It seems everywhere you turn in Hamra, there is a new tower coming up. None of them affordable so most are empty. The old storefronts and casual street life marked by locals chatting on the sidewalks and old men pulling up plastic chairs becomes replaced by large metal gates and car garages: no loitering, no spontaneity, no sense of community is sanctioned by unregulated private capital keen on exclusive luxury property development.
What will remain of Hamra and Ras Beirut when every old building is torn down? Will it become just any other prefabricated valley of towers, with no sense of history, community or architectural identity? What will happen to the rest of Beirut if there are no authorities capable of protecting any semblance of heritage? Where is the Ministry of Culture?
Such questions are now being raised by the campaign to save yet another condemned building known by its residents as “Red House,” part of which reportedly dates back to the 18th century, which would make it one of the oldest homes in Hamra.
The campaigners say the Directorate General of Antiquities has drafted a report to save the home, but according to this article the report has sat for several months without a signature from the Culture Minister Rony Araygi.
Instead the current renter, architect Samir Rubeiz– who says his family has occupied the second floor of building for three generations– says they have been served an eviction notice to vacate within 10 days, ending on January 22. The eviction notice, they say, specifically mentions demolition. (See bottom of the post for updates and reaction from the owner)
Rubeiz’s family has started a Facebook page and encourages visitors to take pictures and publish them to share the story. I am told some activists are now trying to reach the minister and there has been some scattered press coverage. But public participation may be needed as well if this house is to be saved unlike the infamous demolition of the Maalouf house despite promises by a previous minister and an outcry by some activists.
In addition to posting pictures and sharing this story, you can also contact the minister on Twitter.
Here is an interesting video about the house, underscoring the broader issue of the neighborhood’s disappearance in favor of well-heeled real estate interests.
For a sense of the context in which this potential demolition is taking place see these photos from Al Modon news site:
Clearly the Red House stands alone, the green spaces and other homes that may have once surrounded it are now paved with parking lots and condos. Can this lonely memory of the neighborhood be saved?
A decendent of the owner of the home has posted a rather terse response to those sharing this story, noting that the tenant, Samir Rubeiz, is a “leech” and simply using heritage as an excuse to keep renting the home at a cheap rate. This is presumably because of old rent laws that have recently been controversially amended allowing potential evictions across the city. However the status does not make any mention of what the owner plans on doing with home and whether or not she thinks it should be kept or demolished. I have reached out to her to get a clarification and will publish one if she responds. Here is her comment in full:
I am responding to the numerous posts about the Red House in Hamra. I would like to inform those who have shared comments and articles about the house that it belongs to MY family. My grandmother Marie Abdo Rubeiz raised my father Georges Rubeiz and my uncle Michel Rubeiz in this house. My uncle Michel who is now 90 years old still lives in it. My siblings (Nelly and Abdallah Rebeiz) and I spent innumerable hours in this house when we were children.
Samir Rebeiz, who is behind the historic designation campaign that you are spreading around in your posts, has been renting at no cost in MY FAMILY’S HOUSE for decades and has repeatedly refused to vacate OUR PROPERTY unless he receives a very significant sum of money. This real estate conflict is the only reason that Samir Rebeiz wants to “save” the house: so that he can continue to live in it indefinitely for free. My family has been going through hell in the Lebanese courts to resolve the never-ending saga with this leech. There are many details that the public is not aware of, but it is unequivocal that Samir Rebeiz is doing this out of self-interest only and not to preserve a historic house. In fact, just a few hours after my father Georges Rubeiz (who served the Lebanese and specifically the Ras-Beirut community for decades as a cardiologist at AUB) passed away one month ago, the honorable Samir Rebeiz couldn’t get to the appropriate government agencies fast enough to report that my father had died in order to reverse potential court rulings against him. This was right after he offered his condolences to my family.
I hope that this clarifies the situation of the “Red House in Hamra” for all of you.
I’ve spoken to the tenant’s family for a reaction and they say they have already begun to vacate the home and have no interest in staying. “We just want to save the home,” a relative told me, showing stacks of boxes in the living room ready to be moved. The relative hoped the home could become a cultural or museum space. The relative also noted that while the rent has indeed been low, Mr. Rubeiz has invested in maintenance work, which contributed to the DGA report valuing the building’s preserved architectural features. The family would also like to emphasize that they don’t intend to be in conflict with the building owners and instead focus on the need to preserving the structure and they encourage supporters to do the same.
Blogger Elie Fares has compiled a history of the Red House, underscoring it’s political significance, and particularly that of its female occupants who helped build the careers of certain politicians during Lebanon’s early modern history. There is even a visit by Louis Armstrong! See Elie’s post here.