From the moment a solution was found to all internal and external problems, Prince Rainier could finally set up a modern country according to his ideas. Monaco, which he conceived, took shape in the second half of the sixties. In the first ten years of his marriage, the monarch had not only guaranteed the dynasty with three children – by now Stéphanie had also been born, on February 1, 1965, but he had given Monaco a new image.
At a meeting of the National Council, he stated: “Our country has changed enormously in the last ten years and has become much more modern, but in the coming years the appearance of the country will change even more because of the space we are going to gain in height and on the sea. Our urbanisation plans excite me.” In fact, Monaco was greatly remodelled in the following decades. The country had to become less and less dependent on tourism. Entrepreneurs were encouraged, with special conditions, to settle in Monaco.
The territory of Monaco was expanded by almost a quarter because land was extracted by draining the sea. Two new districts were created: Larvotto and Fontvieille. As more and more foreigners – especially Italians, who wanted to flee political and social unrest in their own country – settled in the Principality, the construction of apartments took off during this period. To the west of the Palace, a huge piece of land was taken from the sea. The sea had to be filled with boulders, which came from the hinterland. The land by the sea became a construction site to realise a metamorphosis.
By 1964 the train tracks had disappeared underground through a very large part of the country. A modern train station was opened in Condamine, allowing Crown Prince Albert to cut the ribbon. The Monte-Carlo station between the Casino and the sea could be demolished. The vacant space was repurposed. Prince Rainier later explained that the construction of the railway tunnel would be the most important decision in his reign: “Monaco was previously mainly a residence for winter visitors, but after the war skiing became more popular and the hibernators moved to the mountains. By removing the railway line and thus bringing the sea back into the city, we have made Monaco suitable for summer tourism, which became fashionable at that time. It took me some persuasion to convince people that putting the railway underground was lucrative despite the high investments that had to be made.”
To connect the Larvotto district with the rest of the country, two more interventions had to be made. An access road from Saint-Roman was built and a viaduct at Portier. In Larvotto and near Portier, peninsulas were created in the sea, giving the coastline a different appearance. The Avenue Princesse Grace was constructed and at the end the Sea Club was projected with a hotel behind it. Most of the villas in this district were demolished to make way for high-rise flats. Within a few years, a Manhattan by the sea emerged.
An artificial beach was created with a bay, which was partly closed by dikes and on both sides by a peninsula reclaimed from the sea. On the city side near Portier an open space had been created, which was later filled in with the Japanese Garden and the Grimaldi Forum, and on the French border there was a peninsula made in the sea for the Monte Carlo Sporting d’Eté, with the discotheques Jimmy’z and Parady’z.
Modern Monte-Carlo took shape and from 1971 the Avenue Princesse Grace was inhabited, and the Sea Club became the Beach Plaza Hotel, now the Meridien). The first residential block of flats was Le Bahia. The Pastor family received the concession to fill this new boulevard along the beach with apartment buildings. Larvotto gained an American look and not the French style of that time as is still visible today in La Grande Motte, Cap d’Agde or Port Grimaud. The flats do show some similarities with the architectural style of Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseilles.
In the mid-seventies, work was carried out on a mega complex in which the tunnel and the construction of the Loews Hotel were central, on the site of the demolished train station of Monte-Carlo. The intention of this plan was to build a large American-style luxury hotel that also housed its own casino, some restaurants, bars, and shops and that was connected to a conference centre, which was partly built above the sea. Prince Rainier personally interfered in this project and traveled to America to convince the wealthy brothers Larry and Bob Tisch to build the complex as a partner of SBM and the Monegasque government. This deal was concluded in 1971. Loews was a huge success. Americans loved spending their time in Monaco. In addition, the hotel was in a crucial location on the F1 circuit in the world-famous bend of the Spélugues.
SBM needed this financial boost because in 1965 Prince Rainier had had a clash with the major shareholder Ari Onassis about the policies to follow. The Greek saw nothing in the Prince’s renewal plans and wanted Monte-Carlo to remain a luxurious paradise for the happy few. He told Rainier: “Monaco’s prosperity is guaranteed as long as there are three thousand rich people on earth. If we can choose from caviar or a hot dog, well then my preference is caviar.” The Prince wanted to take advantage of the increasingly massive tourist traffic in Western Europe. He believed that this development would make Monaco less vulnerable in the future in the event of another economic crisis. He had no objection to the arrival of day trippers if they would spend something in his country. Thanks to the presence of Princess Grace, Monaco had become a permanent staging place for many Americans who made a tour of Europe. But many Northern Europeans and Britons also wanted to benefit from some of the shine of Monaco during their holidays on the Mediterranean.
The love affair between Onassis and Prince Rainier cooled when the Greek stated in an interview that the SBM was his toy. The prince believed that the Greek did not keep his agreements because some projects were delayed. In 1965, the bomb exploded when Rainier demanded that two old buildings of the SBM on Place du Casino be demolished to make way for modern buildings and for the building of a large parking garage under the square. Rainier demanded that a Sea Club be built in Larvotto, with an indoor swimming pool, a concert hall, and a space for a bowling alley. Onassis did not consider this a commercially responsible investment and refused to cooperate.
For Rainier, this was the signal to get rid of the Greek billionaire as a business partner. On June 23, 1966, he had the National Council approve the nationaliSation of the SBM by means of an issue of six hundred thousand shares worth forty million francs, which belonged to the state. The state offered the Greek to take over his shares at the price set by the Highest Court of Monaco. Onassis believed that his shares were worth twice as much and protested to the court, but eventually saw that he had little chance and sold his shares, still with a clear profit compared to the purchase price in 1953, and left the PRincipality. Rainier called the takeover “a regrettable act, but the least bad solution to a major problem.” Things would eventually work out between the two gentlemen when Onassis and his new wife Jacky, the widow of the late President Kennedy, were guests at the Palace in 1972.
PHOTO: Larvotto now. Le Bahia is at the centre foreground