by Francis Quamina Farrier
RECENTLY, while going past the City Hall on the Avenue of the Republic in Georgetown, someone called my attention to a chunk of the building which had fallen off. A portion of about three feet was lying on the ground where it had fallen off. No one at City Hall thought it prudent to have it removed immediately.
It was there for how long, I do not know, advertising to the public that the end of this iconic building is fast approaching.
In all fairness to the present Georgetown City Council, the deteriorating condition of City Hall goes back over two decades. This is an issue which I have raised with then-Mayor Hamilton Green and other city mothers and city fathers at City Hall many times for almost 15 years.
This is an issue which I have published on Tony Vieira’s The Evening News, my own Tape4Stories and Farrier’s Friday Feature on television, regularly for about 15 years. My return to this subject today, is because more and more individuals are becoming very concerned for the future of the City Hall Building, and fear that we may lose it, the way that the citizens of New Amsterdam have lost that iconic wooden Public Hospital Building, which graced the skyline of New Amsterdam for over a century.
Change is inevitable, but change should always be for the better. Guyana’s wooden heritage is slowly, but somewhat surely, disappearing and being replaced with concrete structures- some of which many citizens believe are concrete monstrosities. Will the Georgetown City Hall disappear forever, and be replaced with an ugly concrete structure?
This issue sometimes become very emotional and heart-rending for those who really love our many classical wooden structures, such as the Georgetown City Hall, the Red House, the official residence of the Prime Minister, the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, the Demerara Mutual Building, churches such as the St. Andrew’s Kirk and the Smith’s Memorial Congregational Church, the St. Phillip’s Anglican Church, and of course, the iconic St. George’s Cathedral, and many others, such as the Curator’s Building, located at the entrance of the Botanical Gardens in Georgetown. I classify that century-old structure as the cutest little wooden building in Guyana.
I have always had an interest in Guyana’s Wooden Heritage, and so when the Red House was in a terrible state of disrepair, almost tumbling down, some years ago, I took an unusual line of action as a journalist. With the permission of the Headmistress of the Kingston Community High School on Barrack Street, I took six students around the corner on High Street to the Red House and asked them to say what they would like to see happen to the building.
All of them, speaking on-camera, said that they wanted to see it repaired. Asked about the colour, three wanted to see it re-painted in red, while the others choose white, blue and even green. Fortunately, whether it was as a result of my feature article, which was aired on television on the Evening News, or whether plans were already afoot, the Red House was later repaired and repainted (RED, of course), and is now serving as The Cheddi Jagan Research Centre.
In more recent years, the St. George’s Cathedral was in a terrible state of disrepair; especially the northern wall. There were a few portions which had fallen off, and gaping holes were visible on the northern side. Quite a number of citizens expressed their concerns over the declining condition of the tallest wooden structure in the world. However, repairs began earlier this year, and the building is now in a much better state.
Another iconic wooden structure which was dearly admired by many people was the former New Amsterdam Public Hospital.
That beautiful building was evacuated after the new hospital was constructed in north New Amsterdam at the foot of the Canje Bridge and opposite the Fort Canje Mental Asylum. The plan was to have the old hospital building converted into a hostel for nurses, a nursing school and a dispensary, according to then-Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, who had made that announcement to the media.
I kept checking on the progress over time and realised that after about a year, nothing was happening. So I decided to approach the Minister about the condition of that iconic wooden structure. He reiterated his previous statement about plans for the building. That, in fact, never happened; instead, vandals were not only sleeping in the building but were demolishing it one board at a time. Now, that building which was once the pride of New Amsterdam, dominating the town’s skyline for over a century, no longer exists; it is gone forever. Tall grass now grows where it once proudly stood as an example of classic wooden architecture.
Some years ago, Mayor Hamilton Green of Georgetown, held a civic meeting at the National Library in Georgetown, for the purpose of soliciting from the public, suggestions for the renaming of some streets in Georgetown. At that public meeting, the issue of the declining condition of the City Hall building was brought up, and suggestions given for its restoration. Obviously, nothing was done, and the building continues to deteriorate.
The question now is whether the Georgetown City Hall is destined for a similar and inglorious demise as the New Amsterdam Public Hospital. That would break the hearts of the many citizens who love our Wooden Heritage; especially those as attractive as the City Hall, which was designed by the European Catholic Priest, Fr. Ignatius Scholes, SJ., who lived and worked in British Guiana for many years. He died here and is buried in the Le Repentir Cemetery.
Incidentally, the original cost for the construction of Georgetown’s iconic City Hall was the princely sum of $54, 826.62. Of course, that was way back in the 1890s, when so many things around the world cost so much less than is the case today
While there are some citizens who prefer to see all the wooden buildings torn down and replaced with concrete structures, no matter how ugly, there are many citizens who have the view that “Wood is Good”, and would like to see our wooden buildings maintained, and our Wooden Heritage preserved. The future and history of the City Hall now lie in the balance.