James Baldwin’s former home, January 10 2018
From direct experience, personal conversations and research, following is the most informed account we have been able gather on the history of the Baldwin villa. This document is a work in progress; suggested edits are welcome.
Following the death of James Baldwin, a court battle ensued over the ownership of his home. Baldwin had been in the process of purchasing the house from his landlady and dear friend Mlle. Jeanne Faure, in installments, over many years. (It was Mlle Faure whom he chose to accompany him to meet Francois Mitterand when he received the Legion d'Honneur.) At the time of her death, Baldwin had fallen behind on his house payments, but according to many who knew them both, Mlle Faure intended nevertheless for her dear friend Jimmy to inherit the house. These intentions, however, were contested in a series of legal procedures that reportedly left the Baldwin heir(s) exhausted; after winning several appeals and facing yet another, the estate accepted a settlement and dropped their case for ownership. A companion and distant relative to Mlle. Faure was designated sole inheritor of the property. During and after this legal battle, the house was occupied by James' brother David, and later by David's partner Jill, both of whom were dogged in their efforts to keep the property in the family and ultimately to open it to the public as a place to honor James Baldwin. Their efforts received neither the support nor endorsement of the Baldwin Estate.
Several other efforts were initiated to save the house and convert it to an artist residency. None benefited from the blessing of the Baldwin estate. The St. Paul de Vence city council considered purchasing the property but decided against it. The house was stripped of its historic architectural elements by Mlle Faure's heir and the property sold to a Dutch boutique hotel developer, who eventually sold it to its current owner, the luxury real estate development and land speculation company SOCRI. The property was left abandoned by SOCRI as they awaited and/or nurtured a favorable political environment, finished construction on their nearby hotel, and slowly developed two different condominium projects for the site. The first—for 19 separate villas—was never realized.
In late 2015, L’Architecte de Batiments de France, the department of the Ministry of Culture devoted to preserving national monuments, declared the main bastide--which is at least 200 years older than the wing where Baldwin's lived and worked--historically protected, preventing SOCRI from carrying out its plans to demolish the house in its entirety. A new building permit for 19 apartments, along with a demolition permit for Baldwin's office and living quarters, was approved by the Saint-Paul de Vence city council. Baldwin’s half of the house was subsequently demolished. A Paris-based group called Collectif Baldwin launched an online petition and gathered 700 signatures. Deadlines to challenge the building and demolition permits passed without public protest.
In February 2016 Le Monde published the opinion piece on the situation, which spurred a group of activists to come together in Paris. Les Amis de la Maison Baldwin is the latest incarnation of this effort, whose goal has been to purchase the house by launching a capital campaign funded by U.S. philanthropic sector. Unfortunately without the endorsement of the Baldwin Estate, all fundraising efforts have proven unsuccessful. The room in which James Baldwin died is soon to be converted into a luxury spa, and a parking garage is to be built over the place where his desk once stood. Notably, all recent attempts to preserve the property were met with silence and dismissal by the mayor of St. Paul de Vence, whose quotes to the press claiming "nobody's ever heard of James Baldwin" mirrored those of the owner of the corporation that razed his home.