I recently got a peak inside the Grand Theatre, one of the last remaining relics of pre-war Beirut.
Today the theater is surrounded by the refurbished structures of the BCD (Beirut Central District): a multi-billion dollar private construction project that has turned the oldest part of the Lebanese capital into a posh shopping and restaurant district.
But 15 years after reconstruction began, the Grand Theatre remains gutted and abandoned.
Although it’s exterior has been restored to resemble the sandblasted look of the new neighborhood, the theater’s interior tells the story of Lebanon’s painful civil war as well as its fabled pre-war glory. The building is said to date back to the 1930s.
The company at helm of the BCD project (known as Solidere) has fenced off the theater building for years, with forever delayed plans, according to some, to turn it into a boutique hotel. But on a sunny afternoon, I managed to sneak across the barricades in the hope of documenting this gem of the old city before it meets the unknown fate of ‘rebuilding’ crews and their hotel-obsessed investment firms.
My excursion began at the outer construction wall–errected by Solidere years ago to promote the BCD project by evoking the rebirth of downtown’s landmarks.
It’s also interesting to note the old murals and graffiti, left by militias and perhaps even invading armies who laid claim to the theater space at one time or another:
Most intriguing though, was a large image painted on the wall facing the main stage:
What’s also fascinating about old Beirut buildings is the surviving signage. Here are a few shots from the shops that occupied the theater’s ground level facing the street (now the construction wall).
At least some of those memories seem to be captured by the Lebanese director Omar Naim, in the 1999 film “Grand Theater: A Tale of Beirut”, which I’ve just discovered online.
I’m eager to see a copy if anyone knows how to obtain one.