Saturday, December 16, 2017

When a Diamond Vale house cost $10,000

FOR a time traveller to the Diego Martin Valley in the first half of the 20th century, the area would be unrecognisable, with few homes, many abandoned plantations, and most of the area now known as Diamond Vale still forested.

By the time Trinidad and Tobago had gained its Independence in August 1962, it had become the newest and largest suburban housing development in the country.

Homes International, a Puerto Rican company, had already built 500 houses and was contracted by the government to build another 2,000.

The roofs of the two and three-bedroom houses were built of concrete. To prove its durability against earthquakes and hurricanes, a tractor was driven onto the roof of one of the houses and it remained there for an extended period for visitors and prospective buyers to view.

Among the first four occupants of houses in Diamond Vale was Ivy Rose, who had previously lived at Belmont.

She was allowed by Homes International to live rent free for one year in one of the houses at Sapphire Drive. It was an inducement to prospective buyers, many of whom were wary about owning such a house.

The cost of the houses at the time ranged from $10,000 to $12,000. Owners were given the option to enter into a mortgage and to complete payment in 30 years.

"In the beginning, people were calling the houses by all sorts of names, but I decided to purchase one of the two-bedroom houses and I am convinced that I made the right decision. In those days $10,000 was a lot of money, but now the values have appreciated and it is worth millions," said Rose.

Being one of the house owners since 1962, Rose said she was around when legendary American impresario Sammy Davis Jr visited one of the houses close to her home at Sapphire Drive. Construction of the house was still in progress, and he left a mark of his visit by putting his feet in wet concrete, leaving an impression on the ground, the story goes.

When the Express visited the house, the impression was said to be already covered over with sand and a lawn planted.

Rose and her family have lived on Sapphire Drive for 50 years. She described the area as calm and friendly. "We do have some social problems like other communities in Trinidad, but we are comfortable here." she said.

Another homeowner who was hesitant to purchase one of the houses in 1969 said, "It was a tough decision for me to make, but now I realise it has worked for the benefit of my family. Diamond Vale is not only a housing development, but a new community with people in all walks of life."

Diamond Vale was a project launched in 1961 by then-premier Dr Eric Williams and Gerard Montano, Minister of Housing.

In launching the project, Williams said, "The construction company is procuring the incorporation first of a development company which will undertake in collaboration with government the sale of these houses and the public will be invited to submit applications for purchase of the houses; and, secondly, of a mortgage finance company whose main function will be to provide the mortgage finance necessary to facilitate purchase of the houses."

By August 31, 1962, some 2,000 families had moved into Diamond Vale. Most of the homeowners were civil servants, police officers, teachers, doctors and people in the middle-income bracket.

Altogether, there are 25 streets in the development, all named after precious gems such as Jasper, Onyx, Sapphire, Emerald and others.

It is likely the planners took a cue from Diamond Road, which was the main access into the development until it was changed to Wendy Fitzwilliam Boulevard.

The lands on which the houses were built were acquired by the government in 1957. It was then an abandoned cacao, coffee and citrus estate owned by Hajji Gokool Meah.

Diamond Vale could be described as a valley within a valley. It sits plumb in the centre of the wider Diego Martin Valley, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful areas in Trinidad.

The sight of the mountains and the beautiful flowering trees add value to living in a natural environment.

The early settlers in the valley left names that reflect the country's rich history. Morne Coco (French), New Yalta (Hebrew), La Puerta (Spanish), Sierra Leone, (African) and Patna (Indian) are some of the areas in and around the valley.

The first known owner of Diamond Estate was Nicholas Brunton. 

Determined to settle in the Diego Martin Valley, he sold his Woodford Lodge estate in Chaguanas and purchased Rich Plain and Diamond estates.

He brought his wife and two children and settled in the Great House at Diamond Estate, which was once owned by Louis de Lapeyrouse.

Brunton might have gone down as the most successful coloured proprietor in Trinidad's history were it not for the one terrible incident which changed the course of his life, that is the murder of a priest, Abbe Jouin, at Diego Martin.

In later years, the estate was sold to Gokool Meah, who at the time was in search of estates that were capable of producing cacao beans for export. For many years after the purchase, the cacao industry brought favourable returns. In 1920 the price fell and many cacao estates were abandoned, including Diamond.

Kashmir-born Gokool Meah, who had arrived from Benares, India, started business by operating a donkey cart to transport cane from the estates to the factory at Ste Madeleine.

From the profits of his early transport business, he was able to purchase a number of cacao estates in North Trinidad. Later he abandoned his agricultural pursuits and went into the cinema business and became a leading cinema magnate in Trinidad.