Friday, December 2, 2011

Burn Down Bay Street

Ten years after the 2001 fire that destroyed the "Straw Market" and damaged the Pompey Museum, another fire hit that part of Nassau's downtown last night. This time, it appears, the Pompey Museum wasn't merely damaged, but its shell and contents are destroyed. The museum is housed in Vendue House, which dates back to the 1760s. The loss of this structure is beyond tragic.

Nassau has lost much of its historic character through carelessness and through poor facilitation of the rapid urbanisation and growth process that began half a century ago. Vendue House is, apart from the Government Buildings on Rawson Square, Bay Street's single most important historic structure; in fact, one could argue, because of its history as a marketplace where our ancestors were sold as slaves (by our ancestors and to our ancestors, too), it may be more significant than a House of Assembly that has a long history of excluding most classes of Bahamian society.

When the "Straw Market" was destroyed by the 2001 fire, it became clear very quickly that our government, regardless of which party would be in charge, would spend a considerable amount of tax payer money to build another venue where cheap junk from the Far East could be sold to tourists from the cruise ships. But not only that, the "Straw Market" would not just be built by tax payer money, it would also be operated by tax payer money, because cheap junk sold to tourists apparently does not even cover operating cost. Hooray, cheap junk.

While it is too early to assess exactly how destroyed Vendue House is - the photos in the newspaper show most of the shell still standing - every single culturally, historically and socially aware Bahamian must impress upon our government the urgency of rebuilding Vendue House as historically true as possible, including saving as much of the original structure as possible. One concession to the 21st century they might want to consider, for apparently they did not during the three years of restoring it after the last fire, is a sprinkler system... maybe?

However, if I hear that, now that the new "Straw Market" is about to open, some developer is buying the site of its current tent, the property of the Balcony Club to its west and the property of the Bahamian People to its east, then I will want to know where this developer was last night...

Postscript: In the opening paragraph I state that Vendue House dates back to the 1760s. This is most likely false. A 1770 map of Nassau clearly shows that there were no buildings on the northern side of Bay Street. In the meantime, I found some conflicting information in modern secondary sources and will need to do some research for further clarification.

1 comment:

  1. I know I'm late to the party, but the 1760s is an unlikely date. The Loyalist influx began after it was clear the British would lose the American War of Independence -- around 1783. Vendue House was built after that influx -- so the 1780s or 1790s, or even the 1800s, is a more likely date.