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demolition

“We will find where you live,”  a watchman yelled at me after taking a picture of ruins on his construction site. He had followed me across the street to issue the threat, claiming to have memorized the license plate number on my car. “Wait and see what they will do to you when they come to your house.”

Source: Teloduh

This vast site, believed to be a 1st century artisan workshop (for at least part of its occupation), was uncovered late last year and could help tell the little-known story of Berytus, one of the most influential cities in the Roman empire.

Source: L’Orient Le Jour

 

Instead it is scheduled to become a glass skyscraper, serving as the headquarters of a private bank, SGBL (Société Générale de Banque au Liban).

 

The skyscraper is being designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, one of many celebrity architects transforming Beirut’s skyline with high end real estate towers worth billions of dollars and far out of reach of most Lebanese people. Piano is also designing the massive 160,000 square meter Pinwheel Project, which consists of a series of hotel and condo towers in the heart of downtown, as well as a city museum project, which is also to be built atop of a ruins discovery.  

Source: RPBW project conception

Sadly the type of violent threats and harassment I experienced is not unusual when attempting to document the wonders of the ancient world being unearthed for the first time in contemporary Beirut.  One would assume that a 2,000 year old site is one the entire country should be able to see, to learn from, to explore, to be inspired by, to build a sense of place, pride in preservation or national belonging. But in Lebanon, history can be private property. Several journalists and activists have been threatened or physically attacked for documenting the impact of real estate projects across the country.

To appease critics, some investors have recently pledged to preserve very limited sections of ruins, displayed decoratively as part of their real estate projects or concealed in parking garages. Yet these are often placed out of context or difficult for visitors to access and comprehend.  In the case of the Piano project, can the design of such a large building possibly preserve the vast vista of ruins beneath? Can the design be changed in any way meaningful enough to communicate its significance and that of ancient Berytus?

Upon closer view, we can see the interesting rock patterns in the walls. What do they tell us?

At the top corner of the site, the stones are entirely different, much larger and better carved, resembling grand Roman structures. Was there an important building near this site?

Most importantly, will the public ever get a chance to experience this piece of the puzzle of a city and great civilization we are just beginning to understand? With large walls surrounding the permiter, as seen in the photos above, passersby are not allowed even a glimpse of it.  (Photos in the post were taken from other buildings or openings in the wall.)

At any rate, the site might not be around for much longer.  Clearance may be closer than we think. In photos taken a few months ago, we can see nearly 20 tents set up in the dig:

Photo: Timo Azhari

But today there are only a few tents left, meaning the archeological teams may have largely packed up and left:

Is this why the developer is so aggressively keeping it off limits to the public? The site workers must have been threatened themselves if anyone is allowed to get a photo out.

It’s unclear if the diggers have already started to clear the area or penetrate to deeper levels as their position has changed since I first began documenting the site earlier this year.

Compare this image taken in January 2018:

To this photo taken from the same vantage point in recent days:

In addition to the removal of tents, we can also see the position of the two bulldozers is further into the site than they were early this year.

Here’s another shot from January 2018:

And the same vantage point today:

From a closer perspective, we can some of the amazing wall detail on the left section:

So what to make of the threats issued to me for taking these photos? They were taken from the public street, from the sidewalk, at a brief moment when the door to the site was open. There is no legal basis for banning photography in public space. There is no basis in banning the Lebanese public from seeing their own history.  But who was the man who threatened me and why?

The owner of SGBL bank is known to surround himself with those capable of serious violence. His bodyguards have regularly engaged in alleged criminal acts, including armed assaults and even a shootout in nightclub, according to news reports. In 2015, a bodyguard formerly employed by the owner stabbed a man to death in broad daylight, and was subsequently sent to prison. Is this the type of violence and threats that a Pritzker-winning architect like Renzo Piano would like to be associated with?

Interestingly, SGBL itself claims to be “a strong advocate of culture and arts in Lebanon,” according to its website. While Piano, who has been involved in several projects across Beirut has said: “Cities are beautiful because they are created slowly; they are made by time. A city is born from a tangle of monuments and infrastructures, culture and market, national history and everyday stories. It takes 500 years to create a city, 50 to create a neighborhood.”

In fact, the city of Beirut has not been developing just for 50 or 500 years, but for thousands of years and several millennia. Would it be too much to dream that Piano and SGBL live up to their stated ideals? Since both Piano and SGBL have profited so generously from Beirut, could they possibly give something back by preserving a bit of its illustrious past for the coming generations to enjoy?

 

 

Before and after pictures were at the heart of the project to rebuild downtown Beirut following the Lebanese war. These images filled the pages of promotional material, coffee table books and photography exhibits hosted and commissioned by Solidere, the private real estate firm that undertook the project. Some of these images can still be found displayed at the airport today, 25 years after reconstruction began:

Credit: Ayman Trawi
Credit: Ayman Trawi

Even holograms have been made to showcase the transformations.

But then there are the before-and-after pictures you don’t see-those that cover the vast majority of  neighborhoods in the old city reconstruction zone, which were not restored but demolished.

Take this image that was recently uploaded to Facebook by Gabriel Daher. (If you like old Beirut buildings, you should definitely be following him.)

Photo: Gaby Daher

You might recognize the large Capitole building on the right, a former cinema that still stands today and is more recently known for hosting nightclubs like the now defunct Buddah Bar and its current rooftop lounge. The Riad Solh statue would later occupy the empty space in the corner, which seems to be still under construction here.

While Capitole–and the corner building just left of it (formally used by Pan American Airways) are often seen in old photos of the city,  what is less often seen is the neighborhood in the foreground.

Here is another shot of the neighborhood as posted on the same Facebook thread by another great archivist, Kheireddine Al-Ahdab. This time the perspective is from above the Capitole building (left) revealing a large swathe of buildings across the street, bordering the Lazarieh tower on the far left.

Al-Ahdab identified this neighborhood to be known as Ghalghoul. So what happened to it?

I was able to track down this photo of Ghalghoul from 1991. Many of the buildings appear to have survived the war:

Photo: Rene Burri

But during reconstruction, the entire area was eventually leveled.

In this picture from 2013, we can see Ghalghoul has been reduced to a series of parking lots. All that remains is the double arched building in the photo above. Its blue canvas roof now replaced with red tiles.

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The big hole in the foreground was supposed to be a mall but that project was stopped when ruins were found on the site and a public pressure campaign began not long after photos of the excavations were leaked to the public. You can read more about those discoveries here.

In this shot we can see that the Capitole building on the far right has been restored, but now faces a large void where Ghalghoul once stood.

Dozens if not scores of buildings were razed, leaving barely any trace of the neighborhood.

Here is an aerial view showing the extent of the destruction in between El Amir Bachir street and the Fouad Chehab highway ( Route 51) and in between Syria street and Cheikh Toufik Khaled-nearly all flattened as parking lots.

In fact the only time Ghalghoul saw life again in the postwar period was during the protests of 2006-2009, when a tent city was established in its parking lots by opposition parties calling for the resignation of the government.

Photo: Richard van der Graaf

I tried to find more about Ghalghoul but the only results seem to be images of its destruction shot in the early 1990s, such as this 1995 series by Fouad Elkhoury. Many of the buildings were still standing:

Fouad Elkhoury

Until the bulldozing began:

Fouad Elkhoury
Fouad Elkhoury

It’s often said that more of Beirut was destroyed by the bulldozers of reconstruction than through the shelling of the war. In fact, some 80 percent of the old city was reportedly demolished under the Solidere plan. So while there are plenty of pictures of the 260 odd buildings that were restored, you won’t find any trace of the hundreds of buildings that were leveled, entire neighborhoods and streets erased, not only in Ghalghoul but everywhere large parking lots are found today such Martyr’s Square, Saifi, Zeitouni and others. Wadi Abu Jmel, Beirut’s old Jewish quarter is among these. I was lucky enough to document some of the last buildings and meet the Wadi’s last resident before she died in this piece a few years ago for Al Jazeera.

How many other untold stories are out there from people and neighborhoods that were left out of Solidere’s vision?

If anyone has any memories of Ghalghoul or other razed neighborhoods, please feel free to share in the comments below and I would be happy to update the post.

 

 

 

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.

 

Screenshot of video via Jad Ghorayeb

 

A number of images are appearing on social media today documenting the demolition of one of Lebanon’s first major factories and reportedly the oldest brewery in the Middle East.

Photographer Jad Ghorayeb posted this video this afternoon on Facebook:

Demolition has begun.. @ "Laziza Grande Brasserie du Levant"

Posted by Jad Ghorayeb on Monday, March 27, 2017

 

Activists tell me the demolition of the old Laziza brewery in the very dense working class Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael could cause public health problems, as well as long term gentrification effects driving up the cost of living, and thus indirectly evicting residents and small family-owned businesses that have existed for generations.

Photo: L’Orient Le Jour, posted Oct. 2016

The old sign has recently been removed, seen in this picture taken his morning:

And scaffolding went up last week:

So why is this happening, and if local residents are not a priority, who is?

Capstone Investment

The Laziza brewery, established in the early 1930s, will be demolished to create luxury flats by famous Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury, known for his exclusive nightclubs and appartments, affordable by a tiny fraction of the population.

According to the developer, Capstone Investment Group, the site will become “Mar Mikhael Village”

“Mar Mikhael Village entails the conversion of an old brewery into chic and trendy Lofts that exemplify contemporary city living in the hip area of Mar Mikhael.”

On his website, Khoury makes the argument that the height of the floors make it impossible for residential housing, lamenting its loss. He says a “ghost” of the building will be preserved, bringing back the sign and creating a small homage to part of the facade, dwarfed by a new massive superstructure.

Bernard Khoury website
Bernard Khoury website
Bernard Khoury website

Khoury says the demolition is “unfortunate” but inevitable: “The project’s relationship with the memory of its predecessor no longer lies in the mummification of the edifice that was to be recuperated, but instead rests on the acknowledgment of its unfortunate demolition, the tracing of its now-absent morphology and the poetry of its vital disappearance.”

But was a luxury residence really the only possibility here?

A piece that recently appeared in L’Orient Le Jour takes issue with Khoury’s comments, and questions their self-serving appearance. The piece argued that architects and investors bear a responsibility to the city beyond lip service and lamentation. Here is an excerpt translated from French via Google:

“But if the building is not suitable for housing, then the will to build should not be used as an excuse to demolish it. The problem does not lie in the inability of the Brewery to adapt, but in the choice of program which is unsuitable. Other programs, cultural, commercial, leisure, could indeed have been imagined there.”

The building should be preserved in its entirety and in all its parts whose composition is exceptional, witness of its rich history. But if it were nevertheless to concede to the financial reality, it would have been possible for example to preserve the central building and to allow itself to build on the rest of the ground. Real estate in Beirut is one of the most profitable in the world and even if this share of the 13,500m2 building is not exploited, the project will remain largely profitable.”

Yet this story is not just about the brewery but also the broader Mar Mikhael neighborhood, one of Beirut’s best preserved, and the dozens of developments and mega construction sites that are taking a toll on residents:

“The heritage situation in Beirut is indeed catastrophic: delusional real estate, absence of Masterplan, an obsolete heritage law that is struggling to be replaced by a modern law, blocked by politicians … As a result, demolished historic buildings and traditional neighborhoods Disfigured.However, the area where the Grande Brasserie du Levant is located is largely preserved and is a rare chance to preserve a historic quarter for the future. Such a massive project, replacing such an iconic building, is a violent act that will only initiate the disintegration of this precious urban fabric.”

Important questions raised by this project

What do local residents think of what is happening to their neighborhood? Why are their views rarely heard and why is the conversation on these mega projects frequently narrated by super wealthy real estate companies and starchitects? Why are people who own so much dominating a conversation over people who have barely a place to live?

How will projects like this one effect the residents health and livelihoods? What sort of pollution do these projects entail? How do they affect air quality, traffic, road closures and ability to do business? Do they also encourage other projects that will have similar effects, bringing more cars and pollution to the neighborhood?

Who are the developers, who owns Capstone Investment Group and what are there intentions, not just with the brewery but elsewhere in the city? Do big companies like this give back to the city, in terms of taxes and local development, or are the profits largely tax free?

What is the role of law and regulations? Are there laws to protect residents, average citizens living in the neighborhood? Do they have any rights to having their homes and livelihoods protected? Or were the laws and zoning regulations written to protect developers, who are often politically-connected elites?

What is the role of the ministry of culture? Some have said the previous minister opposed this project, has something changed? What about the urban planning departments, the municipality of Beirut, architecture and engineering syndicates? Are these government and professional bodies speaking on behalf of the country and the public or do they work in the interest of the powerful and well-funded?

Activists are planning to organize around this project so I will have more updates and background as it  becomes available. Any insights from readers, residents, old photos, etc would also be appreciated.

 

UPDATE:

A few hours after this post went up, a reader pointed out that there are actually two sets of plans for the “Mar Mikhael Village.” Although Bernard Khoury’s website and the Capstone Investment website both feature designs that incorporate part of the old brewery facade, Mar Mikhael Village also has their own website and Facebook page, where there is no sign of the old facade. In it’s place at the bottom center of the illustration, is a darkened, tilted modernist structure that has no resemblance to the original brewery:

And instead of the brewery sign, we have a similar shaped sign that reads “Mar Mikhael Village”:

Did Mar Mikhael Village just pull a fast one on us? Or are these old pictures? What happened to Bernard Khoury’s poetic “ghost” metaphor?

Also how did a single apartment complex already garner almost 14,000 likes on Facebook since it launched a few months ago?

UPDATE 3:

Photographer Jad Ghorayeb has just posted a beautiful set of photos of the brewery’s interiors. It’s hard not to imagine the potential for a community space, library or cultural venue:

How often do we find a 1930s factory with spiral staircases?

Or a space that recalls an industrial and national heritage that is long forgotten. Thanks to the developers, any potential for reviving it will now be fully erased, replaced by an exclusive gated community. See more photos from Jad’s full album posted on Facebook and also be sure to follow him on instagram for more of his stunning heritage photography.

Photo: Jihad Kiame

Two years ago the Governor of Beirut issued an order to stop demolition of this historically listed Art Deco building in Gemmayze, and shared the news to much fanfare on Facebook, as we reported at the time.

But the image above was taken today and we can clearly see the destruction has resumed after a two year period of quiet. So what happened?

This is not the first time Governor Ziad Chbib has made promises that turn out differently with the passage of time. In a press conference last year, governor Chbib voiced opposition to construction within the city’s only park, Horsh Beirut. He also seemed critical of construction on Beirut’s only public beach Ramlet El Baida. But construction has resumed in both of those projects.

#بلدية_بيروت تبدأ اعمال البناء على قسم من #حرش_بيروت وهو جزء من العقار 1925 وبذلك تستكمل مهمتها بقضم آخر بقعة خضراء في بيروت #اوقفوا_سياسة_قضم_حرش_بيروت

Posted by NAHNOO on Sunday, March 5, 2017

 

And despite a court ruling against construction on the coast, which is prohibited in the Lebanese constitution, the governor failed to enforce the ruling.

Picture taken today shows that construction has resumed on Ramlet El Bayda beach. #الشط_لكل_الناس #StopEdenRock Pic via Firas BouZeineddine

Posted by Paul Samrani on Monday, March 13, 2017

 

These developments only seem to prove that activist victories must be maintained and government officials can never be left alone or relied upon without continuous monitoring. What is going on with the governor’s promises? Are they mainly PR moves to placate a public outcry? Or is the governor less powerful than private business interests? Or is there more to this story?

Let’s not forget that the developer in this case has allegedly harassed activists and threatened violence, as we reported previously.

***

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this, I was informed by a member of the Save Beirut Heritage preservation collective that the building will not be completely demolished: it will be entirely gutted but the facade will remain. Four additional floors will also be added. Here is an artist conception:

 

The Save Beirut Heritage activist informed me that this was a “compromise’ agreement. In fact, the preservation of facades seems to be a popular move being implemented across Beirut, with major construction concealed behind a thin layer of the past. But is facade preservation considered a form of architectural preservation, especially when a building is extended with double the number of floors and turns out looking and feeling radically different than the original?

The nice thing about Gemmayze is that it is one of the few neighborhoods that survived the civil war as well as the even more destructive demolitions of the post war period. It had been one of the few places where one could imagine what Beirut once looked like in the last century, the so-called ‘golden days’ old timers rave about. But that is rapidly changing as more Art Deco and low rise buildings are being torn down, in favor of mega structures, multi-million dollar apartments few can afford and luxury car garages. The result is a radical change not just in the building itself but also the shops, the street life and the overall fabric of the neighborhood, its affordability, its inhabitants.

Go to Gemmayze while you can and enjoy and document as much as possible. In a few years, the neighborhood may be as unrecognizable as the “makeover”  this building is currently undergoing.

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This kind of destruction is usually caused by a war or natural disaster. But this was Beirut this morning: no air strikes, no foreign army invasion, no earthquake. These homes were destroyed by the Lebanese government, the Lebanese police and billionaire families they work for.

The homes and small cafes that were leveled belong to some of the city’s poorest residents who have lived off the land for generations, fishing from the last natural shore in Beirut. But the Lebanese government, which is run by millionaires and billionaires has decided this land should be used for a luxury private development. Celebrity architect Rem Koolhaas has been asked to come up with a design.

“They didn’t give us any warning,” says boat-maker Bassam Chehab (above).

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Chehab has been making boats since 1979 and claims to have built most of the fisherman’s boats along the coast of Beirut — “From Ain El Mrasye to Ouzai”. Now many of those are buried under the rubble:

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Chehab says he spent several years as a prisoner of the regime in Syria–in a notorious jail in the  Tadmur desert– but never expected to be treated this way by his own government.

He says he is not a squatter but a law-abiding citizen who obtained permits for his shack from successive governments. Chehab is eager to show off a government installed electricity meter and pole as evidence.

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“The worst thing I ever did was get a parking ticket and I paid for it,” he says. Lebanese politicians could hardly claim as much. They have manipulated laws to allow for major construction in once protected seafront areas such as Dalieh, creating legislation that decreases public access to the shore and increases the value of properties they already own. Lebanese politicians have even built massive illegal private resorts up and down the coast, as an Al Jazeera documentary recently revealed. Yet the bulldozers never come for their properties.

“They are worse than the Israelis” exclaimed fisherman Mohammed Itani, (below) as he dug through the rubble for personal belongings.

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“At least the Israelis give you warning before they destroy your house.”

Born and raised on the Dalieh coast, Itani said he lost thousands of dollars in fishing and scuba equipment–a massive blow for a community that barely even has plumbing.

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Itani says the police came in the darkness with no warning, just before dawn–they forced the men to kneel “like the Israelis do to Palestinians”.  Others said they were beaten, some put in a police van, while the destruction went on.

This afternoon, some tried to salvage a few items.

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But others wondered what they would do next. Ali Itani and his family (below) claim to have lived off this land for over a century, fishing in its natural lagoons and farming on its grassy hills. Where will they go next and how will they earn a living?
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You can see more pictures of the devastation here, including how the government bulldozed pieces of their homes straight into the sea:

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Clarification: I interviewed at least five other fishermen and all confirmed that there was no warning for this demolition. They did however say that police had warned them a few days ago about one small shack built near the sea–which some say had been there for decades. But this doesn’t explain why the police would bulldoze all the other homes and cafes. Activists are trying to get in touch with Beirut governor to find out exactly what orders were issued. I will update this post if I get any details from them or the police on whether any warnings were issued. Feel free to comment if you have any additional information. 

For more on the campaign to save this place from private development, you can follow the efforts and read the legal background at The Civil Campaign to Save Dalieh –also follow their Facebook page for updates.

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Gabriel Daher, who is known for posting beautiful images of old Beirut, posted something a bit different today. The photo above appears to be a demolition in progress on Aabrine street, in historic Ashrafieh. Heritage activists say it’s not just the demolition of one building, but that a developer plans to tear down an entire cluster of buildings , pretty much erasing what remains of the neighborhood. (Update from developer below. See notes at bottom of post)

I took a picture of the same building about a year ago, when we first heard it could be endangered:

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Activists say at up to 5 buildings on Aabrine street may also be razed. Here are some of the ones I visited a year ago:

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If they go, we will also be losing their beautiful courtyard area and green spaces:

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We will also be losing their quiet alleyways:

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We will also be losing their windows:

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And their doors:

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I went in through one of them:

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Inside there were the old vaulted ceilings:

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But also rare wood ceilings, with what appeared to be actual tree branches holding them up:

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I wonder if anyone knows how old these could be?

And what happened to the people who used to live here? All that remains are these physical structures, reminding us of a bygone time of urban village life, gardens, small shops and pedestrian traffic.  Will it now be replaced by tinted Range Rovers and big concrete walls?

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We saw a similar cluster get razed a few months ago in Furn El Hayek. Will anyone stand up to the developer this time?

UPDATE 1:

An activist from Save Beirut Heritage just told me the buildings range from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. They raised a complaint with the culture ministry about a year ago, when it was reported that Bank Audi had purchased the land. If anyone has further details, please comment below.

UPDATE 2: (April 24/2015)

In a reply to a Facebook thread on this blog post, Bank Audi has denied buying the plot of land. This is odd because multiple heritage activists have informed me that they are certain the bank was involved at some point fairly recently. It’s not clear if there was a sale or what the banks involvement may have been. A number of activists are now saying a group called Mena Capital is the current owner but I have yet to confirm this. 

UPDATE 3: (April 25/2015)

A source close to one of the developers has just contacted me saying that there is no demolition planned for the photo of the first building in this cluster–the one with the green net over it. Green nets are usually employed for heavy construction works and thus a very common sign of demolition across Beirut when placed on decaying buildings. But the source says the net was only installed to protect pedestrians from falling material and that in fact a renovation is planned for said building. The source–who did not want to be named–says the corner building is actually protected by government heritage listing (which has been confirmed by activists) and thus any demolition would be unlawful. 

The source claims there is a plan to renovate and “hopefully” save the building and turn it into a cultural center.  But the source could not provide further details and also said the timetable for these plans is dependent on financial issues and “factors we have no influence on.” The source also could not comment on the other five buildings in the cluster, saying they were part of a separate development. 

But does this mean any of the buildings are safe? Activists and architects have told me there have been multiple indications that attempts have been made by developers to bypass heritage listings and apply for demolition permits. There has also been talk in the neighborhood of imminent demolitions since the residents vacated a few years ago. Fellow blogger Elie Fares has a great post from 2 years ago looking at the emptying of one building in particular which is part of this cluster. I will follow up on these new developments next week to find out who actually owns these properties and how solid the claimed renovation plans for the corner building are.  

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This old Ras Beirut hotel has been abandoned for a few years and now looks to be coming down for good. Notice the top floor has already been demolished:

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Also notice the archaic concrete and steel telephone pole (right) which is probably from a similar era, as they’re aren’t many left in the city.

Lord’s Hotel gained a reputation as a seedy motel in its later years.

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The name “Lord’s” is also interesting. There are a few old clothing stores in Hamra that still carry the same name. I wonder if they are owned by the same person and where this odd title comes from.

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Does anyone have any memories they would like to share?

The hotel is just across the street from the Mediterranean boardwalk or corniche, a prime location today, probably worth tens of millions of dollars. Lord’s stands next to the old Tokyo restaurant, whose days also seem to be numbered:

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The two establishments are among the oldest in the area, which is now dominated by luxury towers, parking lots and snarls of traffic. I’m guessing there was quite a different feel to this corner back when it probably boomed in the 1960s.

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Demolition works today in Gemmayze. Source: Save Beirut Heritage

Despite a cessation order posted yesterday by Beirut’s governor, demolition works have continued today at a historic Art Deco building in Gemmayze. One activist with Save Beirut Heritage sent me these pictures and told me he was threatened by the site’s foreman today for taking them.

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Save Beirut Heritage

According to the SBH activist, the foreman began by cursing his mother and sister– with the typical vulgar references. Then he recalled that he had seen the activist–who frequently documents heritage demolitions for SBH– at another historic building being torn down in Furn el Hayek, also documented on this site.

He said: “I wish we would have put you in a van when I saw you there. We should have taken you somewhere and beat you up,” the activist recalled.

The SBH activist said the altercation began when he took a picture of this artist conception of what the new building will look like. The image shows a completely different building that appears to have retained nothing of the original structure. The height has also been changed from the current 4 floors to at least 10 floors:

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Save Beirut Heritage

 

Such an image appears to contrast the brief bit of jubilation among citizens and activists yesterday when the governor posted the cessation order on his Facebook page after coverage of the demolition, both by The Daily Star and this blog.

But how could the old structure be protected if an entirely new– and much larger– structure is to take its place?

The activist I spoke to was not the first to say he was harassed at this site. A licensed architect had reportedly visited the Deco building recently and went to have a look at the demolition orders posted on its outer walls. The architect told this story:

“The foreman asked me to leave when I was looking at the papers. I refused saying anyone has a right to read demolition permits posted on a building, particularly a licensed architect and member of the Lebanese architect’s union. The foreman asked for my ID and tried to grab it. Soon after, I got a call from the union with the foreman claiming I threatened a union action against the building!”

Can you imagine how much power this developer must have to get a bureaucratic Lebanese union to react so quickly?

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Tiles removed from art deco building today. (SBH)

 

A close read of the Governor’s cessation order indicates that work on the “eastern” part of the plot must be stopped. However works on the western part were allowed. This means the building is actually composed of two parts. The corner section–which activists say dates back to the earlier part of the century– and the section left of it on Rue Gouraud, which is apparently a later addition from some time around the 1940s.

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SBH

Here’s a closer view of the Western section:

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SBH

Yet when I visited the site last weekend, both buildings were cloaked in green demolition nets and barricades have been put around the sidewalks and curbside parking of both buildings. And once again, the artist conception doesn’t appear to preserve either part.

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Metal barricades extend around both buidlings

Activists and citizens will have to stay vigilant on this issue to make sure the corner building is not demolished. But who will hold the owners accountable in case they threaten people for taking pictures or reading legal permits posted on the building?

It’s actually not surprising to hear about developers harassing journalists and photographers. I was physically assaulted last year for taking pictures at a major construction site that concealed ancient ruins. How long will Lebanese developers remain above the law?

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Interior shot with Deco stairwell. (SBH)
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Old tiles still untouched on this floor. (SBH)

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Update: The architect who was harassed agreed I could use her name. She is Abir Saksouk-Sasso.

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In a Facebook post last night, Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib shared an order from his office to halt demolition works on the Art Deco building in Gemmayze. This follows coverage of the demolition by The Daily Star and this blog over the weekend.

Earlier yesterday, leading politician Walid Jumblatt issued a statement condemning the demolition and demanding accountability from the Culture Ministry and Beirut Governor over this issue.

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Jumblatt also mentioned Roman ruins discovered in another part of the same neighborhood and questioned both the need for wealthy developers to keep amassing profits by building towers on such small plots and the lack of interventions from the municipality to save some of these plots, despite its huge amount of financial reserves. I had posed some of the same questions in my post on the Roman ruins this week–indeed a friend of Jumblatt had alerted me to his statement soon after it was published, noting that Jumblatt had read the blog post prior to making it.

So it is in this context that Governor Chebib published the work stoppage order last night. In fact the governor directed his comments toward Jumblatt stating that his cessation order had already been issued over the weekend and a police memo issued on December 12 to enforce it. This is curious because the governor had not mentioned any of this during his interview with the Daily Star on the same day–Dec. 12. In fact, the when asked about the building Governor Chebib reportedly “could not recall the file” and seemed to indicate the demolition was legal.

“Although he could not recall the specific file for Atweh’s property, Governor Ziad Chebib, who gives final approval to all such requests, said the law was clear: “If the owners or builders have a license, their work’s status is legal.”

Also when I visited the building this weekend with some activists and the local Mukhtar, we noticed several official permissions posted on the building signed by the Governor. I haven’t had time to go over these in detail, but maybe someone can come up with a quick translation:

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Whatever the case is, I’m glad that major politicians are now debating what had been any other demolition a week ago–that is, before our coverage started. We should also thank the architect Jihad Kiame who drew our attention to this issue earlier this month when he posted about the building’s imminent demolition on Facebook.

Now that the conversation has started, the efforts should focus on closely monitoring what happens next and who will be held accountable for those actions.

 

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Update: 12/16/14

Architect Kiame and The Daily Star’s Venetia Rainey have just posted that some construction work continued today. Rainey is scheduled to talk to the governor about it. Looking forward to her piece.