American film icon Charlie Chaplin lived his last 26 years, not as an American film star, but as a cast away without a country, finding solace in a home perched above Lake Geneva, in Corsier-sur-Vevey Switzerland. His estate is being turned into a museum and Chaplin’s World –The Modern Times Museum, scheduled to open Spring 2016, aims to honor the professional and personal life of one of the world’s most beloved movie stars. I toured the construction site in late 2015 to get a first hand look and originally wrote about it for Forbes. This is a more in depth look at Chaplin’s Manoir le Ban.
|The Manoir during Chaplin's time there|
Born in England Charlie Chaplin came to the U.S. in 1911 and you pretty much know the story: the biggest movie star in the world, his Little Tramp is one of the most iconic images on the planet. Chaplin was a pioneer filmmaker and storyteller and many of the creative story devices he created are still used in films today. But when his U.S. citizenship was revoked during the McCarthy hearings in (Chaplin found out while aboard ship heading to Europe to promote his latest film Limelight) he was crushed at hearing the news was forced to think on his feet. He began to imagine staying put in the Cote D’Azur, Paris, and London but Switzerland won out in part because Chaplin’s brother-in-law mentioned that Charlie might prefer the quiet discretion of the Swiss banks in which to place his money. As it happened, an American diplomat was ready to unload his house in Vevey (an hour outside of Geneva) and two weeks after Chaplin first saw Manoir le Ban, he was moving in.
|The Manoir under construction, 2015. Photo Michael Cervin|
Originally built in 1840, Chaplin’s Manoir le Ban sits on 35 acres and originally was, more or less, a pig farm. Chaplin bought the estate then succeeded in living a not-so-quiet life, entertaining guests and frequently visiting nearby Montreux impeccably dressed and showing off. The Manoir consisted of a main house, barn, garage and living quarters for Chaplin’s dozen servants, as well as a swimming pool and tennis court. Charlie Chaplin died in 1977 and the estate went to his family. At one point Disney was interested in the property. When the family sold the estate in 2008 to a group of investors it was for the sole purpose to create Chaplin’s World, set to open in mid 2016. I was given exclusive access to see the boisterous construction firsthand in October 2015.
|The library under construction, 2015. (Photo Michael Cervin)|
“This is the project of my life,” Yves Durand, president of the Chaplin Museum, tells me wearing white a hardhat and bright orange vest, his small frame reduced even further by the construction workers and the buildings currently in a state of disrepair outside Montreux. “Every square meter is important.” Durand, somewhat obsessed with Chaplin, told me that as a young boy he had Chaplin posters tacked to his wall, a constant image of the Little Tramp affixing its mesmerizing quality onto his brain.
|Chaplin's Office, 2015 (Photo Michael Cervin)|
As part of Chaplin’s World the house, barn and servants quarters are being completely remodeled. What was once the garage and servant’s quarters will be business offices. The old barn will house a restaurant tentatively called The Limelight, and gift shop. And an entirely new building is underway, a cavernous two-story structure, which will feature different aspects of Chaplin’s film life including a walk down a main street from Chaplin’s Tramp days. Full screen and multi media images of Chaplin’s films, and movie stars from the 1920s, 30s and 40s will ornament the place in the form of 20 life-sized wax caricatures. There are 200,000 archives including 15,000 photographs to be sorted through, and new Little Tramp merchandise and branding will follow. They anticipate 300,000 visitors annually.
|Statue of Chaplin in Vevey, Switzerland|
Chaplin’s residence including library, office and bedrooms are being transformed into what will be, ideally, a dedication to the personal life of Chaplin. The main house will contain personal memorabilia from his estate, from the impact of the McCarthy hearings to Chaplin’s dalliances with young girls. You will be able to go inside Chaplin’s bedroom, his office, and the library and even to the top of the house, which was the children’s area (Chaplin and wife Oona had eight children living at the Manoir) with artifacts about Chaplin, many of which were donated by the Chaplin family. This is an ambitious project at a cost of 50 million Swiss Francs, according to Durand. “We feel a responsibility to do this correctly, to be the nicest museum in Switzerland,” he says.
The grounds too are being completely redone, adding a much-needed parking lot, which used to be Chaplin’s garden, and converting the decrepit landscaping to its former glory. Staying in place are several mature pine and cedar trees including one Durand says was a favorite of pop star Michael Jackson who, along with the likes of Albert Einstein, visited Manoir Le Ban. Chaplin’s tennis court and swimming pool are gone but the stunning views of Lake Geneva and the Alps remain, as will the memory of a man who forever transformed the film industry.
(Photos Michael Cervin unless noted. Additional photos courtesy
Chaplin's World™ © Bubbles Incorporated SA)
Chaplin's World™ © Bubbles Incorporated SA)