RESTORATION of Mille Fleurs, one of the Magnificent Seven mansions at Queen’s Park West, Port of Spain, is nearing completion, but it’s taking longer than anticipated.
Last May, the Prime Minister said, “We are expecting to complete that work by the end of the year,” and in August he said it should be open "very soon."
But on this second day of 2020, work is still ongoing.
The restoration job is being managed by the Urban Development Corporation of TT (Udecott) on behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister, with Fides Ltd as contractor.
Udecott chairman Noel Garcia, contacted by telephone on Monday, appeared uncertain about a definite completion date, but had a timeframe in mind.
“We are anticipating an official opening by the end of January or early February,” he told Business Day.
Garcia said most of the infrastructural work has been done with the help of Cuban expertise. He said the Cuban architect and structural engineer guided the process “to ensure the building did not collapse.”
Over the years the historic mansion had deteriorated so badly that it was on the verge of being condemned after an initial assessment, and Citizens for Conservation lobbied for its restoration and other Magnificent Seven heritage buildings.
The restoration began in October 2018, and Garcia said the structural integrity was a challenge.
A source close to the project also told Business Day that “there was lots of termite damage.”
He said, “The electrical and plumbing have been done, some floors and walls repaired. There’s a completely new roof in slate, and the facade repainted.
“The outside looks good, but there’s much to be done inside, like installing the cornice moulding, skirtings, and architraves as well as ceilings and ceiling medallions.”
Garcia confirmed that “what’s left to do is internal work on the upper floors, which would take three to four weeks.”
The ceilings, he said, "are not elaborate.”
The grounds also need to be landscaped, what was left of the garden having been destroyed when the galvanise roof sheltering the building from the elements was removed recently.
In terms of the accuracy of the restoration, Garcia said the project managers received partial guidance from the National Trust, archival photographs, “and people who have a recollection of what the property looked like.
“For example, we restored the fountain based on photos,” he said.
Garcia said the budget was $5-6 million. "By and large, we are under budget, excluding landscaping and upgrade of the mews (an adjacent building on the property). We are trying to do more with less.”
Mille Fleurs was built in 1904, when lots became available on what was formerly the St Clair Farm. It was the home of Dr Enrique Prada and his family for 19 years. Mille Fleurs came to be known as Prada House. Built in the French Provincial style by the famous George Brown, the house was a gift to Prada from his wife, who gave the building its name, possibly because there were lots of flowers around it. Prada, born in Venezuela in 1867, came to Trinidad at an early age and went on to become the mayor of Port of Spain from 1914-1917. He died in 1944.
In 1923, the mansion was sold to Joseph Salvatori, who made it his family’s residence. After Salvatori’s death in 1959, his widow remained the sole occupant until she died in 1971. The building subsequently became the property of the Salvatoris' only daughter, Mrs Pierre Lelong, who lived in Paris.
In 1973, the property was sold to businessman George Matouk. The home was rarely occupied by the Matouks, and in June 1979, the government bought it for approximately $1 million.
Due to under-use and lack of maintenance, the building reached an advanced stage of deterioration, even after the Law Association leased it – but did not use it.
In April 2016, Dr Rowley chaired a Cabinet sub-committee to look at the renovation of Mille Fleurs, Killarney (formerly known as Stollmeyer's Castle), President's House and the Red House.
The restoration of Killarney and President’s House has been completed and they are once again in use. Parliament is due to return to the Red House this month.