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Sunday, April 20, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Colonial gems in T&T
Photography captures a moment in time. These buildings in your communities capture a moment of history. One neither has to be an architect or historian to appreciate the beauty of these colonial structures or their historic importance, and while some may view these as reminders of an imperial age that should be done away with, to me these structures, for good or bad, are the backbone of our historic and social development, each telling its own story.
Trinidad’s signature architectural style is that of the gingerbread house—delicate wooden filigree, jalousie windows, peaked roofs, dormers, and a welcoming gallery. There was no corner of the island where gingerbread style could not be found, since it adapted equally well to the stately mansions of the planters and merchants as it did to the humble cottages of labourers and tradesmen. George Brown, a Scottish architect who came to Trinidad in 1880 was the genius behind this movement.
Brown pioneered a system of mass manufacturing the elements of the gingerbread architecture, and he drew on inspirations from French and English schools of thought. These gems he created are synonymous with our national identity, yet they are rapidly disappearing from the landscape. They remind us of a simpler and more idyllic time when family, comunity and dignity were ideals to be cherished.
Originally a sugar estate founded in 1786, Woodbrook was laid out in cheap housing lots around 1899 and became a respectable suburb for a new middle class that was emerging. Those who belonged to this group strove to emulate the finer graces of the ruling elite, and this reflected in the quaint houses, which though small in size, often exhibited the neat elegance of the gingerbread style to full effect. Woodbrook is now the premiere liming spot for Trinis, but it remains a living museum of architecture as well.
Like Woodbrook but from an earlier era, Belmont grew out of a district of colonial plantations to become a middle-class bedroom settlement of Port-of-Spain in the mid to late 1800s. It was distinguished by a strong sense of community spirit and its own unique identity where the need for colonial respectability was mixed with powerful West African traditions that persevered in the upper reaches of the valley.
Many of Belmont’s beautiful old homes have survived in remarkably good condition, which is a state of being that will endure since the residents of the area are keen on preservation of their heritage.
This busy thoroughfare which became a dual carriageway to Cocorite in the 1930s under a young engineer named Ranjit Kumar, once ended just past the Capital Plaza Hotel’s current location. There was a beach here with a small, unique village called Corbeaux Town, because of the presence of black vultures that congregated when the fishing boats came in. By the 1920s the former fishing community had become a middle-class neighbourhood, exhibiting some very fine examples of colonial architecture, some of which still survive.
The picturesque Corbeaux Town of old, however, was a source of inspiration for many great artists including Michel Jean Cazabon (1813-88) and Jackie Hinkson, who grew up here in one of those old houses.
In 1873 Karl Boos arrived from Germany to take up a clerkship in a firm owned by his countrymen in Port-of-Spain. Just a dozen years later, through hard work and sacrifice, he acquired ownership of J N Harriman and Co, where he had moved as a manager and which still survives as one of the oldest businesses in the island.
Cipriani Boulevard was just a broad gravelled road laid out on Tranquillity Land when Karl erected his spacious and dignified residence, which was to remain in his family for four generations until it was sold and became the famous liming and dining spot, Jenny’s on the Boulevard. Karl’s granddaughter, Olga Mavrogordato was a historian and was instrumental in preserving much of our heritage which might have been lost.
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