The green screens have gone up and demolition work has already begun on the top floor. The wrecking crew is working by hand so it will take a while.
I just spoke to the local Mukhtar and he said many residents are opposed to the project, which he said was rejected by the municipality of Beirut. However, as is often the case, the building owner sued at a higher court and apparently won.
The residents are planning a sit-in and I will have more details on that when they are available. In the meantime, you can go take some pictures. The building sits on a old-fashioned corner facing the Ginette restaurant on Rue Gouraud, near the Red Cross building.
Preservationists say the battle is not over just the building itself but the space it occupies in the context of the neighborhood.:
How different will this corner be if is occupied by a luxury glass and steel high rise? Again, it’s not just one corner–the entire neighborhood is being transformed. The Mukhtar told me Gemmayze used to be “a village” only 15 years ago, full of bustling small shops and locals, but now it is largely a rowdy pub and night life district.
“It used to take me an hour to walk down this street– just to say hi to all my friends,” the Mukhtar said. “Now I walk down the street and I don’t know anyone.”
I just noticed The Daily Star has an interesting piece on the building by my colleague Venetia Rainey. She discovered that the building is owned by “engineer Mohammad Rashid Atweh.”
According to her interview with the culture minister Rony Arayagi, Atweh won the case because of the “absence of compensation” from the state. But I wonder, why would the state need to compensate Mr. Atweh to not destroy his own building? The building is in good shape with over a dozen shops and apartments to rent or sell. Why would maintaing or repairing his own building be a “loss”? On the contrary, shouldn’t building maintenance and repair be mandated by the law?
If anyone knows what the owner needs to be compensated for, please let me know.
UPDATE 2 (12/16/2014)
The governor of Beirut has just posted a demolition cessation order on his Facebook page. More details to come.
UPDATE 3 (12/17/14)
The demolition has sparked a debate among the governor and politician Walid Jumblatt, with hope that at least part of the building will now be saved. See this update.
UPDATE 4 (12/18/14)
Activists say they were threatened or harassed for documenting the ongoing demolition.