Lebanon News

Kettaneh Group in talks to save Maalouf house

The house embodies the art deco style of the 1920s and 1930s. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Built in the 1920s, the three-story Medawar Villa in Badaro, also known as the Maalouf House since the second half of the 20th century, is facing destruction as a mega project threatens to see it replaced with a 22-story high skyscraper.

But despite the Culture Ministry’s approval for the destruction of the building, the construction firm behind the project has recently agreed to hold talks on how to preserve the historic edifice of the property, which was once the residence of renowned Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf.

A mixture of Italian and coastal Mediterranean architecture embodied in the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s, the building has hosted a number of key important meetings between Lebanese politicians during the years before and after Lebanon’s independence in 1943, according to sources who have good knowledge of the building’s history.

In 1960, 11-year-old Maalouf, who was recently the first Lebanese to be inducted as an academy immortal into France’s Academie Francaise, and his family moved into the second floor of the building in Badaro.

Although Maalouf left Beirut in the mid-1970s, his office in the building remained with the family in Lebanon until last year, when the entire 1,600 square meters land was purchased by the Kettaneh Group construction firm.

Raja Noujaim, a civil society activist and a member of the Association for the Protection of the Lebanese Heritage, said that the Maalouf House is an icon that should be preserved both because of its architectural value and in honor of Maalouf.

“If the French Lebanese in Paris can do a fundraising to building a Lebanese cultural center there, why can’t we do the same here? This special building could be transformed into a Lebanese cultural center,” Noujaim added.

While Noujaim says that construction workers have already started some work in the building in recent weeks, a deal is still possible with the Kettaneh Group to preserve it and turn into a cultural center.

“There are several ways for preserving the building, the area of the space that the Kettaneh own now allow them to have their own project side by side with the Maalouf House,” he told The Daily Star.

Noujaim also said that some indirect talks have been held between the Maalouf family, civil society activists and the construction firm.

“During the meeting between activists and one of Kettaneh Group’s contractors, the firm agreed to give us some time to come up with a proposal for solving the issue,” he said.

“A deal is still possible, there can be a solution if there is time, and this is the least that can be done for this building.”

Meanwhile, Roya Kanaan, Maalouf’s cousin, who is in Beirut, is holding a number of meetings in November to find investors who would be interested in buying the land from the Kettaneh Group.

“This building can be a symbol of the country’s culture, we want to find investors to buy this back,” she said.

Kanaan, who will hold a meeting with the French Cultural Institute Friday, said that finding $10 million in a short period of time is not an easy task.

“That is why we will ask for more time tomorrow... It will be great if the firm agrees to team up with us to preserve this historic building.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 09, 2012, on page 4.




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