After 93 years, French decide to slim down the Eiffel a trifle
Paris — The Eiffel Tower is trimming down. More than 1,000 excess tons of iron and concrete - roughly 15 percent of the famed tower's weight - have been removed from the first platform. More is being taken off the upper two levels.
The streamlining is part of a two-year renovation of Gustave Eiffel's masterpiece. When the work is completed next September, the ''grande dame'' of Paris will have new elevators, a new coat of paint, and new restaurants. The hope is to protect the monument and increase revenues by attracting more visitors - especially more Parisians.
''The tower was being run in 19th-century fashion,'' says Christian Mareskuier, president of the Societe Nouvelle Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, the city-dominated management group responsible for the renovation. ''It had to be brought into the 20th century.''
Mr. Eiffel built his tower as a temporary monument for the 1889 Paris Exhibition. Ridiculed at first by a group of painters, poets, and writers as ''a disgraceful column of bolts,'' it soon became a powerful symbol of Parisian elegance.
It was too powerful, perhaps, because adoration was translated into a passion for not touching it. Through 1979, not a single one of the tower's original ''temporary'' 18,038 iron sections or 2,500,000 rivets had been replaced.
''The tower wasn't going to collapse right away,'' Mr. Mareskuier said. ''But its legs were slowly disintegrating.''
In addition, the original hydraulic elevators had never been upgraded and as a result they were forced to close down each winter. Even more serious, the tower's restaurants ''betrayed France's gastronomic traditions,'' said Mr. Mareskuier.
Citing these reasons, Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac had the city take possession of the monument at the end of 1979 when the concession of Eiffel's successorsended. The Societe Nouvelle was then created to carry out the two-year , 200 million franc ($29 million) renovation plan.
Down went the iron and concrete first platform, replaced with a floor of steel, polyurethane, epoxy resin, and fiberglass. On this lighter first stage are now a double-decker restaurant, snack bars, a cinema, reception room, and post office selling special Eiffel Tower postmarks.
Modern elevators are now being installed to reach the second and third platforms, which are also being redone. TheUFquote'Parisians love their tower, but they rarely visit it. We want to give them reason to come as well.'
second level will have a 100-seat ''nouvelle cuisine'' restaurant run by a group associated with the famous Maxim's restaurant. The third will have a small platform.
''Because the tower is so narrow at the top, the best way to accommodate visitors is to focus the activity on the wider first and second platforms,'' Mareskuier said.
The idea is to maximize profits. The new reception room has already played host to a small convention of Citroen auto dealers and an Oscar de la Renta fashion show. Restaurant attendance is also up.
Was all the jazzing up necessary? After all, even before the rejigging, it was the most popular attraction in France, luring more than 3.5 million visitors annually.
''That's true,'' said Mareskuier. ''But almost none of them were Parisians. Parisians love their tower, but they rarely visit it. We want to give them reason to come as well.''