Make sure you download this blog’s iOS app to stay up to date! (Link).
Almost a year ago, the story of Beirut’s “Red House,” near Bliss in Hamra, was spreading like wild-fire. Most of us had taken the place’s existence for granted, as we walked by it on our way to university or on our excursions around the area.
But back then, the iconic “Red House,” which housed Ras Beirut’s Rebeiz family for generations, was under threat from some parts of that same family who had inherited the house and wanted to use the plot on which it existed to build yet another high-rise.
Luckily for us, the Ministry of Culture, through former minister Rony Araygi, responded to the pleas of those who advocated for the house to be preserved for its cultural value and placed the location on its list of protected sites around Beirut.
That changed in February.
For absolutely no justifiable reason whatsoever, new Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury decided that the house wasn’t worth being a protected site in Beirut and, through the strike of a pen, removed it from the list of protected buildings around the capital with decree #32 on February 3rd, 2017, with it becoming valid when it was published in Lebanon’s Official Gazette on March 16th.
I wonder, who are we supposed to entrust with our culture and heritage if the Ministry of Culture couldn’t care less about the history of the country it’s supposed to be preserving? I mean, if a house that is as old and as preserved as the Red House can’t find its way onto a governmental protected list, then what’s left for sites whose history can’t advocate for them as much?
Is it maybe because the current owners are probably friends with PM Hariri and lobbied him into getting his Minister of Culture to do this?
As a reminder, the “Red House” is more than 300 years old. It was the beacon of one of Ras Beirut’s main matriarchs throughout the 19th and 20th century. It had a pivotal role in the politics of the area for more than 5 decades. It was the house of Ras Beirut’s mokhtar for over 50 years. It was where Louis Armstrong had dropped by for a visit during his Beirut stay.
The owners cite family feuds in the struggle over the “Red House.” But the truth is they don’t want to take over the property simply to kick out their family member who was living there, which is something they’ve accomplished months ago. They simply want to destroy the property.
In fact, Michel Rebeiz, now 94, who grew up there and whose mother was one of the more important matriarchs of Ras Beirut, still goes there every morning to check on his childhood home before it is no more. Neighbors around the area tell of him leaving with his eyes swollen as he laments what all of his history is turning into.
The truth is, however, that the “Red House” was never protected. Even when the Ministry of Culture labeled it as a protected site, sources say that attempts to demolish it were still underway. In fact, the following pictures were reportedly taken BEFORE the new minister had allowed the demolition but before:
So much for governmental protection.
Following its designation as a protected site, police officers from the Hbeich precinct did a surveil of the place. Their report is invaluable to show the illegal activities that have taken place on the property even when it was under governmental protection. Unfortunately, as regular citizens we cannot access such information.
The good news is that it’s not too late, yet. We can still get our Ministry of Culture to overturn their updated decision and to protect the “Red House” once again. The collective history of our capital and the landmarks that still stand testimony to it is more important than the money some people can make through backroom deals and under-the-table agreements.
Beirut is being destroyed every single day by contractors and politicians as well as people who couldn’t care less about anything other than their bottom line. The solution for such entities is a strong governance that puts them in their spot. It’s high time we get that, and the city we deserve. The “Red House” is our history. It’s horrible that even our history can’t survive our current corruption.