The $9 Million Pigeon House Mystery

We were about to remark that now is the perfect time for Francophiles to go shopping for Bay Area real estate, due to the fact there are two homes for sale that are modelled on 18th century French architecture. Yet in doing so, we became perplexed about something, and hope a reader can set us straight.

Of the first house there is no confusion. It’s magnificent, and its history is obvious.

When the marketing material makes the claim that the $22.8 million mansion at 3800 Washington is modeled on Madame du Pompadour’s house at Versailles, Le Petit Trianon, there’s no disputing it. Just compare it to the original:

But we don’t know what to make of this magnificent home in Novato:

Located at 1650 Indian Valley Road in Novato, this 6,000 square foot home, sitting on a 16 acre estate, has been named and modelled on La Pigeonniere, “the exact house built in the 18th century by the French royals for their mistresses at Versailles.” (In other words, you too can own a French bordello for $9.25 million!)

But in looking for a photo of the original structure in Versailles, we’ve come up dry, and can’t find any references to it in French architectural history!

Madame Du Pompadour had several residences, but none of them were named La Pigeonniere. No structure of that name is mentioned in the Versailles website. Keyword searches of French history and architecture lead to nothing.

We have found one possible model at Versailles, but it was a building that Marie Antoinette built (she was the Queen, not a mistress.) At Le Hameau, the hamlet of thatched cottages that Richard Mique built for her at Versailles, there is a structure named Le Colombier. It’s an actual pigeon house (also known as a pigeonnier.)

Clearly this pigeonnier at Versailles looks nothing like the Novato home. So what is the model for this wonderful building?

One possibility would be the house known as Parc-aux-Cerfs, or Deer Park, which was overseen by Madame Du Pompadour. It actually did house “mistresses at Versailles.” But it hardly has the sort of reputation one would want for a family home in the idyllic Marin countryside. Located between two blind alleys in a remote area of Versailles, King Louis secretly purchased the Parc-aux-Cerfs building through a third-party in 1755, and used it as his personal seraglio. Historians have described it as “modest” in design. But in any case it’s not called “La Pigeonniere”.

Still one other possibility exists — something called “The Birdcage”, named for the king’s fondness for “young birds.” But this really consisted of just two rooms overseen by Lebelle, the king’s valet de chambre. The Birdcage was not an entire house, like that at Parc-aux-cerfs.

So there you have it. If La Pigeonniere isn’t really modelled after a French house of pleasure, what is its inspiration?