The developers that plan to demolish the house of Lebanese literary legend Amin Maalouf have agreed to suspend works until this Friday, Maalouf’s cousin Roya Kanaan has just told me over the phone.
The Kettaneh Group, one of Lebanon’s biggest construction firms, plans to build a tower on the Badaro property where the Maalouf’s lived (as tenants) for the last 50 years, but have now given the family until the end of the week to come up with an alternative plan to salvage the home.
Kettaneh, which also operates a massive pharmaceutical, energy and automative business across the Middle East, had originally proposed a sort of monument to Maalouf (the only Lebanese inductee into the exclusive 40-member Academie Francaise), according to Kanaan who represented the family during the meeting.
Maalouf’s office on the second floor looked down into the back garden of the home until last year.
Such a monument would be incorporated into the proposed new structure, which will reportedly span around 20 floors of high-end residential apartments. But Kanaan refused the deal, arguing that the Maalouf home, an ornate 100 year-old garden mansion that gave birth to the career of one of Lebanon’s greatest writers, should be preserved.
“If you are going to build a statue to Amin, really it doesn’t do anything for me,” Kanaan said, recounting her meeting with the developers today.
When asked what she thought should be done, Kanaan counter-proposed: “I want you to help me raise money to buy it back from you.”
Kannan says the Badaro estate could be turned into a cultural, literary or exhibition space. But with the property costing Kettaneh some $10 million, she fears that purchase could be insurmountable on such short notice.
And because she was only given access to Kettaneh company representatives, and not the the actual Kettaneh family– one of Beirut’s wealthiest– she fears today’s meeting could have been a mere gesture.
“Do they really want to save the house? I don’t know.
“I don’t know where they really stand. They could begin tearing it down tomorrow morning.”
The Maalouf home, which was located on the second floor of the iconic mansion, was still used as the writer’s library and office until late last year when the family was forced to evict.
Maalouf, the author of such award-winning titles as “Rock of Tanios” and “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes” had lived in the home from adolescence through to the beginning of his early writing career, according to his son Ziad who shared some of the family history with me in this post last week.
Ziad added that Maalouf’s 12th major work “The Disoriented” takes place during “that important period of his life” when he lived and worked from the now-condemned Badaro home.
New pictures this afternoon. So far no construction has begun.
Back view of the home, showing old art deco-like metal perimeter fence still in tact.
The Maaloufs lived on the second floor since 1961
While taking photos, a 67-year-old man passing by told me he remembered marveling at the building when he as a child. He estimated it to be around 90 years old.
“This style could not be found anywhere,” he said, pointing out the detailed trim around the windows. He said the facades were carved in place. “Today they are pre-fabricated.”
The building also features an elevated front garden, which is typical of some older Beirut villas.
Kettaneh plans to replace the Maalouf home with a new high rise, which could resemble the glass and steel towers already sprouting up around the neighborhood behind it.
With the nearby museum and quaint shops and restaurants, the Badaro neighborhood still retains a lot of pre-war character.
This a panorama shot of the Maalouf home (right) in the context of Badaro.
Back panorama shot showing towers emerging behind the Maalouf home, changing the character of the neighborhood. Will the Maalouf home meet a similar fate?