My Childhood Dream House

When I was little, I used to play a little game called “that’s my house.” It wasn’t so much a game, I guess — whenever I drove past a beautiful home, I’d declare, “that’s my house!” I’m sure you might have played the same game whenever you drove through nice neighborhoods as a young’un. Every Sunday when we drove around the Queen’s Park Savannah on the way to All Saints Church, we passed “my house” — the Boissiere House, popularly known as the Gingerbread House. It’s the most fanciful fairytale of a house I’ve ever seen. Now it’s up for sale, and in the opinion of local activists, it’s also in danger of being destroyed forever. Editor and writer Nicholas Laughlin has penned an e mail alert that is being circulated among Trinidadians worldwide. It says in part:

There are so many things to be anxious or angry about in this country these days–crime, corruption, smelters, steel mills, dolphin-slaughter, traffic–that the fate of an old house may seem trivial.

But 12 Queen’s Park West, the Boissiere House, is not just an old house. It is a gorgeous example of the late Victorian gingerbread style that was once typical of Port of Spain. It is a major city landmark, familiar to tens–even hundreds–of thousands, and known to many simply as “the Gingerbread House”. It is the ultimate creole house, part Amerindian ajoupa, part French chateau, part Chinese pagoda, built with the sweat and labor of forgotten ancestors. It is a national architectural treasure.

It is also, I am afraid, in peril.

Why? Because after remaining in the Boissiere family for 104 years, since it was built in 1904, it is now being offered for sale, at a price of TT$50 million. Any private buyer willing to pay that will almost certainly bulldoze it and build an office block or posh condominiums to recoup their investment.

$50 Million TT? Damn. Newsday sets the price at $63 million TT, or $10 million US. It’s times like these when I regret my complete lack of aptitude in math or science or business… you know, capabilities that lead to professions that make loads of money. You don’t get into this writing biz thinking you’re gonna make enough to buy $10 million dollar houses, that’s for sure. Hmph.

Every time I go home — yes, even though I’ve been living in Miami for a decade now, Trinidad will always be home to me — I notice the changes. Another elegant, crumbling architectural oddity razed to the ground, its legacy disrespected with what stands in its place — another gleaming cookie cutter modern structure. So many of the houses that I wanted so desperately to claim as “mine” as a wishful child have been demolished.

From that e mail that I mentioned earlier, Nicholas Laughlin revealed “We’ve seen this happen so many times before. Just in recent years we’ve lost the Lee House on St. Clair Avenue, Bagshot House in Maraval, the Union Club on Independence Square, Coblentz House in St. Ann’s, and numerous smaller gingerbread houses all over the city. Just a couple months ago, the big orange Pierre house on the Roxy roundabout disappeared, after years of neglect.”

That last one hurt. That big orange house is in my dreams sometimes. I haven’t been home since it was destroyed, and it sucks to know that it’s gone. In all my years, that house never gleamed. It was never as beautiful as it could have been. It always had a cloud of neglect over it. But I dreamed of owning it and restoring it to the glory it never seemed to have. Ugh. Sucks to know that it’s gone.

I’m sure this rambling remembrance rings a bell with you readers who aren’t from Trinidad and have no idea what these landmarks mean. This is a familiar story all over the world. Maybe it’s happened in your own hometown, old things are pushed aside, new things take their place. And we’re all supposed to loooove the new things, and forget the meaning and history of the old things. I wish I could do what genius makeup artist Billy B has done — he went back to his home town of Aberdeen and just bought up like twenty houses. Now he’s spending the time to refurbish them and make them beautiful again. (On a total side note, I interviewed Billy B. recently, and it was AMAZING! Such a sweet man. A LOT more on that very, very soon).

The Bookmann lamented this more poetically than I — only we to blame for a Capital with no character. There’s a petition to sign in the hopes that the government acquires and restores the house as a museum of architecture, itself being its chief exhibit. That’s a beautiful idea, but I distinctly recall the condition of the current national museum in Trinidad. Dismal. In dire need of updating and expansion and vision. I don’t have high hopes for the government in this case. I do think private, profit-making enterprise could step up and show some ingenuity here.

I hope some rich benefactor steps in and saves the Gingerbread House. I hope its someone with $10 million US to buy it, and another 10 to refurbish it, bring it up to modern standards, and maintain its dignity. If it doesn’t become part of some new family’s proud legacy, I hope the new owners of the Gingerbread House cherish it for its quirkiness and preserve the building’s structure. I hope it doesn’t become an office, or a government bureau with wasted potential a la Knowsley.

In my humble opinion, the building could make an amazing location for a high end boutique hotel, with a fabulous restaurant on the ground floor. If I had the cash, that’s what I’d do. You’d be able to rent a room in the Gingerbread House, and it would be known for its amazing Sunday brunches, natural fruit smoothies, and big luscious salads. Set up a stage for live music, and have a different theme every night, soca on Saturday, reggae Sunday, jazz Tuesday, you get the idea. Lord knows Trinidad has enough talented live acts seeking an audience. Have an affordable happy hour. Rent the place out for themed fairytale weddings, fancy birthdays, and corporate events.

I’m getting away with myself here, so I’ll just say this. I hope whoever winds up with the keys to my childhood dream at the very least, makes it a bed and breakfast so I can come and stay there just once. Just so I can pretend that it’s actually my house.

Click here for the petition, and click here for a series of photos of the intricate details of the Gingerbread House — fretwork, stained glass, gables and all. And tell me who could have the heart to destroy all that hard work and history.

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Comments

  1. Mrs.Mckinzie says:

    Hey Bella,I was just complaining to my husband yesterday about how Baltimore City is doing to much building in the Inner Harbor area of the city.To me it seems as though they are trying to compete with New York with all of these luxury apartments,and it is starting to take away from the beauty of the area.I love the fact that they are rebuilding the inner city ,because it was a much needed change,but in my own opinion they should not build anything else at the Inner Harbor.I moved about an hour away from “home” 8 years ago,but i still care about what happens in Baltimore.

  2. I really like older victorians with the stained and leaded glass and trim like your house. I even had a gingerbread house that I fell in love with when I lived in California. It wasn’t meant to be (between my work and small kid, there would have been no time to restore it to its full glory), but it was not about to be destroyed. I think it is so sad when homes with this level of workmanship are lost forever in pursuit of the land that lies beneath them.

  3. Bella….I signed the petition. I have always loved the Gingerbread House too. There have to be resources available to restore that house.

  4. They just don’t make houses like that anymore! What a work of art. How exquisite would that be, to come home to something so carefully crafted, your own personal sculpture-dwelling.

  5. Frances Williams-Lee says:

    In the UK buildings older than XXXX are listed and cannot be demolished, altered or added to without planning permission. In Trinidad is there no official body authorised to place a preservation order on buildings of a certain age or of historic and/or architectual interest?

  6. Yes I also signed the petition and emailed Nicholas’ email to as many people as I could. It’s inthe Newsday again today and I am trying to get it into Express and The Westerly.

    The Magnificent houses around the Queen’s park Savannah are falling apart and no one is doing anything! Here’s hoping we make a difference with this and the rest of these lovely old houses also get saved.

    Thanks for taking this international.

  7. Mrs.Mckinzie says:

    When I was growing up in the 80′s in Baltimore City there was’nt many homes that I wanted to pretend to be my own in the ghetto.This is why i’m writing about the Inner Harbor ,because that was the most beautiful place around to me.It must’ve been nice to grow up around these beautiful homes Bella.

  8. hello bella, i too signed the petition. i had the opportunity to live and work in Port of Spain several years ago when i did an internship at CAREC. i used to walk around Queen’s park Savannah, and admire the architecture of the Boisserie House and the Magnificent Seven. what a beautiful part of the city, with truly wonderful works of art (and by works of art, i mean the structures themselves). it was my favorite part of the city! the issue of people not appreciating the beauty of their surroundings is certainly not reserved to Trinidad. i sincerely hope that everyone can get together and save these beautiful structures so that they may be enjoyed by future generations of Trinis, as well as visitors and admirers of art, from around the world. Godspeed!

  9. Bella, the same thing is going on in St. Martin. The French side is not so bad because there are zoning laws, they use Euros and there are property taxes. The Dutch side used American dollars (so it’s cheaper for Americans to buy vacation property), has no zoning or taxes. I swear that side of the island is going to be nothing but concrete if the building doesn’t slow down.

    The traffic is getting worse, crime is skyrocketting, and the island’s flavor is turning into some kind of Vegas b.s. It’s sad.

  10. i have similar/parallel feelings regarding some of the gentrification projects in Brooklyn because “Manhattan is so five minutes ago”?

  11. They pave paradise, and put up a parking lot. Joni Mitchell said it all, and we still aren’t listening. Do we really need more luxury condos and cookie cutter suburban neighborhoods where every home layout is the same? Right down to the landscaping?

    *sigh*

  12. Esteban Agosto Reid says:

    Yes Hoorah,they pave paradise,and put up a parking lot!!Hopefully, in this particular case the Boisserie House will be saved.RESPECT!!

  13. Wow, now I won’t get a chance to see this building in person…what a bummer. I hope the Boissiere House can be saved for it’s beauty and rich history.

  14. I want to go photograph the house this weekend. It CANNOT be sold to someone who is going to tear it down. But i have a feeling that little house has big energy and a huge spirit and that along with the incredible architecture has made so many people fall in love with it.
    I like to think of it as ‘ The little house that CAN’.
    I didn’t realise u were trini! look ting! lol

  15. I was just in T&T this summer, visiting home. I was shocked at how rundown they’ve allowed the homes around the Savannah especially since there is a lot of development in and around Maraval. I honestly thought this was declared landmark property and all buyers had to restore the homes to maintain it’s heritage. The University looks awful. It was sad for me, primarily because I took my children for the first time to see Trinidad and Port-of-Spain, particularly the Queen’s Savannah because it’s the best and I had so many wonderful memories walking around and going through the park. I guess with so many Trinis leaving it’s the developers moving in. It’s the catch-22, not enough economy to sustain us in Trinidad and not enough earnings in Europe and US to go back and take care of what’s ours.

  16. FYI – & Updates

    1. National Trust advertised it’s intention to list house.
    2. Erica Williams, daughter of founding PNM Prime Minister Eric William (whose Mother is was a Boissiere) has asked the current PNM Governemnt to house the Eric Williams collection in the house & open up house to the public.

    Eric’s mother is descended from the Count De Boissiere. The Count’s direct male descendant known as John Boissiere had a relationship with a slave called Ma Zu Zule had a relationship & he gave her the house as a token of his love.

  17. Sorry..meant “its intention..)

  18. Hi, my mother is a Bossiere, I have been into it many times while my mothers Aunts still lived there. It is a fab place and if I had the money would by it in a heartbeat even though I no longer live in Trinidad. Whoever does buy it please let me know if you plan to tear it down because there is one little childhood memory in there that I would really love to have. It deserves to be loved and restored, not torn down.

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  1. [...] “When I was little, I used to play a little game called “that’s my house.” It wasn’t so much a game, I guess — whenever I drove past a beautiful home, I’d declare, “that’s my house!” I’m sure you might have played the same game whenever you drove through nice neighborhoods as a young’un. Every Sunday when we drove around the Queen’s Park Savannah on the way to All Saints Church, we passed “my house” — the Boissiere House, popularly known as the Gingerbread House. It’s the most fanciful fairytale of a house I’ve ever seen. And it’s up for sale, and in the opinion of local activists, it’s also in danger of being destroyed forever….” [Read original article] [...]

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