Monday, May 11, 2020

The story of the Tokyo restaurant, Beirut (by way of De Freige palace)

Yesterday I was contacted by Mrs Christine Simm inquiring about my photos about the Tokyo Restaurant. By way of explanation Mrs Simm said, "that flat had previously been our home for 13 years and, what I presume became the restaurant had been my parents' bedroom, the only semi circular bedroom I have ever come across."
Here is the photo Mrs. Simm wanted to see:
Photo credit: Tarek Chemaly
The Simm family moved there in 1954 and her father sent her grandparents this particular image (by way of explanation, Mrs Simm's father "was the Middle East Agent for a British Engineering Company. We started off in Egypt but then moved to Beirut as a better place for the family to live while he was travelling."):
Photo credit: Christine Simm
Interestingly whereas there is speculation about the date of the building with architect Karim Andary presuming it dates back to the 1930s, Mr Simm provided an image of the pristine building when they moved in which means it was not built way prior to then.
Photo credit: Christine Simm
"They then put up the Lord's Hotel which blocked the view. My bedroom was right at the back behind the curved balcony."
Just to imagine the scene, please look below:
Or this one:
Photo credit: Karim Andary
Mrs Simm goes on: "We did not use the house as it was designed. What should have been the living room was my parents' bedroom, the main 'entrance hall' was my father's office and we always used what would have been built as the back door for coming and going. Then there were the living and dining rooms and 3 bedrooms. We children used the large balcony at the side, with the arches, as our playroom. At the back there was the kitchen and another balcony which was the maid's domain.
There was a widow, Madame Saab, who lived below us. Her flat was only half the size of ours because of the hill. In the flat next to us, for the whole time we were there, were the Kekhia's, with their two sons. We were often bothered with stray cats which used to jump in the back windows as they were on ground level."
Mrs Simm goes on reminiscing about Beirut, saying the family lived there in the 1950s and 60s "and my brothers and I attended the British Community School. To start off with it was in Rue Abdel Aziz and then it eventually moved to the Airport Road. But in between these 2 it was in temporary accommodation in the Marquis De Freige Palace."
In case you wish to see the palace in question here it is:
"I clearly remember my classroom, which was the biggest room in the building even though there were only 8 of us in the class. Our teacher was the headmistress and we had to be there so she could be near the telephone. It was a lovely room with stained glass windows, such a pleasure to look at when you were trying to learn french verbs or do arithmetic. I can remember we were strictly not allowed to the upper floor, even though rumor had it there was a room with rat poison in it!"
Sadly here is what the palace has been substituted with today.
Mrs Simm now lives in Scotland and has never been back. "I don't think I would like the changes as the Lebanon was such a wonderful place to grow up in at the time."
"Wonderful childhood!" she concludes. Meanwhile last time I was there which was in November 2019 only the K and O still held strong from the letters which once indicated a restaurant and prior, the Simm family residence.