Little pictorial evidence exists of the original Theatre de Belleville, built in 1826 on the Cour Lesage off the Rue de Belleville, but by all accounts it was a magnificent building both inside and out. This was a time when Belleville was one of the suburbs of Paris, a place of leisure where Parisians went to enjoy cheaper entertainment and more relaxed licensing laws, and the theatre became one of the most important in the region.
It was particularly popular amongst the working classes, and the theatre repertoire reflected their tastes. Vaudeville, historical plays and melodramas were the most successful, keeping audience numbers high for many years. So popular was the theatre in fact that when it was badly damaged by fire in 1867, the necessary money for repairs was very quickly found.
The theatre continued to thrive into the twentieth century until a new competitor came along that would prove more dangerous than fire – the cinema. The theatre struggled to adapt and keep up with fashions, until in 1932, Paul Caillet, the owner at the time, decided to demolish the old theatre and put up a new building in its place. Using the most modern art-deco styles of contemporary architects, no longer could it be said that the Theatre de Belleville was behind the times.