FOLLOWING the demolition of historical landmark site McLeod House in Chaguanas more than two weeks ago, an NGO which deals with conservation, the International Council on Monuments and Sites Trinidad and Tobago (ICOMOS), is calling on Government to provide incentives to private owners to prevent further landmarks from being destroyed.
"The very recent example of the lack of support by Government and its representative the National Trust, and with neither listing nor tax incentives, is the destruction of the McLeod House in Chase Village, Chaguanas, an extraordinary example of an estate mansion containing Hindu shrines and heavily ornamented with Hindu religious iconography and sculpture," ICOMOS said yesterday in a statement.
ICOMOS, reiterating recommendations made by Citizens for Conservation in 2008, stated that where appropriate criteria are met and private owners informed, there should be provisions to ease the cost of renovation.
The council explained that a system of tax incentives and grants could be established and it was not necessary for the Government to purchase or be responsible for every building that is listed.
"ICOMOS Trinidad and Tobago calls on the Government and The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago to move swiftly on the recommendations above by establishing tax incentives, grants and low interest loans for owners of historic property. Further there is no excuse for obvious historic monuments to remain vulnerable to the bulldozer because they have not been afforded protection by law and 'listed' in accordance with an Act that was passed and assented since 1991," the council stated.
The National Trust in a separate statement strongly condemned the demolition of McLeod House and noted that it was documented on its Inventory of Heritage Properties of interest, "with the view to preserving its grandeur for years to come". The Trust falls under the aegis of the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration.
The Trust reported that the inheritors of the property claimed that they had unsuccessfully sought Government assistance for renovation but the inheritors could not identify the particular agency to which the request was made. The Trust added that it was not consulted about the demolition of McLeod House. It is also not clear who was responsible for the demolition of the building.
"The National Trust wishes to use this unfortunate occurrence to highlight the fact that our heritage sites must be respected and safeguarded accordingly. In the event of any uncertainty regarding care, conservation, demolition or destruction, the National Trust stands ready to assist all stakeholders prior to any irreversible action being taken," the Trust stated.
ICOMOS noted that while sites in other countries were being preserved in Trinidad and Tobago "we have seen the deterioration and loss of hundreds of heritage buildings and sites" including the Queen's Park Savannah, the San Fernando Waterfront and Railway Station, sugar factories, and historic residential areas such as Woodbrook, Victoria Square and now Belmont.
In Tobago, ICOMOS reported, the Speyside Waterwheel and Sugar Factory ruins are "collapsing" and the Blenheim Spring Bridge is "beyond restoration".
William J McLeod was the owner of the sugar producing Friendship Estate in the area now known as Chase Village. Building commenced in 1864 and was complete by 1868, a bell cast for the house bears this date. McLeod's son Norman was an Officer in the British East India Regiment serving in both World War I and World War II. He converted to Hinduism and redecorated the house with concrete ornamentation depicting many Indian motifs, including in the 1940's, the Sun God Motif above a "throne" inspired it is said by Norman's encounter with an Indian Rajput whom he met during his time in the army. He also built a Mandir on the ground floor of the house. Norman later in life became convinced that Sita, the daughter of his caretaker, was the reincarnation of his dead mother. Norman left the house to the caretaker when he died in 1965. Friendship Hall, as the house was known, was named, it is thought for Norman McLeod's love of different people and cultures. It was a landmark for those travelling on the Southern Main Road, a mansion of extraordinary size and mystery, the combination of colonial elements and Hindu iconography and eastern artistry. The collection of memorabilia including antique interior furnishings, fittings and trinkets of all sorts was also well known. Those visiting the house were often in awe of the wealth of priceless artifacts. Friendship Hall was considered, if somewhat dilapidated, one of Trinidad and Tobago's architectural treasures and as a notable landmark for visitors to important heritage sites.
Provided by the International Council on Monuments and Sites Trinidad and Tobago.