I'M GOING to wax nostalgic today. The International Herald Tribune, still known to everyone around the world as the "Paris Herald Tribune," is moving from its grubby offices on the Rue de Berri, where it has been printed since Dec. 10, 1931, to a snooty new home in Neuilly.
As someone who worked there from 1949 to 1962, I was deeply sorry to hear of the move. It always seemed to me that the "Paris Herald Tribune" (I refuse to call it International Edition) was in the perfect location for an American newspaper abroad. It was in walking distance of many tourist hotels and the Champs Elysees. From the outside the building looked fairly new compared to the ones around it. But inside it was another story. The originial paint was still on walls , the elevator creaked painfully when it went up. The stairs were crooked. The city room was straight out of the '30s.
Through the years, management would never replace a chair until someone sat it in and it broke under the weight. The reporters' desks were from the Clemenceau period, and the lighting had been designed by Thomas Edison.
In France nothing is ever thrown away and the typewriters we used were bought at garage sales of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and Marcel Proust.
It was in this atmosphere that a handful of people put out a newspaper that went to 19 countries every morning - a paper many people still consider one of the best in the world.
The men who printed the paper the cavernous basement of 21 Rue de Berri all belonged to the French Communist printer's union. They used to sing Communist songs as they never let their ideology interfere with their work. There were far less mistakes in the Paris Herald's first edition than any nespaper put out by American printers in the United States.
What made the Rue de Berri offices so interesting was that they were so conveniently located near the Champs Elysees where most major political demonstration were held. All a reporter had to do was to stroll a block to the Champs, watch the demonstrators throw cafe chairs and tables at the police, and report on how many rioters were clubbed over the head by the gedarmes.
One time a colleague, Robert Yoakum, came back from a left-wing demonstration with his head bloodied. He said he had been whacked by a policeman for just standing on the sidewalk.
"Why didn't you show your press card?" Eric Hawkins, the managing editor, asked.
"I did," said Yoakum. "That's when he hit me."
The first edition came out at 11.30 p.m., and a small crowd of Americans used to gather in front of the building waiting for it to come off the New York Stock Market results, and there were times, when, after reading them, they attempted to throw themselves in front of our delivery trucks.
Because of its location, we had a constant flow of visitors in the city room. One was a deported American gangster who offered to blow the whistle on all his pals in Naples. After the column I wrote about him, he returned and said he wanted to kill me. I was off at a film festival so he said he would kill the general manager, Sylvan Barnet, instead. Barnet told him it would be better to wait until I returned.
Fortunately by the time I got back, the French had decided to deport him. I was forbidden by Barnet to write about deported gansters for six months.
The 21 Rue de Berri buiding of the Paris Herald survived everything from bombing threats to a Secong World War to attempted coups d'etat, and heaven knows how many French governments.
I may be prejudiced, but I believe most Frenchmen had more faith in it than they did the American Embassy building at the Place de la Concorde.
There was some talk that the present owners were seriously thinking of moving the paper out of France when they closed down the Rue de Berri offices. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed. No matter how many countries the paper is sent to, the soul of the Herald Tribune belongs in Paris.
The Paris Herald Tribune is still alive and well in Nueilly. For those of us who worked in the vineyards of the Rue de Berri it is a painful thought. How can you put out a paper in the French suburbs, after you've seen Paree?