Emotional Facts when Discovering Architectural Projects in Hamra

Hamra Street_Sabah_Assaf Building
(Image Credit to Eternal Sabah Mural by Yazan Halwani on Assaf Building, Hamra Street, Beirut )

Introduction- Foreword

It wasn’t a routine or usual day; I don’t know why but it was a day to remember.
The Date and Time: 29th of February, 2016 at around 8:00 AM
The Place / Location: Hamra Street in Beirut, Lebanon
The Event / Occasion: Roaming in Hamra Street.

Yes, on this date we were in Beirut, my wife and I since the day before; matter of avoiding the traffic that occurs usually every Monday morning trying to be on time for our appointment with the doctor, my wife and I. So the best solution was to book a room in the hotel, near to the targeted place: the Laboratory.

Q-Hotel_Hamra, hamra architectural projects
Q-Hotel in Hamra, Photo Source: booking.com

We had to take some blood tests at an early hour in the morning; which was hard to do while staying at home, due to the big distance between our home (North) and the lab (Beirut): about 80 Kilometers.

Unless we decided to wake up before dawn which was totally unnecessary; but that way we will gain a vacation of two days well-deserved...

Hamra has always been my favorite place for living since I was at an early age.

The online room booking was confirmed at the Q-Hotel (Q stands for Queen, for any possible confusion) the ideal and perfect location for our destination. The date was set on Sunday, the 28th of February 2016 at 2:00 AM, which was the perfect timing also that keep us away from any unexpected traffic.

After this long but necessary intro which is not my goal for today, let us head directly to the main subject:

My Quick Tour Discovering the New v/s Old Architectural Projects in Hamra Street

First of all and since the time we were living there. it's good to note that my today’s review is not typically an architectural concern in the first place. Means of that my opinion will not only touch on the major architectural projects and their commercial character, but it will be more about the sensation and feeling I had towards them, which was also developed through the recent past years.

The Trajectory Line I followed on that day (Photo-credit to Google Maps)

The duration extends over four or five decades, according to the relevant period of my lifetime. But in addition, my review will take that personal side of Living in Hamra to the next level.

So in a few words, it’s a kind of feeling that occurs when I came back to that specific place.

Worth mentioning that my life was divided into two major intervals: my period of childhood and later my starting careers’ professional years, in which both which I spent in the district of Hamra.

Showcase at the famous Red Shoe Stores

It must be only the coincidence or something else I didn’t know but recognized later, for being in big relation with this special part of Beirut that I always find here standing and ready to fulfill my emptiness as a friendly shoulder to rely on (...) Yes, it was two major periods of my life that I spent here, along with those old and new buildings.
I get familiarized with every corner within the street every single day, and the voice of the city;
It starts every morning with the beep-beep of the taxi's driver and ends with the siren of an ambulance in a hurry to reach the hospital. Those familiar noises to me keep on flashing in my mind even after years away!
And then later, and after fifteen years or less, the same environment merges again to my eyes but maybe in some other changes which are normal as being the heartbeat of the city.

The delicious Q Breakfast! ...

But this time I returned with another background; I returned to start a new career as an architect within a company named “Butec”, a leader in the enterprises' industries since the sixties of the previous decade in many countries abroad, such as Iraq and Syria, and located also in Hamra District, just next to the famous Bristol Hotel.

Such a big remembrance of my old childhood; so, every single area of Hamra is really a wide-open book on multiple memories including the worst ones: the war.

Back to my current state, and after this deep slideshow that passed in my mind just for seconds, the time was indicating 8:00 AM exactly when I was standing at the lab door which was steps away from our hotel.

My wife stayed in the room because her tests can be done later (...)

Everything was done and here I am in the street again.

The famous Barbar's Restaurant in Hamra

It was a joy for me to retrieve all those scenes from different stages of my life.

Keeping in mind that the tastiest breakfast at Q should not be missed at any price: We did try it on our previous visit and we were so pleased, I said to myself:

“Why not benefit from the remaining free time that I still have and go exploring the around?"

Our old apartment in Hamra was in this building
on the third floor 
(indicated by the red arrow)

At those words, I texted my wife telling her that I’ll have a little walk around and not to worry if I’m late. I was so curious and nervous at the same time to explore the neighborhood around, with all its newbies and oldies.

The beauty of Hamra resides in that it is more fun by walking than by car. It was a public affair for a long time ago: to transform the whole of Hamra and the surroundings into a pedestrian zone accessible only by walking or cycling. A part of this case, if we can say, did find its way to execution; which means that the decision was taken to allow only the pedestrians to access the street and its surroundings along with the cyclists, at least on holidays or weekends.

It was really a courageous decision in a country like Lebanon where it is hard to change people’s minds about opinions just a few times; it could take generations before such changes make a real impact.

Many thoughts passed my mind while I started my tour which became more interesting the more I get deeper into my walk.

I reached what is called the Piccadilly corner, as the famous theater occupies the other part of the building. Here it’s the very known shoe shop the Red Shoe remains at its usual place since even before I was born.
I looked over the display. Oh, it was February, the month of discounts! All items were discounted for a real sale…

It is the oldest shop that still fights for its place, even though all the nearby shops and coffee shops were closed or changed into other trades markets.

For example, here in front of me was the famous Modca coffee shop and I remember it very well. And it was still there not from a long time ago, but the economic crisis that developed across the country made its effects.

Same as for its neighbor the Movenpick's which was replaced by the very-known Converse brand of casual and classic shoes.

The only and last coffee shop that is still from the past era was the Cafe de Paris, located on the opposite corner of the building, next to the Red Shoe, and still facing the main street...
I continue my walk and reached the Piccadilly theater which still closed a few years ago, due to the big fire accident that devastated everything on its way, leaving the stage unusable for many years to come. And there is no hope to recover its previous glory in the very soon future.
Actually, it's a very sad fact because one of our big heritage has just been lost!

Anyway, a large and corrupted black cable lock at the main glazed entrance gives that hopeless feeling.
For more information concerning the unfortunate devastate of the Piccadilly theater, watch the video at the end of this article, in the Documentation section below. The video is in Arabic language and contain useful topics.
My steps led me to Barbar’s Restaurant by instinct if I can say, but the image of a crispy cheesy man'ousheh will not stop me from the promised Q’s breakfast. 

I surpassed my passion for the cheesy pie and walked down on the right side, taking the road that leads directly to our old apartment of my childhood.

Is it still there?... will one of our old neighbors recognize me or still remember me?... Honestly, I did pass the area before, since I was working at Butec but even since I always had this nostalgia for that place; it reminded me of a lot of memories, the good and the bad ones, especially those of the civil war where we were off the school and keep staying home almost all of the time…

On my way home, a lot of memories came into my mind. Every single building meant something to me. Every shop that remains since we were there reminds me of the past beautiful era of childhood.

Oh there!... this is my old bookshop from where we used to buy our stationery when we were in school!... and there!!... this is the grocery shop where my parents were buying our everyday needs…and there, and here!!... and so on.

Some of the owner's faces weren’t familiar or did change due to their old age or maybe their death, and replaced by others I assume. Down the road I did recognize what was before a construction field, which is transformed now into a new risen modern high building; it was non-stop work all day long;

I still remember that endless hot summer with the heavy equipment’s noises all over the air, not far from what was our home

The  Berkely Hotel_Hamra
The Berkeley Hotel in Jeanne D'arc Street, Hamra Area- Photo Source: Booking.com

A few more steps forward and I will reach the junction that leads to the building that was before ours. To be honest, nothing changes at first sight, but the more I get close to the view, the more things get clearer.

The first thing that changed was the hotel on the corner of the junction: It was totally renovated into Berkeley Hotel. Before it was known as the Bedford Hotel. Getting closer to the private road, at which our building's main entrance is located just at its end, something strange gets my attention;

Capucins Fathers' School_Hamra
The Capucins' Fathers Catholic Church outer gate

Ohh!!... the building that was just in front of ours, disappeared and was totally vanished, and altered with a one elevation story building.

Yes, it was the property owned by those rich and classy Palestinian citizens named Mr. and Mrs. Zawany (...)

So that way the view from our home became fully opened on the main Hamra street after being for years blocked due to the previous situation.

I continued my round down the secondary road that leads to the main Hamra street. Here also a new construction stands with its glassy elevation the same as many other elevations that didn’t really attract me due to its non-integration within its environment and entourage.

In general, the changes didn’t affect the main street unless the secondary roads and zones.

Or maybe because it wasn’t my first visit after my childhood stage away and because I didn’t feel such a big transformation on all of the above.

Anyway, Starbucks’ coffee was already present within a newly built Hamra Square center, one of the architectural projects recently inaugurated and glorious with its metallic supporting structure all over its elegant facade.
The next property was actually a very old one, we could say a traditional architecture, which includes before the magic world of Toyland, the eye candy of all the kids, including mine when I was that age.

Ste. Mary Statue in the Outer-Garden of the school and church

I realized suddenly that I did end my tour with a closed-loop because I did get to the starting point again: The crossing road with the pre-called Piccadilly way down. Reaching the end of my early matinal round, I hurry up the walk to get to the hotel room again with plenty of nice memories in mind…

In the end, I passed again by the gate of my old school before: Saint Francois for the Capucins Fathers. It looks sad somehow but it reminds me of that time which will never come back only in memories...

Later on, my wife and I did visit during the day, the related Catholic church of my school, and prayed at the Ste. Mary's statue in the outer garden...


Useful Documentation:

  • As a record of my little round in Hamra, here is a sequence of 33 captured photos as a slideshow of the trajectory followed during my roaming trip. Enjoy! Hamra1.mp4 - 13.3 MB
  • For more documentation about Hamra Str. and the neighbors, I'm inviting you to watch this interesting related documentary video that you can find on YouTube; الجار الغريب | شارع الحمرا في بيروت 

All rights reserved to the owner: Arab- TV.

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Nadim Maani

Blogging about Architecture and Designs AutoCAD, Photoshop, 3DS Max, and other software Tips and Tutorials, Lebanese Traditional Style, Real Estate, Home Improvement, Travel, and Places to Visit.

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