are willing to engage with legislators throughout their mandate. Third, it provides beautiful insights into political messaging and manoeuvring as well as the art of the deal at work, on all levels of government. If any lesson can be drawn, then that it may be wise not to call out one’s opponents too loudly. They may become your partners eventually. Lastly, it illuminates the disciplining, yet also potentially corrupting role of elections in the democratic process.

By Christopher Sandmann


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