Repairs ruin rare gable
THE INTRICATE, curvilinear, Dutch architectural gable atop Bridgetown’s oldest building is no more.
And the loss of the original masonry work on the structure, which dates back to 1650, has upset and saddened one of the island’s leading authorities on Barbados’ architectural heritage.
The elegant building at the corner of James and Lucas Streets, opposite the former home of Police Headquarters, harks back to a time where there was a bitter trade war between the island’s colonial master Britain and its trade adversary Holland.
According to Dr Karl Watson, its style is so typically Dutch that it would fit right in, should it be transplanted to Amsterdam, Holland, or Willemstad, Curacao.
But today, after having withstood the numerous fires that ravaged early Bridgetown, the building that was the lynchpin of the island’s bid to have its capital city and The Garrison listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has lost what made it stood out.
Workmen, who have been refurbishing the building for about a week now, have cemented the curvilinear gables that can still be seen under the mortar.
“Two words – authenticity and integrity,” said Watson, who spoke to the Sunday Sun after witnessing the destruction of the building’s quoins and parapet a week ago.
“In my view, what is being done is due to ignorance. It is erroneous and it has seriously compromised the authenticity and integrity of the building,” he said.
Watson explained the building could be seen as a metaphor for, and as a monument to, the battle between the Dutch and British in the 17th century for trade supremacy.
“It is the only tangible survivor in the entire Caribbean of that commercial conflict and should be preserved for its age, its stylistic quality and for the historical significance,” Watson revealed.
The professor added that he had spoken to the building’s new owner and had pleaded with him to stop the work, after pointing out the historical significance of the three-storey building.
He said the owner explained the roof needed replacing since there were cracks in it.
“In all fairness to the owner,” said Watson, who stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity and not as president of the Barbados National Trust, “I don’t believe the owner understands the significance and importance of the structure and this then begs the question: what is the agency responsible to ensure that any renovations are carried out within the guidelines set out by UNESCO.
“What they have done is not compatible with the historical significance of the building, but I do not think the owner or workmen set out to destroy it. I simply think they do not understand,” the eminent professor said.
This, said Watson, highlighted one of the loopholes coming out of the island’s capital city and its Garrison being listed as a World Heritage Site.
“I think one of the very first things we should have done, is that every single stakeholder within the World Heritage Site should have been informed as to what it is UNESCO wants preserved so that you would not have this kind of thing happening,” he said.
“We have to realize that what is given can be taken away, especially if you don’t manage it properly,” Watson cautioned.
Meanwhile, in a letter sent to the Sunday Sun, Professor Henry Fraser, another eminent historian, condemned the action.
“The damage done in the name of repairs is the result of a combination of [a] lack of understanding, disinterest and many other factors, including the failure of adequate mechanisms for protection of our valuable built treasures – both before and after our inscription as a World Heritage Site,” he wrote.
“We, as a nation, must rise and accept our responsiblity to protect our patrimony. It is our lifeblood, especially in today’s world where our sun, sand and sea will no longer be our salvation,” wrote the chairman of the Barbados National Trust’s Sentinel Committee.