In the heart of the city of Saint-Omer, on the Grand'Place (place Foch), stands a building like no other. This is the old town hall of Saint-Omer, hiding within it a magnificent Italian-style theatre. Inaugurated in 1840, this Venetian theatre, similar to a big candy box of red velvet and gilding, is like a hidden treasure of Audomarois. Focus on the history of this symbolic monument of the city that some call the "Coffee Mill" because of its shape.

The construction of the "coffee mill", an initially unloved monument of St Omer

Following the French Revolution, the fashion was to erase the symbols of the Old Regime. The aldermen's hall located on the Grand'Place of Saint-Omer paid the price. This building, considered dilapidated, represented the municipal power since the XNUMXth century. We wanted to replace it with a magnificent town hall at the very beginning of the XNUMXth century. Discussions went well and some projects, oversized compared to the size and finances of the city of Saint-Omer, were rejected.

A plan will finally be retained, that of the Parisian architect Pierre Bernard Lefranc. The project ? The construction of a neoclassical town hall inspired by the Villa Rotonda built in Italy in the 18th century. The building would contain the premises of the administration of St-Omer, the police department, but also a sumptuous Italian theater. The monument will be inaugurated on October 1840, XNUMX… and will not be to everyone's taste. The neoclassical style, unknown at the time in the Audomarois, had few supporters. Many Audomarois also regretted the old aldermen's hall and deplored the provenance of the stones that had been used to build the town hall of Saint-Omer: these were indeed removed from the abbey of St Bertin, then in ruins. And what about this ridiculous little pinnacle while other towns in the north proudly sported their belfry? Finally, this kind of big cube surmounted by a dome provoked only mockery. Thus was born the nickname "coffee grinder", then a mocking nickname.

The origins of theater

The theater of Saint-Omer, hidden in the second floor of the building, is inspired by the theaters that appeared in Venice in the 300th century. It has some 300 seats, including baths and balconies for the wealthy and the floor for the working class audomarois. For good visibility, this floor is slightly inclined, just like the stage so that the actors can be seen by all. Behind the scenes, we find moving sets as well as incredible machinery akin to a technical feat. The ceiling overlooking the XNUMX seats, richly decorated, magnifies everything, like the gigantic chandelier.

Some transformations and a long period of closure

Since its inauguration in 1840, the theater of Saint-Omer has undergone several transformation projects: the colors, the decoration, the lighting mode (candles, then gas, before the electricity arrives)...

In 1970, a few theater fires reinforced safety standards. Let us quote, in particular, the drama of the dancing “the 5/7” in November 1970. Safety commissions invaded the rooms of France and Navarre following these unfortunate events. This is how the Italian theater of Saint-Omer was closed in 1973. It will remain closed for many decades. Indeed, in the event of a fire, it was clear that the Saint-Omer theater could have been the source of a new dramatic event.

The reopening

The closure of the St Omer theater lasted 45 years. After a major construction site, it reopened its doors in the fall of 2018. This work will be supervised by the Clé-Millet firm following an architectural competition. Its goal ? Design and carry out the reopening project between 2015 and 2018 by bringing the theater up to standard while preserving its characteristics.

On this occasion, a public inquiry was conducted to rename the theater. The choice was left to the Audomarois between:

  • Theater of the three bees, having regard to the motifs adorning the red and gold tapestry of the theater
  • Le Mathurin, in homage to the jacquemart that once adorned the Porte du Haut-Pont
  • The Coffee Mill.

The audomarois set their sights on this third choice.

Since then, the theater of St Omer, called "the Coffee Mill" or the "MAC", hosts plays and events of all kinds. It can also be visited with a tour guide. In this regard, it is possible to get closer to thePays de Saint-Omer Tourist Office or Country of Art and History Service.

It should be noted that the programming of the Moulin à Café, Italian Theater of Saint-Omer, is the responsibility of Barcarolles (formerly Comédie de l'Aa).

Other Changes to the Coffee Grinder

The restoration of the Saint-Omer theater was accompanied by sandblasting of the facade and other works transforming the interior of the old town hall:

  • The hall was completely transformed to regain its former glory
  • The municipal police offices now include a restaurant and a shop
  • The wedding room (moved to the administrative district rue St Sépulcre) is similar to a reception room overlooking the Grand'Place of Saint-Omer
  • The painting room, another reception room in St Omer, has become the “room of the two columns”.
  • The municipal offices and the premises of the Tourist Office are now dependencies of the theater of Saint-Omer.

The old town hall of Saint-Omer

As mentioned above, the "coffee mill" was once the town hall of Saint-Omer. In order to begin the rehabilitation works of the theatre, the town hall moved in 2007.

This is how all the municipal services were transferred to the former St Louis Hospital in 2007. Only several services remained on site for a time:

  • The Tourist Office, which then moved to rue du Lion d'Or before moving to place Victor Hugo
  • The municipal police, installed rue du Lion d'Or near the cinema following the departure of the Tourist Office
  • La Barcarolle-Live show Audomarois, the Public Establishment for Cultural Cooperation.

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