Of particular interest, following Monday’s announcement by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Justice Anthony Carmona as the Government’s nominee to be this country’s fifth President, will be the repairs which need to be done on President’s House in St Ann’s.
Incumbent President George Maxwell Richards, who demits office on March 17, has lived in the nearby Presidential Cottage and not President’s House. Shortly after the People’s Partnership Government assumed office in May 2010, then Works and Transport (now National Security) Minister Jack Warner promised to repair President’s House so Richards might reside there before his term expired this year. Persad-Bissessar even offered the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s as a possible residence for Richards but the President declined that offer.
“This will have to involve Government, and private partnerships including the churches. The State alone, will not be able to bear the costs,” Minister of Tourism Stephen Cadiz said during a tour of the century-old Magnificent Nine buildings that faces the Queen’s Park Savannah (QPS) on last Wednesday.
“Restoration is not just only about tourism. It is about the country’s history and heritage. For too long we have overlooked that. We have allowed a number of heritage buildings - whether it was old residences, or, Government buildings like the Red House to go into a serious state of disrepair.” When the buildings are restored, Cadiz said, “they must be part of a museum infrastructure.”
Initially only seven of the buildings Stollmeyer’s House also known as “Killarney”, Whitehall, Archbishop’s House, Ambard’s House also called “Roomer”, Mille Fleurs also known as “Prada House”, Hayes Court and Queen’s Royal College were referred to as the “Magnificent Seven” of Port-of-Spain. In recent years the National Trust added the President’s House also found in the vicinity of the QPS and Red House — the official seat of Government in downtown Port–of-Spain to the list of magnificent buildings referring to the nine as the “Magnificent Nine of Port-of-Spain.”
With the exception of President’s House, originally known as Government House built in 1844, and Red House - the foundation of which was laid in 1844, the others were built in or around 1904. They are all European-designed with distinct works of art that include stained windows, imported materials including limestone, marble and wood from Barbados, Europe and Guyana blended with local materials that have braved the elements over the years.
While Knowsley Building, and Boissierre House (also called the Gingerbread House) are found in close proximity to the Magnificent Seven, and are not listed among the Magnificent Buildings, the National Trust has listed them as important architectural heritage. Knowsley building is State-owned and is one of the better kept buildings, however, Boissiere is privately-owned and is currently in a state of disrepair. According to the National Trust the first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams’ grandmother, worked with the Boissiere family. The National Trust has identified a total of 341 heritage buildings countrywide for preservation.
Of the Magnificent Buildings, Cadiz said, “These are high maintenance buildings, designed and built since 1904. There is going to be constant work and funds required in keeping them up.”
At Queen’s Royal College, Principal Lennard Hinkson said that a unique way has been found to assist in the preservation of the oldest part of the school complex..
“The first formers were placed on the ground floor of this building deliberately,” he said, “because they are the most innocent and they will take care of it. The sixth formers are the most matured and they too will take care of it.” The forms in between are placed in newer parts of the school buildings.
Though the oldest block looks well kept, Hinkson said that it was in need of repairs.
“Sadly, my many letters and phone calls to the Ministry of Works,” he said have not been responded to.
Hayes Court is owned by the Anglican Church. It is the official residence of the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of TT, but Bishop Claude Berkeley does not live there because it is in a state of disrepair.
During the tour Berkeley appealed to the touring team (that included representatives from the Ministries of Tourism, Works, Arts and Multiculturalism, and the National Trust) to make representation on his behalf for assistance from the State to have Hayes Court restored to its former glory. In 2009, a structural survey revealed that some $25 million was needed for its restoration.
In the past, he said the church had been told that it was private property.
At present, Berkeley said that a dilapidation survey was being done to determine the priority needs, and a committee was in place seeking funds to begin restoration works. Berkeley has a home in Tobago and has to commute regularly to Trinidad. “We hope to correct that in the not too distant future to continue the work begun here over 200 hundred years ago,” he said.
Mille Fleurs is among the most dilapidated of the buildings around the QPS. “It has been left without repairs for too long,” Cadiz said noting that “Udecott (Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago) will conduct a structural survey of Mille Fleurs, then we will know what to do. It can be salvaged and in the short space of time we will see Mille Fleurs return to its original magnificence.”
Ambard’s House is privately-owned by the Roodals family and is also in dire need of repairs.
Stollmeyers Castle, now owned by the State is under repairs. Work began in March 2010 and is due for completion in March this year once funding is released on time Udecott officials on site told Newsday. Once restoration is complete it will be handed over to the Ministry of Works.
Tenders to contractors for the restoration of the nearby Whitehall, first official office of Prime Minister Eric Williams are due for advertising during the first quarter of this year. Some work had been done on it in recent years, but according to a Udecott official that work “was compromised.”
The Archbishop’s House, residence of the Head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of TT, is fairly well kept. In 1968, $147,000 was raised to carry out major repairs on the buildings. It is currently the home of Archbishop Joseph Harris.
The President’s House is also due for restorative works. In May 2010 a section of the roof of the President’s House caved in 2010. During this fiscal year’s budget debate in October 2012, Works Minister Emmanuel George announced that funding was allocated for the repairs to the President’s residence. Construction is yet to begin.
Applauding the tour, Michelle Celestine, spokesperson of Save the Magnificent Seven, a sub-group of the Citizens for Conservation (CC) told Newsday it was time that Government pay some interest in the buildings. “Government after government have sat by and let them fall into disrepair. It is a disgrace that in (TT) we have tourists seeing the buildings - works of art and beauty, constructed by skilled nationals, falling apart.”
Once restored, she said, “they could be put to meaningful purposes, as art galleries, and museums. They will create jobs and places of interest in our capital city.”
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Caption. Past glory. Whitehall, the Office of the Prime Minister, in its glory days. Whitehall is now one of several landmark buildings around the Queens Park Savannah in urgent need of repair.