Sanayeh building update

Last week I posted on what seemed to be the destruction of yet another historic Beirut building, the Sanayeh checkered building, which is currently cloaked in the dreaded green construction tarp. But fortunately, it looks like at least the facade may be preserved.

Fellow blogger Renato at The Daily Dora, saw my initial post and immediately sent me the great picture above which is featured in the book “Beirut 1920-1940: Domestic Architecture Between Tradition and Modernity.”

Sadly there is not much about the building in this book, despite its use on the cover:

But as luck would have it, Renato’s father actually spent some time living in the building from 1961 to 1967. And he loved it so much, he actually had a painting commissioned by local artist Najwa Harb:

Harb’s piece is a reinterpretation of another piece by an artist named Kourani, but Renato didn’t have the first name.

Renato’s father, who lived on the second floor, said the it was owned by the Abboud family from Batroun–though it’s not clear if they were the original owners. On the ground floor lived an AUB sports instructor called Ibrahim Obeid–related to the owners–and on the first floor lived one Madame Majdoub.

Renato’s father says there was a rumor that the checkered building once housed either the General Security offices during the French mandate or the home of the French chief who headed it at the time. When Renato and his family returned to Lebanon in the 1990s, it had been occupied by Syrian soldiers and totally gutted down to the tile floors, he said.

Interestingly, the building next door, also an art deco structure barely visible in the first photo, was apparently owned by the Tabet family. It was leveled in the early 2000s as far as my memory serves, and there is now a mosque in its place.

Renato said a number of AUB students had protested a possible demolition of the building a few years ago. Now the developer is planning to keep it, workers on site told him, which was also confirmed to me by Naji from Save Beirut Heritage.

Here is how it appears on the developer’s site, integrated into a new building:

Instead of tearing it down, the checkered building is now seen as a “feature” in the building specs:

I guess this is encouraging news and hopefully more developers will view heritage architecture as an asset rather than an obstacle. But I’m still not convinced Beirut needs the 10,000 million-dollar apartments going up in every corner of the city that almost no one can afford.

Thanks again to Renato for the wealth of info and be sure to check out his site, a quirky photojournalistic journey through the country, which is both funny and intriguing.