ST. Germain des Pr'es, on the Left Bank of Paris, right across the Seine from the Louvre, is an area to which Americans have always been drawn as if by a magnet. It is the quintessential Paris. Its existence dates from the Middle Ages, when the wealthy Abbey of St. Germain owned all the land extending from the present church of St. Germain des Pr'es (pr'es means fields) to the suburbs of Paris. Today this is a fashionable neighborhood, replete with art galleries, shops, and 18th-century houses all steeped in history -- including some of special interest to Americans, as a stroll through a few of the streets will show.
You might begin walking on the Rue Bonaparte at its river end, No. 14, the 'Ecole des Beaux Arts. This was the place for Americans to study painting, sculpture, and architecture in the 19th century, although not everyone could get in. Architect Henry Hobson Richardson failed his entrance exam in descriptive geometry in 1859, but after a year of study he reapplied, placing 18th out of 120 applicants. Richardson's Trinity Church in Boston's Copley Square and his Sever Hall at Harvard University are two results of his Beaux Arts training.
Philadelphia painter Thomas Eakins was one of the Beaux Arts' better- known American students. He arrived in Paris in 1866 to study under one of the most respected masters of the period, Jean-L'eon G'er^ome. You can visit the studio where Eakins worked by entering the main door in the right wing, next to the motorcyle-littered courtyard. Pass through the Cour du M^urier and into a studio that today holds easels for 35 but in Eakins's time accommodated 70 students in a tier of benches around a model's pedestal. On your way out, pause in the Cour du M^urier. This lovely hidden garden was once the cloister of the charity hospital that Marie de M'edicis founded here in 1603.
Across the street in a building that is no longer standing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the New England essayist and poet, spent the month of May in 1848 at what was No. 15. It was an awful time: revolution in February, crises and discontent building up to bloody June days. Despite this, Emerson was enchanted with the city and wrote in his journal, ``Paris has great merits as a city. Its river, quays, and bridges, its fountains, gardens, or parks are far more available to the pleasure of the people than those of London.''
A few feet farther, at 17 Rue Bonaparte, was the H^otel d'Orl'eans, where the settlement of our own American Revolution was negotiated. In 1782 statesman John Jay, one of the three American delegates sent to work out a peace treaty with the British, lived here. Jay, John Adams, and the ever-popular (with the French, at least) Ben Franklin held day and night discussions at the hotel and in the other representatives' lodgings. Negotiations culminated in a preliminary treaty that was signed on Nov. 20, 1782, in the British negotiator's rooms up the street at 38 Rue Bonaparte.
Passing temptation on either side of you in the form of one more enticing gallery, make your way to the next cross street, the Rue Jacob. To the right at No. 44 is the H^otel d'Angleterre. This was once the British Embassy, but it has long been a popular hotel with Americans. Writer Washington Irving enjoyed his stay here in 1805, appreciating the handsome garden. Ernest Hemingway stayed briefly on the recommendation of his colleague Sherwood Anderson.
Nearby at No. 56, stop to read the commemorative plaque on what was the H^otel d'York (in this case h^otel means a private villa, not an inn), the residence in the 1770s of Britain's representative, David Hartley. Jay, Adams, and Franklin came here on Sept. 3, 1783, and signed the final peace treaty recognizing American independence.
Return in the other direction on the Rue Jacob, to No. 20, the one-time home of Natalie Clifford Barney, a wealthy American patroness of the arts. She was portrayed in Radclyffe Hall's then-shocking novel, ``The Well of Loneliness.'' Her salon included, among others, the writers and poets Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Maria Rainer Rilke, Colette, Marcel Proust, and Andr'e Gide. Unfortunately, no one can gain entry; the building is guarded by police, who protect the present owner, Michel Debr'e, once prime minister and right-hand man of Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou.
At the first right, you come to the Rue de Furstenberg, originally built as a new entrance to the Abbey palace of St. Germain, when Egon de Furstenberg was abbot in the 17th century. Almost immediately on the left is the tiny, picturesque Rue Cardinale. It was at No. 2 that Harry and Caresse Crosby established the Black Sun Press. They were wealthy and moved with the literary crowd of the 1920s.
The Crosbys began publishing their own love poetry, and moved on to D. H. Lawrence. When they inherited a collection of letters by Henry James and Marcel Proust, they published them with their own translations of Proust. Hart Crane became their next author and close friend.
Return to the Rue Furstenberg, looking on the wall of No. 4, where the street widens, for the torch sculptured onto a pillar on the corner of the building. This is the remains of the entrance to the ceremonial courtyard of the abbey. The square, with its trees and benches surrounded by what was the abbey stables (No. 6 is now the Delacroix Studio and open to the public), is charming and quiet.
Circling around the block to the right, one returns to the Rue Bonaparte. No. 36 was the home of New Yorker magazine correspondent Janet Flanner, whose witty and incisive ``Letters from Paris'' appeared for 50 years.
When you reach the top of the street, a right turn brings you to a favorite Flanner caf'e, the Deux Magots, and its neighbor the Flore. Today the patrons are mainly tourists, publishers, and Left Bank yuppies, but in the '20s it was the hangout of the American expatriates, and in the '50s it was the home of the Existentialists and the Surrealists. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir also patronized the Deux Magots. Pablo Picasso was a habitu'e of the Flore.
Today, either is just the place to sit down for some well-earned refreshment. Practical information
To get to St. Germain des Pr'es, take the subway to the St. Germain Metro stop and walk to the bottom of Rue Bonaparte to start. Or come from the Right Bank by crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Seine at the Louvre; you will be facing the fa,cade of the 'Ecole des Beaux Arts.
For more information on Americans who lived and worked here, read ``Americans in Paris,'' by Brian N. Morton, published by the Olivia & Hill Press, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Alison Landes, a writer in Merion, Pa., is co-author with Sonia Landes of ``Pariswalks,'' published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.