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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Leopoldville 1929 – Funa Club Founded

I learned to swim at the Mampeza Pool in Leopoldville Ouest, as Commune de Ngaliema was known in the mid-1950s. The pool was built in the valley of the Mampeza river opposite Camp Reisdorf (now Camp Loano), the Force Publique Logistics base. Five or six years old, I stood at the end of the low board, looking down at the black water (the pool was a concrete tank without tiles) as my father patiently treaded water below and urged me to jump in. I finally took the plunge and began a splashy dog paddle as Dad stayed at my side.
The Mampeza swimming pool 1950s (Smithsonian Institution)
The Mampeza pool on right (cegesoma.be)

I have not yet been able to confirm the origins of the Mampeza pool. It might have been built by the Provincial Government, which installed a small pump on the river in 1920 to provide water for Old Leopoldville, or else the Chanic shipyards, which took over the original river port at the mouth of the Mampeza in 1928. In July 1932, Club de la Mampeza organized a swimming match as part of the joint Belgian and French National Day observances.
A party at the Mampeza (author coll.)

There was another swimming pool 15 kilometers across town on the Funa River at the south side of Ndolo Airport (Apr. 27, 2013). As early as 1923, a local entrepreneur opened a bar on a bend of the river with a sandy bottom he called Funa Park, a nod to Coney Island’s “Luna Park”. In 1929, four Belgian residents decided to improve upon the swimming hole by damming the stream, first with sand bags, and later concrete. In 1931, the Funa Club was founded. The Club organized a fair in April 1934, serenaded by the New Best Fellows orchestra. The following month, Mampeza organized a match with the Funa swim team and invited the Caimans from Brazzaville to join. The new Governor General, Pierre Ryckmans, an avid swimmer, preferred the Mampeza, but accepted the Honorary Presidency of the Funa Club for protocol reasons. There were rumors in 1935 that a new municipal pool would be built near the Diables Rouge football pitch (in the vicinity of contemporary Notre Dame de Fatima Church), as both Mampeza and Funa pools were considered far from the colonial administrative district of Kalina and were also restricted to members. Nothing further came of this initiative.
The Funa Club in 1933 (author coll.)

These two pools were restricted to membership by the White community. Access to swimming opportunity for Congolese was a priority for the Catholic missionaries and in May 1934, Father Raphael de la Kethulle (Tata Rafael) of the Scheut mission obtained use of a hectare along the Funa river upstream from the Funa Club to create a swimming pool for the students of St. Pierre school and others of the cité. Throughout the 1930s, both Mampeza and Funa swim clubs hosted matches with each other and responded to invitations from the Caimans across the river. Mampeza completed a major makeover in August 1936, expanding to a 10 x 45 metre pool, with two boards, a water filtration system and a generator to provide electricity. In a major event in November 1936, Mampeza hosted an evening gala. Colectric provided lights, the Ciné Palace set up the sound, the Force Publique band entertained the participants, topped off with a fashion show parade. The Caimans lost a water polo match to Mampeza 5 to 2. Vice Governor Ermens, District Commissioner Morel and Papal Nuncio Reggio attended.
The Mampeza in the 1940s (author coll.)

On the eve of World War II, Tata Raphael, who completed Reine Astrid Stadium in 1937, began thinking about developing a major sports complex for Congolese residents of the city. Plans were drawn up in 1941 by Public Works architect E. Popijn, who designed College Albert (cite) and the Medical Assistants School (Feb. 27, 2020).
Architect's drawings for Parc des Sports Gen. Ermens (wikinshasa.org)

The Funa Club celebrated its 10th anniversary in October 1941 by building a new dam to supply water and refurbishing the concrete and tile. During World War Two the United States opened an office of the Board of Economic Warfare in Leopoldville to coordinate delivery of Congo’s strategic resources to the US war effort (May 23, 2011). A member of the mission, John Canaday, who later wrote detective novels under the pseudonym of Matthew Head, recalled, 

 “If I had a favorite spot in Leopoldville, the Funa was it. It was a big pool, wide open to the sky, set out in the middle of great empty fields beyond the edge of town. As a pool there wasn’t anything exceptional about it; it was just the usual concrete basin, with concrete pavement along the banks, and along one side this pavement was widened into a terrace to accommodate a scattering of tables under bright beach umbrellas”. (Head, 1950:82)

The Art Deco facade of the Funa Club in the 1940s (author coll.)

In January 1942, the colonial government authorized the Scheut Mission to expand its site on the Funa to 75 hectares. But only five months later, rescinded its grant to allow for the extension of the Ndolo Airport runway (Apr. 27, 2013). At the end of the year, the government promised to return the site to the Catholics if there were no further needs for airport expansion. Finally, in June 1943, the Scheut Mission was granted 12 hectares for a sports complex. Construction began that year under Marcel Hentenryck, who also designed the art deco Public Market that year. Parc Sports Ermens was inaugurated in April 1946. The complex featured a large pool in addition to football and tennis facilities.

The Parc des Sports Gen. Ermens pool in 1947 (author coll.)

Kids enjoying the pool 1953 (LIFE Magazine, Getty Coll.)

Meanwhile, the Funa Club owners were considering a bid from the city to buy the facility. In December 1944, the Comité Urbain agreed to buy the pool, noting its plans to build a separate pool for Europeans as well as others serving the Congolese community, though there is no evidence this ever happened. The Allied liberation of Belgium was celebrated at the Funa in May 1945, and in December, the acquisition of the pool by the municipality was completed. The local government planned to upgrade the water filtration system. The colonial government also contributed, ceding rights to the 14 hectares where the Funa was located in 1949 and making direct budget allocations during the 1950s. 
 
During the riots in January 1959, which led to Independence the following year (Jan. 13, 2019), many Europeans were stranded at the Funa club and could not get home because the riot centered on Ave. Prince Baudouin (now Kasavubu), which the main route from the European city to the pool.
Belgian soldiers' weapons stacked up at the Funa, Feb. 1959 (author coll.)

After Independence, things continued much as before notwithstanding the political and social disruption in the city. The club closed for cleaning in mid-November 1960 and reopened the following Saturday with a “Soirée Dansante” for members. Orchestre Pespi-Cola provided entertainment. In April 1961, a US newspaper reported that Europeans flocked to the pool during their lunch hour. Noting that there had been no color bar prior to Independence, Congolese could patronize the club if they paid the $0.60 entrance fee. Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain, a Haitian anthropologist who researched youth in the city during World War II, returned in 1965 to study the life of women in the capital. She quoted an article in the “Progrès” which stated that whites would vacate the pool when Congolese entered. Going to the Funa was an expensive proposition for most Congolese, Comhaire-Sylvain. noted, describing the habits of a two-income couple for whom a taxi from town and back was Fr. 600, the entrance fee Fr. 100 and a sandwich Fr.150. In a recent article in E-Journal Kinshasa, a Kinois recalled catching the TCL (Oct. 24, 2011) 1-Line bus from Bandalungwa to the Funa with enough money for his entrance fee and a soft drink.
The Funa Club in the late 1950s. The City "modernized" the original Art Deco facade (author coll.)

Entrance to the changing rooms (author coll.)

Many of the American School (TASOK) students started going to the Funa Club on Friday afternoons in the early 1960s. I do not recall tension between white and black pool users. The large pool with its blue tiles, diving boards and water slide was a great improvement over the Mampeza. The “Mamp” faded from memory.
The Funa Club in 1967 (Elisofon Collection, Smithsonian Institution)

Body builders show their stuff (photo Jean Depara, lepoint.fr)

The Funa continued to operate in the 1970s. Entrance fees were 70 makuta ($1.40). Former Commissaire Regional (Governor) Sakombi Inongo claims he privatized the pool during his tenure in 1975-76. But by the 1980s it was in decline. Kinshasa’s budget for 1986 included plans to rehabilitate the Funa Club, as well as the MPR complex at Nsele, which also boasted an Olympic size pool (June 4, 2017). But that did not happen and during the 1992 Conference Nationale Souveraine sessions assessing the failures of the Mobutu regime, the Social and Cultural Commission deplored the abandonment of the Funa Club. During an assignment in Kinshasa in the early 2000s, I dropped a colleague off on Ave. Kabasele Joseph near the end of the Ndolo Airport runway. I had an eerie feeling like “déjà vu”, recognizing the side lane where we had stopped as the entrance to the Funa Club. But it was now built up all around with houses within cement block compounds.
The Funa Club site

The last record I can find for the Mampeza was for a Ball Pelote match in 1956, about the time I started swimming there. At the end of a stay in Kinshasa in 2006, I went looking for the Mampeza. I found a small path between the walls off Ave. Ngumi where Hotel Pyramid is located. On the other side was the overgrown Mampeza stream and I followed a path along it twenty meters further where the space opened out into a courtyard between houses formed by the old pool. In contemporary Kinshasa, swimmers have to join hotel pools like the Elaeis, the ASK in Ma Campagne or the Shark Club at the Athenée.

The Mampeza pool in 2006 (author coll.)

Mampeza pool in 2006, vestiges of blue paint and hand rails (author coll.)



Sources
  • Avenir Colonial Belge, Leopoldville, 1940-43 (multiple issues) 
  •  Comhaire-Sylvain, Suzanne, 1968. Femmes de Kinshasa hier et aujourd'hui, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG. 
  •  « Courrier d’Afrique », Leopoldville, 1941. (multiple issues) 
  •  « L’Eveil de l’A.E.F. », 1932-36 Brazzaville (multiple issues) 
  •  « Historique du Funa-Club ASBL », 1949. (gparchives.com) 
  •  Head, Matthew, 1950. Congo Venus, New York: Dell Publishing Company, Inc. 
  •  « Jeune, j’ai nagé à Cosbaki, à Funa et à l’Athénée de la Gombe », E-Journal Kinshasa, Oct. 2020. (https://e-journal.info/2020/10/jeune-jai-nage-a-cosbaki-a-funa-et-a-lathenee-de-la-gombe/) 
  •  Lelo Nzuzi, Francis, 2011. Kinshasa Planification & Aménagement, l’Harmattan. 
  • VanderLinden, Jacques, 1994. Pierre Ryckmans 1891-1959: Coloniser dans l'honneur, Bruxelles : De Boeck-Wesamel. 
  • Wauters, Julien, 1926. Le Congo au travail, Maison national d'edition l'Églantine.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Kinshasa 2021 - Sims Chapel Replica in Kwilu Province

Five years ago, I wrote about Sims Chapel in Kinshasa (May 4, 2016). Built in 1891 by Dr. Aaron Sims of the American Baptist Missionary Union, it is the oldest permanent building in the city and still serves a regular congregation.  Recently, I learned of a new church under construction about 250 kilometers east of Kinshasa at Kinkosi in Kwilu Province that is a reproduction of Sims Chapel.
Sims Chapel in Kinshasa

Kinkosi is a parish in the church district of Kikongo, part of the Communauté Baptiste du Congo (CBCO). CBCO is a member of the Eglise du Christ au Congo, which federates all the Protestant denominations in the country. In the early 1920s, residents of Kinkosi learned of Baptist missionaries at Sona Bata near Kinshasa who were preaching, teaching and healing. The villagers thought these services could benefit them and two young men hiked west for ten days to Sona Bata to ask the American Baptist missionary to send a pastor to their village. It was not until 1926 that a Congolese pastor was available to come to Kinkosi, but the response of the villagers was such that the mission decided to open work in the region and in 1929, Kikongo station was established on the Wamba River (Strong Eyes of Faith).
Aerial view of Kikongo and Wamba River

Kikongo and Sona Bata circled in red.

As the centenary period of the Kinkosi church’s founding approached, the congregation reached out to missionary Glen Chapman, who with his spouse Rita, has served at Kikongo since 1992. Glen suggested a commemoration with a historic church that was representative of CBCO, and they agreed to use Sims Chapel as the model. He was able to secure financing from the Emmert Legacy fund and brokered a construction contract between the village and two builders who had successfully completed buildings and other infrastructure for the Université Baptiste du Congo at Kikongo.
A community meeting at Kinkosi

Kinkosi church - the rafters are up.

Installation of the tin roof.

The roof is on.

While researching this post, I discovered that Kinkosi may not be the first instance of replicating Sims Chapel. In 1900, a new chapel was erected at the Baptist post of Kifwa, a predecessor location of the Sona Bata station, which was established on the rail line in 1907. The choice was more likely practical than symbolic, as Dr. Sims’ chapel had proved to be a design that Congolese without extensive construction background could produce. The brick and thatch roofed structure was 24’ x 50’ (7 x 15 meters) vs 20’ x 60’ (6 x 18 meters) for Sims Chapel.
(Baptist Missionary Magazine, 1900)


Sims Chapel in 1897 (Baptist Missionary Magazine, 1897)

The church roof was completed in March 2021 and the Rector of the Université Baptiste du Congo is planning its dedication.

  • Kinkosi photos courtesy of Glen Chapman.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Leopoldville 1926 – Hotel Sica – The Mystery of the Memling

In 2011, I posted a piece about the Hotel Memling, its origins as the Hotel SICA and after 1937, a property of Belgian Airlines Sabena (Mar. 29, 2011). Recently, a colleague shared an early photo of the Hotel SICA which sent me back to research. The complex in the picture clearly reads “Hotel SICA” on the gables of the annexes in the foreground, but the main building in the background doesn’t match the SICA. My friend’s photo looked more like the Hotel Metropole of the 1920s. Was there a connection? I believe I’ve solved the mystery by consulting documentation at hand and conjecture from the evidence portrayed in images.
The photograph of the Hotel SICA.
The Hotel Metropole in the 1920s

A related issue was Belgian Airline Sabena’s claim to have created the Hotel Memling in 1937, although that name did not appear in print until after 1952. In my original post, I hinted, admittedly obliquely in retrospect, that Sabena based its claim to the Memling on the Sabena Guest House (near Ndolo Airport on Ave Kabasele Tshamala), both of which were subsumed by the Compagnie des Grands Hotels Africains in 1959.

The Sabena Guest House - the car dates this image from the 1930s (author coll.).

As described in the earlier post, the original building where the Memling stands today was built by the Société industrielle et commerciale de l'Afrique occidentale (SICAO) around 1920, but which went bankrupt in 1924. Two years later, the Société Immobilière, Commerciale et Agricole (SICA), was created by Louis Promontorio. An early colonial figure, Promontorio worked for the Compagnie du Kasai and the Dutch House (NAHV), then opened his own firm in Leopoldville (Kintambo) in 1912. In 1924, he floated the Cie Urbaine des Transports en Commun du Stanley Pool. Promontorio put up a controlling interest of 128 of 200 500 franc shares in the new company, but it seems Leopoldville was not yet ready for public transit (Oct. 24, 2011).

The SICAO Building under construction around 1919 (author coll.).

When SICA was founded in November 1926, Promontorio was granted 850 of 2500 Fr.1000 shares on the basis of a 0.44-hectare property (about an acre) in Kinshasa. He also received 1250 “Founder” shares, which gave him a majority of votes in the new company. Another, non-capitalized asset but referenced in the founding documents, was a contract with option to buy on a 50-hectare parcel at Kingabwa (part of contemporary Commune de Limete), upstream from Kinshasa. Following the designation of the Board of Directors, the company established its Congo headquarters at the Hotel de la SICA. This suggests that the hotel was in operation prior to SICA’s formation, most likely this was the SICAO property Promontorio contributed as in-kind capital.

The Hotel SICA around 1940 (liberas).

The Hotel Metropole was operated in the 1920s by Felix Mertens, the same time as the SICA. A period photo shows a two-story building about the same size as the SICA, but with freshly-painted stucco walls rather than exposed brick and arched windows instead of square enclosing the second-floor balcony. The Metropole appears to have had a short run before succumbing to the Depression. The earliest references I’ve found date from 1924-25. In 1926, a cook at the hotel, D. Bandago, was diagnosed with tuberculosis by the local health service. The hotel-restaurant was recorded in Congo Revue 1927 and in 1928 it was listed as a destination for a taxi service from the Garage Mayo on the Place de la Poste (Mar.24, 2020). But by the beginning of the 1930s, the Hotel Metropole disappeared from the Leopoldville hotel scene.

The Hotel Metropole in the 1920s (author coll.).

The photo showing the Metropole with “Hotel Sica” on the annex gables suggests the Metropole was taken over by the SICA. The photo of the Metropole above shows a building in the background which is obviously the SICA. This would place the Metropole at the corner of Ave. Stanley and Ave Bangala where the Residence Atlantic is today.

This acquisition of the Metropole by SICA is corroborated by photos in the Henri Guillaume collection at the Liberaal Archives in Ghent (liberas). Guillaume went to Congo in 1939 to work for the SICA. His photos show a variety of perspectives of the two buildings, including the annexes between the two hotels which housed European staff, and where Guillaume had an apartment. At the end of 1928, SICA’s balance sheet showed real estate valued at Fr.4.2 million, up from Fr.1.9 million the year before, suggesting acquisition of the Metropole.

Henri Guillaume on the grounds of the annexes around 1939 (liberas).

Guillaume outside the Metropole with Hotel SICA in background (liberas).

But what of Sabena’s claim that it built the Memling in 1937 (Hotel Memling)? First, Guillaume’s photos show that the two original hotel complexes were still extant in 1939. Second, there is nothing in the SICA’s annual reports from 1936 to 1958 that indicate Sabena had any investment in the property. Finally, the first multi-story wing of the SICA along Ave. Stanley must have been built in the early 1950s, when SICA decided to focus on its real estate activities in Kalina, Kingabwa and near the port. The first images specifically naming the Memling date from 1952, in a tourist brochure produced in Brussels.

Some of Leopoldville's hotels in 1952 (author coll.)

The Hotel Memling (R) incorporating the original SICA building (author coll.)

Another compelling indicator comes from Tom Marvel, US Press Attaché in Leopoldville during the war who returned to Congo in late 1945, and reported that he, “saw a friend at the Sica, then had lunch at Sabena, and met the four o'clock Fima (ferry) from Brazza.” In Sabena’s annual report for 1945, the company claimed revenues of Fr.3.7 million from operation of its guest-houses. Similarly, in 1949 the Sabena Revue, the airline’s magazine published a full-page advertisement for the Hotel Regina, the Storey-Day property around the corner on Blvd. Albert (Mar. 29, 2011). The ad promoted the Regina’s services for transportation and reservations upon arrival at Ndolo airport, and the amenities of its “Hôtel de Premier Ordre” – a renowned restaurant, bar, grill-room, patisserie and a catering service. No mention was made of the SICA or the Memling in the magazine. If Sabena was operating a major hotel downtown, or planning a major expansion, it would have received some coverage. Instead, the magazine touted the establishment of Sabena Guest Houses around the country.

This photo from the mid-1950s shows the SICA complex along Ave. Stanley.
(Thanks to my colleague for labelling)

Absent any conclusive link of Sabena to the SICA in 1937, my initial conclusion stands, that the airline’s claim to the Memling is based on the 1959 merger which brought the SICA property and the Sabena Guest House at Ndolo under the same corporate framework. Certainly, the Art Deco architecture of the Guest House suggests its construction in the 1930s (Jan. 4, 2018).

A view of the Sabena Guest House in the 1950s (author coll).

A significant restructuring of SICA took place after World War II. Louis Promontorio had died and his place on the Board taken by his son, Victor. Victor was born to a Congolese mother in Kintambo in 1912. When she died in 1919, Promontorio took him to Belgium. There he graduated with a law degree from the University of Louvain in 1935, making him among the first Congolese to obtain a university degree. In 1960, he participated in the Round Table meeting in Brussels that led to Independence, and was elected Senator from Equateur Province in the first Parliament in June that year. Promontorio (Seya Tshibangu under Mobutu’s Authenticité) became the first Congolese attorney admitted to the Leopoldville bar in 1963. 

In November 1946, Victor resigned from the SICA board, and was replaced by Robert Cousin, representing the Société Mobilière et Imobilière Hosa (which provided much of the funds for the capital increase in 1948). Armand Regnier, Administrator and longtime Secretary General of the firm, resigned as well and was succeeded by Louis Lambelin, who became the Managing Director. Another board member, Hoebrechts, was replaced by Count Jean de Broqueville. The following year, Promontorio and his stepmother, ceded 8.8 hectares in Ndolo to the company. The firm nearly doubled its capital from 7.4 million francs to 13.4 million. In September 1948 capital was raised to Fr.40 million. That year, the value of land, buildings, material and furnishings was reported at Fr.13 million. In 1950 these assets had increased to Fr. 15.5 million, of which Fr.9.6 million was buildings. The following year, the value of buildings rose to nearly Fr. 20 million. This suggests that Wing A was completed in 1951 (rather than 1937) and it follows that the hotel began to be referred to as the “Memling” after 1952 (though why a 15th Century Flemish painter inspired SICA’s board is unclear). Notably, guidebooks and the company’s own letterhead continued to show the Memling as “Propriétaire Société SICA”.

Letterhead showing ownership by SICA (author coll.)

Construction of the new three-story wing on Ave. Stanley required the demolition of the Metropole annexes. At the same time, the terrace of original SICA building along Ave. Moulaert was enclosed and the facade remodeled to tie in with the new structure. The main building of the former Hotel Metropole was demolished before Independence in 1960 and an office-residential building, the Residence Atlantic, was built.

The modified SICA building (foreground) and the new "Memling" wing (author coll.)

An interior view of the new wing (author coll.)

In 1955 the original SICA building was demolished and replaced with “Wing B”, an eight-story structure that angled from Ave. Stanley down Ave. Moulaert (Ave. Tchad), adding another 75 rooms, for a total of 114.

Construction of "Wing B" along Ave Moulaert. Note Otraco Building construction upper right.
(author coll.)
Hotel Memling late 1950s. Note construction of Residence Atlantic at far end of Wing A (author coll).

Hotel Memling 1961, note completed Residence Atlantic (Northwestern University, Foreman Coll.)

After Congo’s Independence June 30, 1960, the Memling became a primary center of political activity, inasmuch as it housed much of the foreign press and was located opposite the Hotel Stanley, where the United Nations established its initial headquarters (June 3, 2015). Competing political factions held press conferences or organized demonstrations in the street outside. In 1963-64, Wing C was built in the same architectural style as Wing B, extending down Ave Moulaert, bringing the total number of rooms to 174.

The Memling shortly after completion of "Wing C" in mid-1960s (author coll).

The Sabena Guest House was later acquired by Boniface Zoao, the last Bourgmestre (Mayor) of Kinshasa, who was replaced by a military governor in 1966. One of his relatives manages the property today and is slowly upgrading the buildings and grounds hoping to attract substantial clientele again.

The former Sabena Guest House in 2017 (author coll.)
The restaurant of the Guest House (author coll.)
Note the wing motif over the garage (author coll.)

In 1985, the Memling's “Wing A” was demolished in a major renovation of the property. Eighty four years after Sabena’s alleged construction of the Memling, or 70 years after the construction of “Wing A” in 1951, perhaps it doesn’t matter much who built what when. The Memling remains both a historic and significant contemporary fixture in downtown Kinshasa.
Interior view of the Memling of the wing replacing "Wing A" (trip advisor)


Sources
  • Bulletin Officielle du Congo Belge (multiple years) 
  • Congo: Revue générale de la colonie belge, 1927, Vol.8, No.1. 
  • Liberas – Centrum voor de Geschiedenis van het vrije denken en handelen (liberas.eu)