The Duc de Chartres – the future Duc d’Orléans (1747-1793) – bought the area known as Monceau in 1769, after his marriage to the Princesse de Penthièvre. He asked Louis Carrogis to turn it into a pleasure garden for festivities and entertainment. The engineer, surveyor, writer, portraitist and set designer Carrogis, known as Carmontelle (1717-1806), created a picturesque garden by assembling scenes representing different periods and places. Visitors could admire seventeen points of interest including a wood with tombs, a ruined watermill, a Dutch windmill, a white marble temple, an obelisk, a minaret, an Egyptian pyramid and a naumachia (an oval pond for mock nautical battles). The Chinese influence was everywhere, with brightly colored gates, porticos, pavilions and a “jeu de bague” (a kind of merry-go-round).
In 1783, the Scottish garden-designer Thomas Blaikie (1751-1838) took over the running of the garden and made many changes to simplify the layout and diversify the planting. In 1785, the finance minister Calonne decided to raise custom duties by building a wall around Paris, punctuated by tollgates designed and built by Claude Nicolas Ledoux. The tollgate at Monceau took the form of a small round temple surrounded by columns, with a room in the dome from which the Duc could enjoy the view of his garden.
Confiscated in 1793, along with all the Orléans family’s other assets, the garden became the property of the state, but was returned to the family during the Restoration. In 1860, the site was purchased by the City of Paris, which sold half of it a year later to the Pereire banking family for development.
In accordance with the wishes of Emperor Napoleon III, the prefect Georges Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891) restructured the city of Paris around a series of parks and woods, to provide a healthier environment for the population. The Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes were created at this time, along with the Parc Montsouris and the Buttes Chaumont. The Parc Monceau was the only historic site remodeled by Haussmann.
Under the direction of Adolphe Alphand (1817-1891), an engineer of the Corps of Bridges and Roads in charge of the city’s new promenades, the park was laid out over 8.4 hectares and opened to the public in 1861. Gabriel Davioud (1824-1881) was given the job of creating the monumental entrances with their imposing gilt gates. Some of the old follies were kept, embellished by new features such as a stream, bridge, waterfall and grotto. The movement of the water was intended to suggest modernity, progress and health. The first artificial cement stalactites were installed in the grotto by the designer Combaz.
Interspersed among the undulating lawns, abundant flowerbeds created by the city’s head gardener, Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, fascinated visitors and surprised botanists. Monceau became the place where members of the local aristocracy gathered to take their walks. The Pereire, Rothschild, Cernuschi, Ménier and Camondo families had their own mansions built there, with private gardens that opened onto the park.