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.