Having already demolished the wing in the villa where James Baldwin lived and wrote, the land development corporation that owns the remains of his former home in the South of France is apparently moving forward with their plans to construct luxury apartments on the site.
Abandoned for many years and in a state of near-collapse, the 17th century farmhouse has been owned since 2009 by a high-end real estate developer with plans to convert it into million-dollar apartments. Construction did not move forward until several days ago, when the owner began to make changes to the property.
We are His Place in Provence, an international effort launched last year, which seeks to acquire the house and its ten surrounding acres by purchasing the property outright. Ultimately we plan to restore the villa and create a residence for artists and writers.
Today we announce an emergency fundraising effort to cover legal fees and community mobilization campaigns. We have a strong legal case for stopping the construction.
We envision for the site an artists’ retreat similar to the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, two residencies at which Baldwin himself produced some of his finest work. Helene Roux, whose mother Yvonne was a close friend of Baldwin’s and who grew up around him at the Colombe d’Or, remembers the writer wishing for the house to someday become an artist colony. “I believe he would be heartened by our efforts to make it so,” she said.
The house is located in Saint-Paul de Vence, a medieval village on the Côte d’Azur. Baldwin lived there from 1970 until his death in 1987, welcoming to his table a glittering cast of American and French cultural figures including Nina Simone, Josephine Baker, Harry Belafonte, Simone Signoret, Miles Davis, Yves Montand, Beauford Delaney, Ray Charles, and Sidney Poitier. And before Baldwin’s time, the cubist painter Georges Braque also occupied the house.
Concurrent with our efforts to stop construction and mobilize the grassroots, we are in conversation with key individuals and family foundations in the United States with the goal of bringing together a circle of founding donors who will purchase the house. Then we will launch a capital campaign for renovations and a permanent endowment.
Although Baldwin lived for 17 years in Saint-Paul de Vence and is fondly remembered by those who knew him there, today the village—which receives 2 million visitors per year—is lacking any public site to acknowledge his presence. Our efforts here are not only part of a larger global resurgence in Baldwin’s popularity, but also strengthen the web of commemorative projects currently aimed at preserving historically Black spaces.