The story of the Pink House

The story of the Pink House

Executive Magazine - - Contents - By Na­bila Rah­hal

As in all his­toric cities across the globe, there are cer­tain ar­chi­tec­tural struc­tures in Beirut, such as the Egg in down­town or the old Ma­nara in Ain El Mrais­seh, that have be­come land­marks and a ma­jor part of the Le­banese col­lec­tive mem­ory. Even as the city pro­gresses and de­vel­ops, th­ese build­ings should be pre­served, in one form or an­other, as part of our na­tional her­itage.

EX­HI­BI­TION IN THE PINK HOUSE

One such land­mark, at least ac­cord­ing to nearby res­i­dents, is the Pink House, sit­u­ated on a green hill just off Bliss Street and over­look­ing the Riyadi Club in Ma­nara. This house has long been fas­ci­nat­ing for tourists and Le­banese alike who of­ten pose for pho­tos in front of it on their walks along the Cor­niche.

Re­cently, the Pink House has been the sub­ject of doc­u­men­taries and ar­ti­cles dis­cussing its rich his­tory. It was thrust into the me­dia spot­light again in early Novem­ber with an ex­hi­bi­tion that Bri­tish artist Tom Young or­ga­nized in it, which ran un­til the end of De­cem­ber.

Young had done a sim­i­lar project in 2013, in “Villa Par­adiso” a her­itage home in Mar Mikhael. The house was be­ing ren­o­vated by the Feghali fam­ily, who had re­cently bought it and was won­der­ing what to use it for, when Young met them and sug­gested it be­come a cul­tural space, be­gin­ning with his ex­hi­bi­tion. Ever since, a num­ber of artis­tic events have been held in the villa.

The Rose House Ex­hi­bi­tion, as Young dubbed his show in the Pink House, was one of the few times in the last decade that this pri­vate res­i­dence was open to the gen­eral public. Hun­dreds flocked to see the house that had piqued their cu­rios­ity. Dur­ing an in­ter­view with Ex­ec­u­tive in late Novem­ber, Young es­ti­mated that more than 2,000 peo­ple vis­ited the ex­hi­bi­tion, with about 200 guests on the open­ing night alone.

A BRIEF BACK­GROUND

The Pink House, or La Mai­son Rose as it’s known among the fran­co­phone com­mu­nity, is no stranger to cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and events. The ground floor of the house

was built by Mo­hamad el Ar­dati as his hunt­ing lodge and he added the first and sec­ond floors in 1882. The house is ac­tu­ally a three story build­ing, and each level is a sep­a­rate apart­ment with no in­te­rior con­nec­tion be­tween them.

Young has re­searched the house’s his­tory and had ded­i­cated an en­tire room of his ex­hi­bi­tion to this sub­ject. He re­counts that half the Ar­dati fam­ily lived in the Pink House un­til 1959, af­ter which it was rented to no­table fig­ures in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can cul­tural at­taché and his fam­ily, the In­dian am­bas­sador to Le­banon and his fam­ily, and the Amer­i­can artist John Fer­ren who lived in the house un­til 1964.

THE KHAZENS MOVE IN

But it was Se­lim Khazen’s fam­ily who lived there the long­est, start­ing in 1964, and hence had the great­est ef­fect on its devel­op­ment. The Khazen fam­ily is one of Le­banon’s aris­to­cratic fam­i­lies and Se­lim, its pa­tri­arch, was a lawyer cred­ited with ini­ti­at­ing the devel­op­ment of the Faraya Mzaar ski re­sort on the land he owned in the area.

It was Sami, Se­lim’s son and a well known ar­chi­tect and artist in the 1960s, who came across the Pink House and fell in love with it, rent­ing it from the Ar­datis. He moved his par­ents onto the first floor, where the ex­hi­bi­tion took place last month, and re­designed the ground floor as his living space and stu­dio, do­ing such a good job with the de­sign that it was fea­tured in Ar­chi­tec­turalDigest ac­cord­ing to Young. The Khazens lived in the house, which be­came known as a cul­tural and artis­tic hub, and the par­ties the Khazens held drew the crème de la crème of Le­banese so­ci­ety.

With the on­set of the Civil War, the Khazens left the coun­try, save for Margo, Se­lim’s wife, who stayed — leav­ing only for a year in 1982 when the Is­raelis in­vaded Beirut and the house was badly dam­aged — and kept the doors open for guests from all over the world, says Young.

Af­ter the Civil War, in 1994, Margo be­came par­a­lyzed so Fayza, her only living off­spring (Sami and Hoda, the two other chil­dren of Margo and Se­lim, had passed away) re­turned from Paris to be with her. Aside from tak­ing care of her mother, Fayza con­tin­ued pro­mot­ing the fam­ily tra­di­tion of cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties through es­tab­lish­ing her own pub­lish­ing house, Ter­res du Liban, which re­leased cof­fee ta­ble books on the Le­vant and life in Le­banon.

Although Fayza kept the first floor of the house in rel­a­tively de­cent con­di­tion for her to live in, the ground and sec­ond floors were left to de­cay and the house be­gan to show its age.

NEW OWN­ERS TAKE OVER

Shortly be­fore Margo passed away in 2011 at the age of 94, the last re­main­ing son of the branch of the Ar­dati fam­ily who owned the house, Adel Ar­dati, passed away in Ger­many where he had lived al­most all his life. With no one left to in­herit the house, the fam­ily lawyer sold it to Hisham El Jaroudi, the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the Riyadi Club and a prom­i­nent ar­chi­tect with many projects across the city.

Fayza was asked to va­cate the house by Novem­ber 2014 in prepa­ra­tion for its new own­ers and it was dur­ing her last months there that she met the artist. Young says that he had been al­ways fas­ci­nated by the house and cu­ri­ous about who lived in it. Re­call­ing the day he met Fayza, Young says, “It was af­ter the Villa Par­adiso ex­hi­bi­tion and I was look­ing for a sim­i­lar project as I was sad at

leav­ing that Villa, and miss­ing it, af­ter hav­ing in­vested so much of my heart in it but in the end it’s not mine; maybe I sort of wanted to re­place it and I was a bit lost in my di­rec­tion. Early in April 2014, I was walk­ing down the Cor­niche with my wife Nour and we looked up and saw some [clothes] hang­ing on the bal­cony, so Nour sug­gested we try and find an en­trance and we found the back door and knocked.”

YOUNG PAINTS THE PINK HOUSE

So be­gan a fate­ful en­counter that led Fayza to in­vite Young to live in the Pink House and work on paint­ings de­pict­ing the fi­nal days of the house, with the idea of pre­serv­ing its mem­o­ries and show­ing its haunt­ing lone­li­ness as its fi­nal Khazen ten­ant pre­pared to move on. Young’s paint­ings are of the house it­self and sur­round­ing scenes, such as the Fer­ris wheel and the light­house, which are con­sid­ered part of Ma­nara’s her­itage.

Upon learn­ing that the house was bought by the pres­i­dent of the Riyadi Club, which is in close vicin­ity to the house, Young says he went down and talked to him, ask­ing his per­mis­sion to open the Pink House to the public for a two month ex­hi­bi­tion af­ter Fayza leaves, as well as cre­ative and ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, from teach­ing chil­dren art to host­ing AUB ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dents for dis­cus­sions.

Through th­ese two months and such events, Young says he was hop­ing to show Jaroudi that the house should be pre­served as a cul­tural cen­ter. “This is what art can do and this is my con­cept: that art can reach the high­est level of pow­er­ful in­di­vid­u­als and en­tice con­ver­sa­tion among them and work with them on sav­ing and pre­serv­ing th­ese her­itage places to make sure they stay for the whole city. It should be open for every­body as public spa­ces are be­ing erad­i­cated at an alarm­ing rate in Beirut and in a di­vided so­ci­ety, we need cul­tural spa­ces where peo­ple of all kinds can mix.”

THE HOUSE RE­MAINS

Jaroudi says he is in­tend­ing to ren­o­vate and pre­serve the house. “The house, which is a sig­nif­i­cant part of our city’s his­tory, is cur­rently in a bad con­di­tion. I want to pre­serve it and re­store it to its for­mer glory as a Beirut land­mark and part of its her­itage. It is my duty to­wards my city,” says Jaroudi, adding that his ini­tial plan, af­ter the restora­tion, is to live in it with his fam­ily, but that he is also con­sid­er­ing hav­ing a floor ded­i­cated to cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties.

Mean­while, Young is try­ing to pre­pare a team who could help Jaroudi cre­ate a cul­tural cen­ter, if he de­cides to do so. Young him­self, who had sold most of the Rose House Ex­hi­bi­tion paint­ings half­way through the ex­hi­bi­tion (with prices rang­ing be­tween $500 and $1,500), plans to take a break be­fore at­tempt­ing to em­bark on yet an­other project in a “key build­ing which ev­ery­one knows and is in the city cen­ter.”

At a time when her­itage homes are be­ing de­stroyed at a break­neck speed to make room for the more lu­cra­tive high rises, it is heart­en­ing to know that the Pink House will be spared such a fate. Whether Young gets his wish for the house to be per­ma­nently open to the public re­mains to be seen, but it seems that the Le­banese will not lose their land­mark view dur­ing their strolls by the sea.

The Pink House has been thrust back into the spot­light

There are hopes that the Pink House may be­come a cul­tural cen­ter

Tom Young, host of the Rose House Ex­hi­bi­tion

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