Friday, February 24, 2012

Léopoldville 1924 – Monument des Aviateurs

On July 1st, 1924, the entire European community of Kinshasa and Léopoldville turned out at the end of Ave. Militaire (See Mar. 12, 2011) near the port to inaugurate a monument commemorating three aviators killed three years’ previously when their flying boat crashed.  Beginning in April 1920, Belgian pilots and support crews had been trying to establish the Ligne Aérienne Roi Albert (LARA) to link Kinshasa and Stanleyville and provide a fortnightly service to connect with regular arrivals of ships from Belgium at the port of Boma. 
A Levy-Lepen flying boat on the river side
Monument des Aviateurs
 The Levy-Lepen flying boats used were of marginal quality; turned out in great numbers during WWI for use by inexperienced pilots. The challenges of operating an airline in tropical Africa, including re-attaching the fabric of the fuselage after each flight, were daunting.  The line folded in June 1922 for lack of funds to purchase equipment that would be adequate to the conditions, but this experience would eventually lead in 1923 to the creation of Sabena, the Belgian Airline.  Part of Sabena’s capital was provided by the colony and the first flight connecting Léopoldville to Belgium took place in 1925.  It appears likely that Ave. Militaire became known as Ave. des Aviateurs after the inauguration of the aviators’ monument.

Monument des Aviateurs viewed from Ave. Astrid (Lumpungu)
The monument, a stone obelisk topped with a bronze statue of a stylized flyer, was the work of Belgian sculptor, Arsène Matton.  Matton had significant experience in Congo, having made a trip to the colony in 1911 at the behest of the Colonial Ministy to collect samples of “representative” ethnic types for a set of 4 allegorical statues commissioned for the main rotunda of the new Colonial museum in Tervuren.  He set up an atelier in Kinshasa and in September was taking photos and making plaster castings of the family of one of the Congolese port supervisors.  Afterwards, the man’s wife refused to return, as (she said) she did not want to be placed on a pedestal like the Stanley Monument in old Léopoldville (See Feb. 20, 2011).   At that time, the main port was still where the Chanic shipyards are located today and the structure in question was the first monument erected in Léopoldville, created in 1898 in cement by a Swedish Captain in the Force Publique, von Ingesberg, to commemorate the arrival of the railway from Matadi.
Monument de Liberte with Leopold II bust at the base
Two other monuments, both bronze busts, were placed in prominent locations in Kinshasa at the beginning of the 1920s.  These were the work of royal favorite Thomas de Vincotte.  A bust of Léopold II by Vincotte was placed on Place Léopold II (See Feb. 3, 2012).  Another to King Albert 1er was inaugurated at the beginning of the 1920s on the Place de la Poste.  It appears to predate the Monument des Aviateurs as period photographs do not show the latter in the background of the Albert statue.  Vincotte’s bust presents Albert in his role as defender of Belgium against the German invasion in 1914, wearing his helmet and an expression of determined calm before the onslaught.  This same bust appeared on pedestals in Matadi and Jadotville (Likasi) in Katanga.  It appears that the Albert bust was relocated after the main monument was erected in front of the Gare Centrale in 1939 (See Aug. 28, 2011) but the Léopold II bust remained on Place Léopold until the colonial statues were taken down in 1971.  The Léopold II bronze is in storage at the National Museum in Kinshasa.

Leopold II statue on Place Leopold
Bust of Leopold II at the National Museum in Kinshasa
Inauguration of the Albert 1er statue on Ave. Militaire (Aviateurs)
Albert 1er statue -- Monument des Aviateurs was later erected at the end of the street
Vincotte also obtained a commission for the Monument to the Pioneers of the Belgian Congo in Brussels in 1921 and later an equestrian statue of Léopold II; inaugurated in Brussels in 1926 and in Léopoldville by King Albert in 1928 (See Sep. 12, 2011).  After Léopold’s statue was removed in 1971 and consigned to the public works garage in Kingabwa, the site in front of the first Parliament remained vacant until 2001 when the late President Kabila’s mausoleum was placed there and a statue erected on the first anniversary of his assassination in January 2002.
Leopold II statue at inauguration
L.D. Kabila monument and mausoleum in front of the President's Offices
Paul Panda Farnana

Another monument, “Monument du Souvenir”, was inaugurated in July 1927 at the intersection of Avenues Lippens and Valcke in Kalina.  This war memorial was the result of the effort by Mfumu Paul Panda Farnana, considered to be the first Congolese nationalist.  Panda Farnana was born the son of a chief near Moanda on the coast in 1888.  At 12, he was taken to Belgium by Lieutenant Derscheid, one of the first Belgian explorers of Katanga.  He enrolled in the Athenée de Bruxelles, excelled and eventually received a post-secondary degree in agronomy.  He returned to Congo in 1909 and was assigned to the Botanical Gardens at Eala at Coquilhatville (Mbandaka).  Later, he was named Chef de District ad interim of his home region of Bas-Fleuve.  On leave in Belgium in August 1914, Panda volunteered in the Belgian Army for the defense of Namur. Captured by the Germans, he spent the remaining four years of the war as a prisoner.

After the war, Panda became involved in the Panafrican movement in Europe, a collaborator of W.E.B. Dubois and others.  In January 1923, he wrote to Maj. Vervloet, an influential ex-colonial, advocating for a monument to the unknown Congolese soldier, to be dedicated either on Armistice Day or September 19, the date in 1916 of the Belgian Congo victory over the Germans at Tabora in contemporary Tanzania.  Panda’s efforts paid off and sculptor Jacques Marin was commissioned for the memorial (See July 5, 2011). General Charles Tombeur, ennobled the previous December and allowed to add “de Tabora” to his name, inaugurated the monument.  One of Marin’s last commissions was a bust of General Tombeur, erected in Brussels in 1951 after his death in 1950 (Tombeur died in 1947).

Monument du Souvenir
Monument du Souvenir -- note steam roller on Ave. Lippens (R)
Monument du Souvenir at the National Museum
La Pleureuse

The statue became the site of regular visits by senior Belgian and other officials, including King Baudouin in 1955, who came to pay homage to the heroes of Belgian colonial military effort in two world wars.  In 1971, the statue was removed and later replaced with a moving bronze statue of a weeping Congolese woman, “La Pleureuse”, by Wuma Mbambila Ndombasi. Wuma studied at the Academie des Beaux Arts.

"La Pleureuse" in front of the Supreme Court
  •       Dillien, André. 2010. “LARA:ligne aérienne Roi Albert”, VTB-Magazine, Juillet-Septembre 2010.
  •       Mudimbe, V.Y. 1980. La Dépendance de l'Afrique et les moyens d'y remédier: Africa's dependence and the remedies, Agence de coopération culturelle et technique.
  •       Musée de Louvain-la-Neuve, 2008. Miettes d’archives, Octobre 2008. (

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Leopoldville 1930s – Leisure in a time of Depression

One of the challenges in writing an illustrated history of Kinshasa’s architectural heritage of the 1930s is that not much was built during the Depression.  In addition, from the standpoint of this blog, many of the few relevant images have already been shared in previous postings. Consequently, this piece will attempt to tie earlier vignettes with new information and perspectives.
Roadster in Leopoldville in 1937

Much of the development that did take place was promoted by the public sector, either the municipal Comité Urbain or the colonial government.  This was a time of art deco designs that included Parc De Bock (1930-34) and the Zoo (1938) (See Feb. 6, 2011), as well as the Mediterranean-inspired public (covered market), which opened in 1930 (See Aug. 5, 2011). These facilities were part of the Neutral Zone, designed to separate the growing European town from the African settlements (cités).  
Parc DeBock -- 1937
Leo Marche Coupole -- 1930s
Institut Tropicale Princess Astrid

Other public art deco-inspired infrastructure included the Clinique Reine Elisabeth (See Jan. 17, 2012), the Institut de médecine Tropicale Princesse Astrid (See Aug. 5, 2011), the main railway station and the monument to the late King Albert 1er.  The Force Publique erected its main supply depot on Ave. Prince de Liege (Ave. du Camp Militaire, previously aka Haut Commandement and then Nelson Mandela), leading from Kalina to Camp Leopold II.

The Gare Centrale shortly after completion
The Force Publique Depot looking north up Ave. Prince de Liege towards Kalina
A welcome development for the European community in 1931 was the opening of the Funa Club sports complex on the south side of the new Ndolo airport (See May 23, 2011) in what would become the second Neutral Zone, further segregating the European city from the African townships.  Located on the Funa River, the Funa Club was a private undertaking along the lines of the Cercle de Léopoldville (See Mar. 19, 2011), and was eventually purchased by the Comité Urbain as a public facility in 1944.  The art deco complex included an Olympic size swimming pool, tennis and volley ball courts, petanque, a bowling alley and a restaurant.  The Funa remained popular after Independence but has since disappeared under encroachment from the adjacent cité.  Google Earth shows what appears to be an industrial building on the site.
The Funa Club Pool
Satellite view of the former Funa Club (lower left)
The Leopoldville airstrip was relocated from Kalina to Ndolo to make way for the new administrative district
In 1931, as well, Father (Tata) Raphael de la Kethulle (See Feb. 6, 2011) began to develop a sports ground for Africans at St. Pierre parish in the cite, using school children’s labor to clear the swampy ground.  Over the next several years, the site was further developed (along with St. Pierre church and school), culminating in Stade Reine Astrid in 1937 and the adjacent Parc Sports General Ermens in 1942.
A football team in Leopoldville -- 1930s
 Another popular sport was cycling.  The first city-wide bicycle took place in December 1935 with Governor Ryckmans issuing the prize. The following March, a major biking event was organized at the new Velodrome in Kintambo. Promoted by the Vélo-Club de Léopoldville; other teams were supported by Kaiser, Orban, Nogueira, and Ollivant – the first two were bicycle dealerships, the last two major import houses selling bikes.  Curiously, the Vélo-Club was sponsored by the Singer sewing machine agency.  Joining in the marketing opportunity, the Chanic shipyards and Righini garage (See June 28, 2011) provided transport so Congolese could attend the race, while the Cohadon tire company (See Mar. 5, 2011) ensured that the racecourse was lit with electric lights. 
The bicycle team of the Association des Anciens Elèves des Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes (ASSANEF)
Kinshasa Velodrome in 2008 -- St. Francois Church on left
Cosmo-Kin edition Nov-Dec. 1933
 With an increasing European and African population, the range of media available began to expand.  Two competitive newspapers; l’Avenir Colonial Belge and the Courrier d’Afrique were on the scene in the 1930s.  l’Avenir had been published since 1920, while the Courrier d’Afrique appeared in January 1930 to provide a clerical counterpoint to the “liberal” tendencies of l’Avenir.  An insouciant upstart in this clash of the culture wars was Cosmo-Kin, a multi-lingual weekly that appeared in 1931 and chronicled the city’s jazz-filled nightlife and cultural offerings.  In July 1933, the catholic missionary establishment published the first edition of the Croix du Congo, a publication designed for the evolué (educated Congolese) community.  The paper was published by Sodimca, which produced and printed the Courrier d’Afrique.

The first edtion of La Croix du Congo
A public library opened for the European community in 1932, although a privately organized library had organized as early as 1925.  Once College Albert 1er opened in 1937 (See Jan. 17, 2012), its collection quickly surpassed the public library.  The Jesuits at College Albert also started the first radio station, which broadcast a limited program for the European community.  In 1939, Jean Hourdebise’s Radio Congolia began broadcasts targeted at the Congolese population in the cités. Radio access for Congolese was later enhanced by installing loudspeakers at public places in the cité to serve a wider audience, and effectively developing a wider market for radios, which were within the budgets of middle class Congolese.
Leopoldville Library -- note busts of Leopold III and Astrid
Leopoldville Library -- 1930s
Loudspeakers installed in the cite to broadcast radio programs
Movies were another popular pastime.  As early as 1910, the first films were shown in Leopoldville.  In 1916, Henri Legaert opened the first cinema, screening films from France and UK depicting WWI battlefield scenes.  A certain Fabré operated a cinema and ice-plant in the 1920s. This may have been Cinéma Apollo Palace (See Mar. 24, 2011).   In 1932, Robert Notterdam, a former employee of the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga opened the first cinema showing “talkies” in the capital, but returned to Katanga the following year to open the Ciné Palace in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi). The Ciné Central was another popular movie house of the 1930s, located on Ave. Rubbens near the port, in the Rhodius Frères’ store (See Feb. 6, 2011).  After WWII, Hourdebise of Radio Congolia opened the first cinema for Africans, obtaining a half-acre plot from the government for this purpose.  Hourdebise later opened the Albertum Cinema on Blvd. Albert and the Roxy in Kintambo, where Nando’s is now located (See July 10, 2011).
Cinema Central
Ave Rubbens looking south towards Place de la Poste -- Rhodius Freres building on right
No exposé on leisure in Kinshasa would be complete without some commentary on the bar scene. Earlier posts featured the range of hotels and restaurants operating in the city over the years (See June 28, 2011), which included most of the bars catering to the European community.  The Brasserie de Léopoldville (now Bralima, brewer of Primus) was created in October 1923 with capital from the Banque de Bruxelles.  Segregation precluded Europeans and Congolese sharing a beer; but there was another justification for the new brewery, to provide an alternative to locally distilled alcohol or “lotoko”. 
Brasserie de Leopoldville -- 1930s
Guitarist in Kinshasa -- 1930s

Part of the justification for the paternalist, colonial rule was that it made a postive improvement in the African’s social development.  Consequently, any European role in encouraging Congolese to engage in vices was discouraged.  On July 23, 1932, a Decree authorized Africans to sell alcohol, but only to other Africans, which paved the way for the establishment of legal bars in the cité. Still, it seems that traditional forms of alcohol continued to appeal to Kinois.  In 1935, Jules Van Lancker, a influential rancher and plantation owner (See Feb. 3, 2012), urged that a solution be found to the felling of palm trees to extract palm wine, which was destroying the palm groves around Leopoldville.   Other factors were beginning to appear which would have a profound effect on Kinshasa’s night-life.  On New Years Eve 1936, Antoine Roger Bolamba, an evolué with significant literary talent, hosted a party of the Cercle de l’amitié where the newly popular Rumba music from Cuba was played on a phonograph.  Congolese music -- “Congo jazz” -- was on its way, but that is another story.

·      Abel, Richard. 2005, Encyclopedia of Early Cinema, Taylor and Francis.
·      Feuchaux, Laurent. 2000, Vie coloniale et faits divers à Léopoldville (1920-1940), in Itinéraires croisés de la modernité - Congo belge (1920-1950), Cahiers Africains.
·      Gondola, Charles Didier. 1996. Villes miroirs: Migrations et identités urbaines a Kinshasa et Brazzaville, 1930-1970, Collection Villes et entreprises.
·      Hunt, Nancy Rose. 2002. “Tintin and the interruptions of Congolese Comics” in, Landau, Paul S, Ed. Images and empires: visuality in colonial and postcolonial Africa, University of California Press.
·      Miracle, Marvin. 1969. Agricultural economics in Africa: trends in theory and method.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Leopoldville 1929 – US Consulate Opens on Place Leopold

When I was preparing the piece on the US Consulate (See Jan. 29, 2011), I sought unsuccessfully to establish where it was located when the office first opened in 1929.  The Consulate closed the following year and did not reopen until 1934.  Recently I came across a better quality image from the 1930s of the Crédit Foncier Africain (CFA) building on Place Leopold that clearly displays the State Department seal on the side of the building along Ave. Cerckel.  Since posting the earlier piece, I found a reference to the Consulate having been located during WWII on Ave. Olsen (ex-Flambeau, now Kabasele Tshamala) near Ndolo airport under terms of the Lend-Lease agreement with the Colony.
The Credit Foncier Africain building along Ave. Cerckel -- US State Department Seal at corner on R.

The Crédit Foncier Africain was a real estate subsidiary created in July 1921 by the Banque de Bruxelles, a late arrival on the Congo corporate scene.  Early on it financed the public market in Leopoldville (See Aug. 5, 2011) as well as the Hotel Metropole in Matadi and the Hotel Mangrove at Moanda. A later photo of the CFA building shows additional tenants, but without the US Consulate seal. These included Lopes, LeCocq, and Diamantino. Alexandre LeCocq was a French jeweler who established himself in Leopoldville in 1927, opening “Au Coq d’Or” on Place Leopold.  Diamantino established his photo studio in Leopoldville in 1933 and produced many of the postcards of the era.  Lopes may have been a tailor.  I have not found any reference to La Parisienne located on the side of the building on Ave. Cerckel.
The CFA building in the mid-1930s -- Ave Cerckel to the left
In 2003, a construction fence was erected around the old CFA building.  The building was seriously deteriorated, but no rehabilitation or other reconstruction followed.  When I visited Kinshasa in June 2011, I entered the enclosure and asked the sentinel on duty if I could photograph the façade.  He declined, saying he would have to obtain approval from Mr. Achour first.  The Achour family has a vast array of investments in DRC including Sokin, a food import firm that also represents Chinese Great Wall vehicles (showroom on Ave Mondjiba at the Basoko Bridge); the Pain d’Or bakery; and Trans-Benz, a transport company.  The Achour Group also bought out the Sedec real estate arm in 2002.  I decided I might not reach Mr. Achour in the timeframe available to me and continued on.  A still undeveloped piece of such prime real estate in downtown Kin after eight years may indicate that a clear title to the property is still in question.
The CFA building in 2004 enclosed in a construction fence
Rear view of the CFA building in 2011 -- the roof has collapsed. Forescom Building in background.
Next to the CFA building on Ave. Cerckel was the headquarters of the Mampeza commercial firm and next to it, Synkin. Mampeza was a Portuguese company engaged in import and export trade which has since been taken over by Orgaman, the holding company which now represents the Damseaux interests (See Mar. 27, 2011).  Synkin was a construction supply firm.  Opposite Mampeza were NAHV and Socophar (See July 3, 2011).  The Socophar building (Société Colonial de Pharmacie et de Droguerie) was later taken over by the Jules Van Lancker cattle ranch for its butcher shop and still in operation in 2006. NAHV was profiled in the July 3rd posting.
The Mampeza headquarters on Ave. Cerckel.  The Synkin store on L.
The NAHV property in 1935, opposite Mampeza
The Socophar pharmacy prior to its acquisition by JVL
Across the circle from the CFA building was a bust of Leopold II, which anchored Ave. Van Gele, the main road to Leopoldville.  To the right was Ave. Douane (where the Forescom Building would rise in 1946, See May 28, 2011), which led to the port and included the Customs bureau and several buildings housing various services of Otraco, the transportation parastatal that succeeded Unatra in 1935 (See Oct. 31, 2011).
Ave. VanGele (Ave. Lukusa) heading west from Place Leopold to old Leopoldville -- 1932
Ave. Douane from Port looking toward Place Leopold -- 1935.  CFA building in background.
Place Leopold has experienced change over the years.  During the Mobutu era and the wholesale name changes of the Recours à l’authenticité, it was known as Place Nioki, the town in Bandundu Province where Forescom has its main logging and sawmill operation.  Across Ave. Douane from the Forescom, one of the colonial era buildings was Shanghaied into Le Paradis de Shanghai Chinese restaurant with an application of green paint and spirit catchers on the gable-ends.  Across the circle, a two-story shopping arcade was completed in the 2000s. Chez Patrick restaurant was demolished (See Mar. 29, 2011) and a high-rise building is being erected at the intersection with Ave. du Port.  Plus ça change n’est pas toujours la mème chose.
Le Paradis de Shanghai between Forescom (R) and Boutique Diana (L)
Shopping Arcade on Ave. Lukusa