Located in Montparnasse’s "Passage Danzig," in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, La Ruche was an old three-storey circular structure that got its name because it looked more like a large beehive than any dwelling for humans. Originally a temporary building designed by Gustave Eiffel for use as a wine rotunda at the Great Exposition of 1900, the structure was dismantled and re-erected as low-cost studios for artists by Alfred Boucher (1850–1934), a fireman and sculptor, who wanted to help young artists by providing them with shared models and with an exhibition space open to all residents. As well as artists, La Ruche became a home to the usual array of drunks, misfits or most any penniless soul needing a roof over their head, showed up.
At La Ruche, the rent was dirt cheap and no one was evicted for non-payment. When hungry, many would wander over to artist Marie Vassilieff's soup kitchen (more gently called her "Cantine") for a meal and conversation with fellow starving artists. The Russian painter Pinkus Kremegne got off the train at the Gare de l'Est with three rubles in his pocket. The only words in French he knew was the phrase "Passage Danzig" but that was all he needed to get him there.
In the history of mankind, like Montparnasse itself, few places have ever housed such talent as could be found at La Ruche. At one time or another in those early years of the 20th century, Guillaume Apollinaire, Ossip Zadkine, Moise Kisling, Marc Chagall, Nina Hamnett, Fernand Leger, Jacques Lipchitz, Pinchus Kremegne, Max Jacob, Blaise Cendrars, Chaim Soutine, Robert Delaunay, Amedeo Modigliani, Constantin Brancusi, and others, called the place home. Today, works by these desperately poor residents sell in the millions of dollars.
Amazingly, the temporary building, La Ruche, still exists as a collection of working studios. However, like the rest of the dwellings on the posh tree-lined streets of today's Montparnasse, rental rates have gone through the roof.