A House With a Story to Tell

ViewI took these pictures more than 10 years ago during one of my trips to Haiti.  As soon as I got there, I went looking for the gingerbread houses of Port-au-Prince.  I knew that they were in a terrible state of disrepair, and I wanted to do something about it.  My love affair with these turn-of-the-century houses started when I was a little girl growing up in Haiti. I still remember watching a documentary where Albert Mangonès, a renowned architect of that time, was talking about the historical significance of these houses.  Those were the golden years of the historic preservation movement in Haiti, and they had a tremendous impact on my impressionable young mind.

Detail As you can see, some of these houses were still standing in all their magnificence. This one in particular caught my eyes. While I was taking the pictures, a young man, who seemed to live there, approached me and said: “Do you know the story of this house?”  There was pride in his voice and I knew right then and there that there was still hope. As long as there were people who loved these houses, they would eventually find the resources to preserve them.

copy2This house was built in 1914 by Leon Mathon, a well-known Haitian architect of that time. He built it for  Tancrède Auguste, a successful business man who eventually became president of Haiti. Many of these turn-of-the-century houses are located in the neighborhoods of Bois Verna, Turgeau and Pacot.  This one is located in Bois Verna: 46 Ave Lamartinière.  I chose this house to be featured in the My City my Love Project because of its historical significance. It is reminiscent of an era long gone, where the city of Port-au-Prince seemed to have known a burst of urban renewal. Its mere presence reminds us that our old neighborhoods have known better days and that with some serious preservation and urban revitalization strategies we could give them a fraction of their past glory.

To go back to my story, I smiled at the young man because I knew the story of this house, although I always wondered: if those walls could speak, what wonderful stories would they tell us…