THE NATIONAL Trust this month added 16 new locations to its list of buildings and sites that are worthy of preservation.
Among the properties listed are President’s House, Woodford Square and Naipaul House.
This represents progress, but progress at a snail’s pace. It should never have taken so long for such clear-cut cases to be protected.
The case of President’s House, in particular, has been needlessly byzantine. Whether viewed as a colonial relic or not (it housed successive governors general and then, after independence, presidents), its architecture, imposing edifice comprising local materials and its central position alone rendered it worthy of special status long before now.
Yet for years its state of disrepair was such that it was officially condemned by the Ministry of Works and shuttered. It has not been used as a formal residence for decades.
So it is something of a relief finally to see this building among those deemed worthy of special care.
At the same time, it is worrying that the process undertaken by the trust, which involves many levels of review, has taken so long.
Nor should we believe listing alone is any guarantee that the challenges involved when it comes to preserving these properties somehow disappear. There are huge gaps in the current protections.
For example, while Conquerabia, Carlisle Chang’s famous mural, is listed, the building it was designed for, Port of Spain’s City Hall, has been subject to all manner of flagrant modifications over the years.
Across the street, Woodford Square is now protected, but the idea of a “heritage district” surrounding the square seems no closer to realisation. A few years ago, Greyfriars Church was unceremoniously demolished in order to make way for, first, an itinerant panyard and now, a car park.
Port of Spain mayor Joel Martinez professes to be pleased with the listing of the square and has noted heritage sites are key tourist attractions.
Yet it is arguable not enough love has been shown to the city and to the park in particular over the years.
There have been long delays in the upgrades and restoration, including of its central fountain. At one stage, the mayor had to call for private funding to effect what is, properly, the job of the State.
Elsewhere, other properties like the crumbling Lion House in Chaguanas and Roomor – which is literally next to the trust’s headquarters around the Queen’s Park Savannah – require funding and resources that private property-owners cannot easily sustain. It is little wonder some opt to see their charges demolished.
As long as the trust does not have proper funding, these difficulties will render meaningless any sense of progress.
Overblown celebration of the basic achievement of the listing of a handful of key properties is, from this vantage point, sad confirmation of the trust’s impotence.