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

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