In the 1950s, Jean de Toledo, a visionary retailer and car enthusiast, campaigned for the realisation of a large car park facilitating access to Geneva’s town centre and shops. This large-scale project, adopted by the Grand Conseil in April 1969, achieved the feat of a construction under the water of Geneva Lake!
A thrilling human challenge
At the origin of the mont-blanc car park: a thrilling human challenge
From the 1950s onwards, Jean de Toledo, a visionary retailer and car enthusiast, campaigned for the realisation of a large car park in the centre of Geneva. For close to 15 years he tirelessly sought to convince the political authorities of the need for such an infrastructure that he judged essential for the development of the town's economic activities during the second half of the 20th century. He worked with first-class technical consultants to see through this ambitious project. Our town’s topography provided them with a site, which at that time, was revolutionary: under the water, in the lake bed! Jean de Toledo braved the sceptics and finally rallied to this cause the political authorities who, in 1969, issued the authorisations needed to realise a 4-storey under-lake car park with, initially, 1450 parking places. His tenacity also allowed him to win the support of private investors, retailers and financial establishments active in our town, who undertook to bear the technical and economic risks judged then to be considerable. The public authorities were indeed worried that the developers did not have access to the funds that they would need to backfill the work site, should works cease due to technical or financial problems. Among these intrepid investors there were notably the Toledo (Pharmacie Principale) and Brunschwig (Au Bon Génie) families, the department store Grand-Passage – since sold to Globus - and many other retailers. We must also cite Mr. N Gaon, a major entrepreneur and business man at the origin of the construction of the hotel complex that nowadays has become Kempinski Hotel, and several banks active on the financial market. The infrastructure, built by the company SA Conrad Zschokke, under the guidance of the Project Manager Claude Cuche, put into service in May 1972, after construction lasting 26 months and formalities of 15 years, continues to be a key factor in the appeal of the Geneva town centre.
Having hosted Charles Lloyd in its first year, the Montreux Jazz Festival welcomed Nina Simone and Bill Evans, among others. Founded by Claude Nobs, it has endured through the years, welcoming the big names in jazz, including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Herbie Hancock, but also the Rolling Stones and, more recently, acts such as Cypress Hill and REM, among others.
A tireless activist against racial segregation in the United States, the Black minister was assassinated on the 4th by a white supremacist in Memphis, Tennessee.
4 avril 1968
Martin Luther King.
A tireless activist against racial segregation in the United States, the Black minister (Nobel Peace Prize, 1964) was assassinated on the 4th by a white supremacist in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots shook major American cities, including Washington. Shortly thereafter, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that King had demanded.
2001: A Space Odyssey was released in theatres.
18 août 1969
2001: A Space Odyssey
American director Stanley Kubrick, with the help of Arthur C. Clarke, created a film of considerable scope for science fiction. Apes evolved under the influence of a strange black monolith. Four million years later, a space mission is sent to the moon to study that same mysterious block.
Before the Work Began.
A draft filed in 1964 anticipated two 600-space silos, located on solid ground and connected by a tunnel. It was in 1967 that the company Conrad Zschokke S.A. won the tender, proposing an alternative plan for a 1200-car parking garage located on the Rhône riverbed.
Pope Paul VI attended the 50th anniversary of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva and became the 5th pope to set foot in French-speaking Switzerland.
The American astronaut Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.
20 July 1969
The first man on the moon
Neil Armstrong's first step on the Moon marked one of the major events in the history of humanity. Against the backdrop of the cold war and open rivalry between major powers in space exploration, the three American astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, accomplished, in July 1969, an unprecedented exploit. On board the Apollo 11 space ship, they successfully landed on the moon in good conditions, due to the sang-froid of Armstrong who took over manual control to land with a fuel reserve almost empty. The first man to walk on extra-terrestrial soil, he pronounced the famous words that were to remain engraved in everyone’s memory. « It is a small step for a man, but a gigantic leap forward for humanity. » For two hours, Armstrong and Aldrin took samples of lunar rock and deployed scientific instruments for collecting data needed for further space trips. The incredible view of the Earth from the moon’s arid soil, the astronauts planting the US flag and carrying out mobility exercises in front of the camera, was transmitted live to several hundreds of million viewers, aware that they are witnessing a superb technological and human adventure.
In New York state, the Woodstock festival attracts more than 500 000 visitors instead of the anticipated 50 000!
15 to 18 August 1969
Three days of peace and music … this is the promise of the poster for the Woodstock festival, the symbol and climax of the hippy culture of the 1960s. The four organisers expected 50 000 people ... and nearly half a million people arrived from everywhere in the United States to gather on a muddy field rented from a Bethel farmer, which in just three days, became the site of a cult event in the history of rock. Right out in the country, facing a public galvanised by the incredible atmosphere and the wind of freedom that blew over Woodstock, thirty-two groups and soloists, a mix of talents and influences, took to the stage one after the other. They included the icons of the time: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix , Santana, Joan Baez, the Who and many others… Their concerts were marked by memorable moments, notably the unforgettable American hymn, The Star Spangled Banner, brilliantly interpreted on the guitar by Hendrix. But there was a dark side to this light-hearted festival, where there were harsher realities, such as very bad sanitary conditions, several accidental deaths, unprecedented traffic jams and babies delivered on the ground. Nonetheless, Woodstock remains an absolute reference, imitated several times but never equalled, representative of an entire period of counter-culture. There were many moments of musical grace with prodigious interpretations and solos immortalised by the camera. Their inspiration, magic and vibrations come down to us and still hit us in the guts.
The 6th chapter in the adventures of the famous British secret agent James Bond was released in cinemas, with the Australian actor George Lazenby cast in the leading role.
On her Majesty’s Secret Service ... this is the title of the new opus in the James Bond saga based on the novel by Ian Fleming, which reserves a multitude of surprises. Firstly, a main actor unknown to the general public to replace the charismatic Sean Connery, but also the marriage of Bond with Tereza, whom he meets during his mission. Diana Rigg, already famous due to the series The Avengers, plays the role of Bond’s wife. Unexpectedly, the film ends tragically, unlike the previous films in the series. Part of the spectacular stunts are filmed in Switzerland, against the backdrop of the Schilthorn summit, which today offers visitors the possibility of entering the James Bond world through the “Bond World 007” interactive exhibition. Although it got mixed reviews at the time, this opus has gained in popularity over the years and is now considered to be one of the best James Bond adventures.
The works of Geneva's future under-lake car park began in July.
The firm ZSCHOKKE — today IMPLENIA — built a containment dyke and dried the construction zone. Once the water had been pumped out, it spread 10 000 m2 of gravel to allow access to the works vehicles!
In February, the world’s largest plane, the Boeing 747, landed at Cointrin airport. Although entirely renovated, the airport had to adapt to the size of the plane and the number passengers it carried.
The Beatles break up!
10 April 1970
The Beatles, a group that achieved an amazing series of chart records, left such an indelible mark on music history that they appeared eternal. The four cool lads accomplished the exploit of achieving a world record in the sale of records. Their song « Yesterday » continues to be the most covered melody in music history. Their songs are listened to by all generations, which bears witness to their prolific, timeless and universal talent. From Beatlemania to the legend, their story is scattered with major milestones, of enormous successes and dramas, such as the assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Their hits and the members of the group themselves no longer need to be presented. They have become known to everyone. The creative tandem Lennon-McCartney, between duo and duel, gave rise to a major part of the Beatles’ works, with a constant renewal of styles and inspirations. George Harrison, inspired by a spiritual universe with Indian influences, stands out notably by his vocal harmonies, guitar solos and several outstanding compositions in their last years. Ringo Starr, known as one of the best rock drummers, marks by his tempos, his very special tone of voice and his humour. There were countless concerts by the Beatles in the four corners of Europe, then in the United States, where they arrived at the top of the hit parades. The climax to their live concerts was their last public appearance on the roof of Apple Records. The group separated officially on 10 April 1970, due to multiple rifts.
China launched its first satellite, which made one complete orbit of the Earth in 114 minutes.
The Concorde 001 attained Mach 2, that is to say twice the speed of sound!
4 November 1970
The Concorde 001
The fruit of a partnership between France and Great Britain, this record marked the start of an exciting, ambitious technological venture. 20 planes were to be created, of which several intended for the transport of passengers. Concorde 001, a prestigious innovation, allowed various technical and environmental tests to be conducted. At the end of its 397th flight, it landed for the last time in front of the Air and Space Museum in 1973 and remained there for 20 years, to the delight of visitors. Today the Concorde 001 can be accessed in a hangar for better conservation. It still catches the public’s imagination and continues to be a major cultural reference.
The GHI published its first issue on 6 November 1970.
The works on the car park were advancing well. The building perimeter had been enclosed by moulded walls 87cm thick and 14m high. In March, an 85cm thick concrete platform was cast. In April the first slab was coffered. In July, it was the turn of the second slab. The instability of the land required the greatest prudence Concrete, concrete, always concrete!
Women obtained the right to vote in Switzerland, fifty years after its neighbouring countries, Germany and Austria.
Caroline Davidson, a student in graphic art at the University of Portland, designed the Nike logo for $35!
One of the greatest composers of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky, died on 6 April in New York.
6 April 1971
A composer already famous and recognised when alive, Stravinsky left us a profusion of works in which his genius is immediately recognisable despite their widely varying styles and exploratory nature. These famous ballets, of which the sparkling “Rite of Spring” and its untamed rhythms, surprise the public and deeply influenced classic music. Exiled in Switzerland during World War I, Stravinsky passed through different creative periods with major international successes, notably in Europe, the Soviet Union and the United States. Extraordinarily inventive, Stravinsky adorned his work with multiple hues, its strong identity and deep unity is never lost.
In Paris, paid parking came into force for four-wheeled vehicles in certain areas of the town.
In October 1971, Switzerland welcomed the Japanese emperor Hirohito on an official visit during his tour of Europe. He is the first reigning emperor to go abroad on an official visit!
On the site of the car park, the firm ZSCHOKKE terminated the structural works. In March, the 3rd and last slab was coffered.
In April, the construction of the access ramps required major deviations of traffic which had to be maintained on the avenue de Mont-Blanc with three lanes in both directions. A few months later the structure of the facility was almost finished!
It was in that year the Geneva Servette Hockey Club won the last Swiss cup in the match against the Tecino club HC Ambri-Piotta.
In France, the first TGV high speed train was put into service.
26 March 1972
The first TGV high-speed train
The TGV high-speed train is at the heart of the innovations of the 1970s. The SNCF French railway conducted a major programme of tests on it. On 26 March 1972 it was officially presented in the form of prototype. Its innovative design with aeronautical turbines allowed a real improvement in aerodynamics and unmatched power compared to traditional trains. Equipped with two sets of brakes designed for all situations, the new train also guaranteed greater security for users. Speed records were achieved during summer 1972 with speeds of more than 300 km/h. Despite the development of the mass-market car, travel by train continued to appeal and was one step ahead thanks to these technological advances.
The French man, Alain Colas won the single-handed transatlantic race on the Pen Dick IV in 20 days thirteen hours and fifteen minutes.
Eddy Merckx was an outstanding personality and a myth in cycling.
Given the nickname of “Cannibal” for his thirst for victory, Eddy Merckx was an outstanding personality and a myth in cycling. Used to setting records from an early age, he won his first Tour de France in 1969, an exploit that he considered to be the best moment in his career. In 1972, confident with an impressive track record, he was at the height of his sports career and won this incredible competition for the fourth time. Despite the inevitable setbacks and injuries in the extreme conditions of his discipline, his fighting spirit remained intact and successes followed one after the other. At present, Eddy Merckx is the cyclist who has won the most races in the history of the sport: 515 victories on the road, of which five Tours of France and five Tours of Italy. He represents a model for generations of athletes and has risen to the rank of a legend.
A free trade agreement was concluded between the European Economic Community and the countries members of the European Free Trade association with the aim of facilitating trade.
At the start of 1972, the works were practically completed! All that needed to be done was to install the escalators and ensure waterproofing on the upper slab of the infrastructure using a multilayer covering protected by a reinforced slab.
After 176 months of formalities and less than 28 months of works, the under-lake car park was ready to accommodate the first vehicles on 24 May 1972 for its inauguration. The impounding of the car park, on the other hand, was only carried out the following year. It was a considerable feat made possible by the exceptional enterprising spirit of the initiators and the management of the firm ZSCHOKKE. Congratulations to everyone and long live Geneva!
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Visit the Mont-Blanc car park with Zorro, an outstanding specialist of the Mont Blanc car park!
Geneva HES university of architecture archive – hepia
Follow the work site in images and discover this exciting challenge through this video from our archives!
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