One of Beirut’s oldest blocks demolished

One of Beirut’s oldest blocks demolished

What had been one of the most beautiful and historic buildings on Jeanne d’Arc street will soon be gone. Here’s a picture of it from January:

Jan 2017 (Before)

And yesterday:

Sept. 2017( After)

The demolition was well under way last week and it probably won’t survive much longer.

The Jeanne d’Arc building is/was just a couple of blocks up from the American University Of Beirut, a few streets from busy Hamra street.

Jan 2017

You could still see one of the arched window on the lower floor yesterday. Some say it will become a parking lot:

Sept. 2017

Elder neighborhood residents told me the building was easily over 100 years old. This would have made it one of the oldest in Hamra, where most development accelerated in the 1950s and 1960s. Before that Hamra was largely an agricultural area, a far cry from the urban density today where barely a tree can be found. Can you imagine how it might have looked, surrounded by orchards and greenery?

Jan. 2017
Sept. 2017

The door is still in tact too, but probably not for long:

Behind the building along Sidani street, there were three other old buildings, seen here in a photo I took for a post three years ago:

Dec. 2013

Almost all of these have also been demolished:

Sept. 2017

The block had already been in a poor state when I saw it, perhaps abandoned for decades:

Dec. 2013

But still quaint and worth restoring, one would think:

Dec. 2013

Now there is little left but the tree:

Sept. 2017

And the tree growing out of one building– compare to top photo. The tin door overhang is still there:

Also notice the turret-like stones on the building behind it. I’ve seen this on some old Ras Beirut buildings and not sure if it was decorative or part of the structure.

All the buildings are made of sandstone, which is supposedly protected by heritage laws:

Some said one of the buildings had been used as a school in more recent years, which seemed evident from some of the debris:

And the wall paintings:

I also noticed a number of roof tiles salvaged from the rubble:

They had a cool bee imprint:

Upon closer look, you can make out the name of the manufacturer: “Guichard Carvin & Cie” made in “Marseille St. Andre”

A quick internet search revealed these to be produced as early as the late 1800s.

Source: Mario

Can you imagine these tiles survived over 100 winters? I wonder how long today’s roof tiles last?

Another thing they don’t make like they used to is landscaping. Even though this decrepit block is falling apart, it is still the greenest place on the street, which is now full of concrete high rises:

Most people probably know the block by the old photo shop. A lot of things in the area seem to use ‘palladium’ including an old cinema not far away.

Questions remain. Why was one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood not protected? What type of heritage laws allow the most historic building on one of the city’s most historic streets to be razed without a trace? Where was the Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Beirut?

This could have been a rare opportunity not only to preserve a single building out of context, but an entire block, frozen in the early part of the century.  Whether as a community garden, small museum or even refurbished shops or apartments, it could have been a chance to protect a sliver of old Hamra at a time when much of the neighborhood’s architectural identity is gradually being erased, replaced by methodic glass and concrete structures that can be found anywhere and devoid of detailed craftsmanship.

While it stood, this block was a faint reminder of where we came from: the urban heritage and the social fabric that laid the foundation for what would become one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods.

But that window on the past is rapidly fading. And it’s being filled with rubble and concrete.

Always take pictures of old Beirut buildings. You never know when you will become an accidental archivist.

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. I saw this building yesterday evening and immediately noticed that it was of value just by looking at its beautiful main entrance. A country that has no respect for its past has not respect for itself!

    • It depends on what part of the past a country choses to preserve and also the extent of a state’s power to enforce preservation, which is increasingly difficult in any commodified property market.

  2. That was among the last really beautiful buildings in the area where I live (apart from the AUB campus of course). When people from outside ask me if Beirut is pretty, I used to say “well, the few old buildings left are nice …” But it looks like instead of renovating things, it’s easier to destroy and build stupid modern things like everywhere else. Too bad.

    • I think you’re right. The built up space in a city is not only an aesthetic but also represents a way of life.

  3. Very painful to see this. I live quite far away, in a little town near Berne, Switzerland, but I’m always saddened to read about the destruction of old Beiruth… When will politicians and owners understand that old building are of great value on the long term – from an identity point of view, but also from a financial point of view (including tourism)? It’s even more tragic when you think that in Syria, war has destroyed Aleppo, but in Beiruth, which already suffered so much from war, it is short-term profit and speculation that transforms a beautiful historic city into some random, anonymous town without distinct character. 🙁

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