The Magnificent Seven stand on the western side of the Queen’s Park Savannah. Built at the turn of the twentieth century, these seven stately homes are some of the most recognisable architectural icons in Port of Spain. And sadly, they may soon stand alone. Nicholas Laughlin writes about the loss of the city’s architectural gems:
We’ve seen this happen so many times before. Just in recent years we’ve lost the Lee House on St. Clair Avenue, Bagshot House in Maraval, the Union Club on Independence Square, Coblentz House in St. Ann’s, and numerous smaller gingerbread houses all over the city. Just a couple months ago, the big orange Pierre house on the Roxy roundabout disappeared, after years of neglect. The Trestrail Building on Broadway, with its cool, understated Corinthian columns, was bulldozed to build another yet office tower.
Standing just south of the Magnificent Seven is another house of comparable grandeur. Built in 1904 for C.E.H. Boissiere, the Boissiere House stands is an architectural gem. From saveboissierehouse.org:
The house at 12 Queen’s Park West is a particularly fine example of late Victorian creole “gingerbread” architecture, with elaborate wooden fretwork and a beautifully proportioned “Chinese pavilion” with a pagoda-style roof and painted glass windows. Inside, the main rooms have gesso-work ceilings and fine wood panelling. Though it is a relatively small house, it has a wealth of detail typical of far more elaborate mansions.
The house is also remarkably intact. The family that has owned it for 104 years has made very few modifications to the structure or to its main outbuildings. The degree of preservation is rare, and the layout of the house tells us a great deal about domestic life circa 1904.
Finally, because of its prominent position on Queen’s Park West, the Boissiere House is a major Port of Spain landmark, familiar to hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors. It is a crucial part of the urban landscape.
After being kept in the family for 104 years, the house is now up for sale. The asking price is $10 million US. Given its prime location, it’s likely that anyone who buys the house will be interested not in the house, but in the property upon which it stands. While the current owners do not want to see the house destroyed, they are unable to continue to preserve it. The National Trust has produced a listing of 25 buildings that will be legally protected from destruction (a list that includes the Boissiere house), and the list has been approved by Cabinet, but it has not cleared all the bureaucratic and legal hurdles. So for now, the house has no protection.
A website has been set up to save the Boissiere house, and two Facebooks groups have been started for that purpose. An online petition has been set up, calling on the government to do something to save the house. Calling on the government to “save” the house is rather nebulous; the website offers a range of possible solutions:
Cabinet approval of the National Heritage List would be a major step, since the house would enjoy immediate legal protection. In the longer term, if the house passes into the hands of another private owner, it must be with the understanding that any commercial use will not damage its fabric. It could be bought and restored by a generous corporate citizen, or pass into public hands via a non-profit trust. There are many tried and tested models for preserving historic structures while generating income from them. If the right agreement could be made between the present owners and future buyer, overseen by the National Trust, the Boissiere House could serve as an example of how to preserve Trinidad and Tobago’s architectural legacy for the future.
The image copyright Nicholas Laughlin and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 generic license. The original image.
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