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Activists mourn demolition of art deco building
BEIRUT: Demolition work on an art deco house in Ashrafieh started Friday to the dismay of heritage activists.
“The building has a rare, four-sided vaulted ground floor, beautiful art deco interior and exterior ornaments and hand-made Italian floor tiles,” Georgia Tarraf from conservation group Save Beirut Heritage told The Daily Star.The two-story building, classified as Plot 165, possesses many original period features but is not protected by the Culture Ministry, falling just outside of Beirut’s designated heritage conservation area.
The protective zoning line stops at the Ashrafieh St. Dimitri Cemetery, some 100 meters short of the building, which was being stripped of its internal fittings ahead of the full demolition, expected next week.
The site has also been deemed suitable for demolition by a recently disbanded Culture Ministry committee, which ruled that the building had “lost its architectural value.”
Save Beirut Heritage, however, disputes this, insisting that the building’s true value lies in the interior.
“Just because it is not seen from the outside is no excuse to knock it down, you can open it up and it is also possible to add two additional stories to the house to increase its value,” said Tarraf.
The demolition permit only allows for the destruction of the exterior of the building but does not list any of the interior features.
But demolition supervisor George Younes maintains that the interiors belong to the owners of the property.
“The owner has the right to do anything with it,” said Younes. “All usable materials and the mosaic are being transferred to another new building in Ashrafieh where they will be used again for interior decoration.
“We have moved everything that can be put to use and we are not throwing them away,” he said.
The row is the latest in a long string of feuds between the construction sector and conservation activists who insist not enough is being done to preserve the few remaining historical buildings in Beirut.
The two sides, however, have joined forces in condemning the lack of government guidelines on the matter, which they say is exasperating the situation and causing unnecessary hassle.
“Neither the municipalities nor the government is playing its role in the country,” said Younes. “If you want to save Beirut’s heritage, there should first be a government that can have new laws and legislations in this matter.” – Additional reporting by Van Meguerditchian