A small memorial plaque on the entrance way to the Villa Foch might go unnoticed to most passers-by on Boulevard Joseph II, but the estate bears the name of French marshal Ferdinand Foch who stayed there in 1918-19.
Foch, who had commanded the Allied forces during World War I, had chosen the site as his headquarters in the days leading up to the Armistice of 11 November 1918, which he, as Allied Supreme Commander, signed at 5:45am that day in Le Francport, not far from Compiègne, France.
Sergey Pchelintsev, who has been in Luxembourg eight years, is impressed with Foch’s passion about military art, but not only: “When real passion about the activity a person does is combined with strong leadership and character, that indeed earns results,” he says. “It’s quite fascinating we have our offices in this historic [building].”
Foch, still regarded as having been paramount to the Allied victory, largely wrote the terms laid out in the armistice, ending sea, air and land fighting. It is believed Foch met Jean-Marie-François Gérard d’Hannoncelles-de Gargan, then-owner of the villa, in Nancy, where the latter resided.
These days, most of the ground floor space at EWUB is used to host salon-style events, meetings with clients or board members. Although it’s unclear where precisely Foch would have spent most of his time there, one can’t help but wonder if it could have been in what EWUB dubs the “president’s room”, a large office with a view onto the back garden. A small toilet is also accessible from it--but only by opening a door hidden seamlessly in the panelling.
Renovations over the years
The Villa Foch today still blends traditional bourgeois with a touch of modernism, and the original design utilised iron, bricks, steel and other materials, although no concrete was used.
Architect Charles Mullendorff was the mastermind behind the building, first called the Villa Thierry-Rückert, and from 1890-1894 he designed a slew of villas along the same boulevard, as well as the Winston Churchill Square. It was at the request of leading Alsacian entrepreneur and businessman Jean-Henri Jules Thierry and his wife Catherine Emilie Rückert that the villa was constructed, after the couple outbid the state for two plots, each just shy of 24 acres, which cost them 15,000 francs (around €13,869 in today’s terms). In 1884, the couple sold the building to the tune of 160,000 francs (roughly €147,941). It was from them that the d’Hannoncelles-de Gargan family took over the villa. According to a EWUB spokesperson, the site had also been state-owned prior to the bank moving in.
Renovations took place in 1976-77, but luckily the French-style pond and other charming aspects to the property were maintained. EWUB, which has been based at the site now for over 45 years, also undertook a restoration of the site in 2010 which lasted nearly two years.
For our tour, Pchelintsev takes us upstairs to see his own office, which likely would have been a master's suite area. Adorning the walls are souvenirs, including his own collection of artwork and photos from the bank’s history, and more. His office leads onto a stone balcony overlooking the back gardens.
The offices in the building are in their own separate rooms--likely former bedrooms, given this was originally a private home. The CEO says this actually proved somewhat beneficial during the health pandemic, as people were naturally spaced apart due to the layout, making distancing measures a bit simpler.
We also walk along the estate’s grounds to see a small pond filled with carp, a stone bench nearby. A pavilion once stood next to the pond, although that no longer exists. The backyard area is still used for hosting events, but the CEO adds that great care is taken when it comes to cutting back the branches of the old trees, which form a natural canopy and provide shade for the outdoor events held during the warmer months.