Sunday, July 1, 2018

Leopoldville 1944 – Cape Dutch Houses

This photo by J. Costa for Congopresse in 1944 shows a Cape Dutch-style villa facing Ave. Tombeur de Tabora (later Tombalbaye, now Tabu Ley). It was built as a set of four for Otraco’s European managers in the block bounded by Aves. Comfina, Kasai and Strauch in the transport company’s extensive concession southwest of the Gare Centrale. Similar structures in a different style were built between the four. To my knowledge, they are the unique structures in Kinshasa of this architectural style (which is more prevalent in Bukavu and Lubumbashi), except perhaps the Compagnie Coloniale du Congo’s PEK building on Ave. Beernaert (Equateur) (Nov. 11, 2011).
Ave. Tombeur at the corner of Ave. Belgika (Ave. Lokele). 
The PEK building in 2004 housed the offices of Hewa Borwa Airlines.   
Another contemporary photograph shows the neat white structures facing the street with a mature Malebo palm in front of one.  In 2006, I offered a copy this photo to the owner of one of the houses in exchange for photographing it, and it took a bit of charm and persuasion before she acceded to such a bizarre request. 
The Cape Dutch structures anchored the 4 corners of the block. A different model was built in between.
A view of the house from the gate.
Front entrance detail.
Three years later, the Wikinshasa team (see Sources, below) captured the house from the upper floors of one of the Onatra apartments across the street, showing some repairs under way and the trunk of a large Baobab tree lying on the ground.  The researchers estimated the buildings were constructed in 1925-26, which would be consistent with other construction in the area at that time as the city’s commercial district moved south from the railway line (now Blvd. 30 Juin (Jan. 23, 2011).
The house in 2009 at the corner of Ave. Tombalbaye and Kasai.
The house from the side.
Recently, the Roi du Cossa restaurant opened in the house on the corner of Ave. Lokele.  The Portuguese restaurant, a long-time purveyor of the best fresh-water shrimp (Cossa) in Kinshasa, had to move from its location on Ave. Mpolo to make way for another high rise.  The old restaurants was in a non-descript colonial building with a now-enclosed wraparound porch.  The new place fairly screams, “come in and get your Cossas!”.  The owners knocked out several interior walls to create a large dining area, but kept the original facade intact.
Who can resist?
The former restaurant on Ave. Mpolo.
Ave. Tabu Ley is under reconstruction.  Once it is completed, the street may provide the buildings some of the cachet of the original photo.
Looking east on Ave. Tabu Ley at Ave. Kasai.
  • This website is one of the premier sources historic images of Kinshasa and their description.  Commissioned by the French Embassy, the inventory was carried out between 2009-2010 under the direction of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in collaboration with the Bureau d’Etude, d’Amenagement et d’Urbanisme (BEAU) and the Monuments and Sites section of the Institute of National Museums of Congo in Kinshasa. Link to the houses:

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