Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Leopoldville 1923 – Place de la Poste

On July 21, 1923, the elite of Kinshasa, African and European, gathered to inaugurate a bust of King Albert 1er at the Place de la Poste. Only 3 weeks earlier, a Royal Decree established Leopoldville-Kinshasa as the new capital of the colony, transferring that honor from the port city of Boma (Jan. 17, 2012). Since the colonial government’s decision in 1910 to transfer the port from its location above the rapids at Leopoldville to Kinshasa, seven kilometers upstream, the latter center had been developing rapidly as a commercial alternative to Leopoldville’s administrative role (Mar. 13, 2011). The spatial requirements of this burgeoning city necessitated a more ordered land use plan, which was prepared in 1917 by newly arrived architect, Gaston Boghemans. The plan incorporated existing streets, rail lines and land use with grand diagonal boulevards intersecting to create prominent public places. The map also included the Congolese “cité”, which was growing to the south as rapidly as the European township.
Before the ceremony (The Albert bust under wraps between the two warehouses upper right) (Author coll.) 
Bogheman's map of Kinshasa 1917 (Cocatrix)
The new statue of the King faced the Place de la Poste at the end of Avenue Militaire, created in 1892 when Lt. Richard blew up a grove of baobabs to create an army camp (Apr. 12, 2016). The bust depicted the King in his uniform and helmet as commander of Belgian forces at the Yser River during World War I.  The sculptor is unidentified, but the bust resembles several erected in Belgium at this time.
The Albert bust after unveiling. Bogheman's Post Office upper left (author coll.)
The Albert bust on Ave. Militaire (author coll.)
A bust of King Albert in Chimay, Belgium (wikimedia)
To the north across Ave Militaire was the new Post Office, also designed by Boghemans (Aug. 5, 2011), which gave the Place its name.  Built in neo-classical Beaux Arts style, it set new standards of construction in brick with concrete moldings that were nonetheless adapted to the local climate and existing construction expertise. Continuing in clockwise fashion around the Place was the Sedec commercial building, a brick V-shaped structure formed by intersection of Avenues Rubens and Beernaert. Sedec (Société d’Entreprises Commerciales au Congo) was the retail arm of the Lever Brothers palm oil company (Oct. 8, 2017).
The Post Office with Sedec building on right (author coll.)
Place de la Post in the 1930s. Sedec building in center (author coll.)
On the opposite side of Ave Beernaert was the two-story fabricated metal building of the Congo Trading Company of Antwerp, a firm that dated back to the Congo Free State administration. In December 1914 after five years collecting bird specimens in the interior, James Chapin, a young ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History, returned to Kinshasa and took a room there (Mar. 13, 2011). At the time the Albert monument was inaugurated, Congo Trading had gone out of business and the property acquired as the Kinshasa headquarters of the Katanga-based Foncière Immobilière Colonial (Fonico).  In the mid-1930s the building housed the Amicale Francaise, the social center of the French community in Leopoldville.
The Congo Trading building. Note pousse-pousse at the curb by the stairs (author coll.)
The Congo Trading building, looking down Ave des Manguiers (author coll.)
Between Ave des Manguiers (the continuation of Ave. Militaire) and Ave de la Douane was a single-story arcaded building which became the Righini Bar.  Paolo Righini also owned the Garage Mayo across the street. Righini provided taxis and rental cars and offered direct phone lines from the Hotel Cosmopolite in Leopoldville, the Wathelet Guest House in Ndolo and the Hotel Metropole in Kalina to ensure prompt response for those requesting his services. At the outset of World War II, Righini was among several Italians interned and his bar taken over by Arthur Hardy (June 28, 2011).
The Righini bar and Garage Mayo in the 1930s (author coll.)
Anchoring the southwest corner of Ave Beernaert and Militaire was the two-story commercial building and adjacent warehouses of the “L’Africaine Banque d’Etudes et d’Entreprises Coloniales”. Established in 1898 during the rubber boom, the firm was declining in the 1920s and closed its Congo operations.  The property was acquired by the African and Eastern Trade Corporation, another firm in the Lever Brothers empire, created in 1919 from a merger of some branches of Lever’s West African firms.  In Congo, the company took over the venerable Hatton and Cookson of Liverpool. The building was originally exposed brick, like the Sedec building across the Place, but later plastered and painted white.
A view south on Ave Beernaert. African and Eastern building on right (author coll.)
Bogheman’s original plan anticipated a major plaza at the west end of Ave. Militaire, on an axis with Place Leopold, the beginning of the road to Leopoldville, whereas the Place de la Poste was not even detailed.  In July 1924, an obelisk monument to aviators killed in a crash landing at Leopoldville 1921 was inaugurated and Aves Militaire and Manguiers were renamed Avenue des Aviateurs (Feb. 24, 2012). With its divided roadway and  angled parking at the center, the avenue remained a premier commercial location into the Independence period.
The Albert monument with Monument des Aviateurs on right (author coll.) 
What happened to the Albert bust?  Unlike the colonial statuary taken down throughout the country in 1971 (July 5, 2011), this one had been removed by the late colonial period. In June 1939, a monumental complex honoring the late King was erected in front of the Gare at the beginning of a Boulevard that would lead to Leopoldville along the old railway line (Jan. 23, 2011). Was the bust relocated to another provincial location at that time?   There were at least four identical or similar ones in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) and Jadotville (Likasi) in Katanga, another in Matadi and one in Stanleyville (Kisangani).
This bust of Albert in the city park in Elisabethville dates from 1925 (author coll.)
In Stanleyville, the bust was located in the heart of the commercial district (author coll.)
In Matadi the Albert bust was located in the square next to the Hotel Metropole (r.) (author coll.)
Inaugurating the Albert monument in Jadotville in the 1940s.  Was the Leopoldville bust relocated there? (author coll.)
In the 1950s the Post Office became the Musée de la Vie Indigene after the main Post Office moved to a new building Boulevard Albert in 1954 (Feb. 20, 2011). In the late 1960s, it was demolished to make way for the Bank Belge d’Afrique’s seven-story headquarters building. The Belgian owners withdrew in 1988 and it became the Banque Congolaise, which folded in January 2011 following allegations of money laundering.  In a startling repurposing, the building became the not-so-secret headquarters of the security service, the Agence National de Renseignements (ANR). The ANR closed half of Ave des Aviateurs and part of Ave de la Nation in a further truncating of the Avenue started up the street in the 2000s by the US Embassy and Monusco.
The old Post Office as the Musee de la Vie Indigene in 1961 (H.Foreman, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee digital coll.)
Place de la Poste in the 1950s (author coll.)
The ANR building in 2016 (l.), AMI building (center). (author coll.)
The Sedec building was acquired by a South Asian importer called Union Africaine de Commerce (UAC), established in 1975 selling high end furniture and appliances. The Sedec building was likely acquired in the mid-1980s when Unilever was divesting its Zairian holdings.  The name UAC harked back to the United Africa Company, part of the Unilever empire of which Sedec was a part.

The Fonico building was demolished sometime in the late 1930s and in the late 1940s the corner location was chosen for the new headquarters of the Agence Maritime International, the colonial shipping agency. 
UAC building center left, AMI building right.  Ave Equateur was under reconstruction when photo taken (author coll.)
The Righini Bar, later the Hardy Bar, then the Café Rubbens, and which was the best source of ice cream in the 1950s, reopened as the Belgian Cultural Center, the Centre Wallonie de Bruxelles, in the 2005.
The Centre Wallonie de Bruxelles. (author coll.)
The Garage Mayo was demolished in the years leading up to Independence.  In the 1960s, a 4-story building was erected which became one of the agencies of the parastatal insurance company, SONAS.
The SONAS building. (author coll.)
The African and Eastern building was acquired by Lebanese owners of City Market, about the same time UAC acquired the Sedec property. The classical lines of the original building are covered in panels to suggest cohesion of several buildings patched together.
City Market facing Ave Equateur (author coll.)

Cocatrix Anne-Laure, 2013. Atlas Archives, Boulevard du 30 juin Kinshasa:

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Digital Photo Archive (


  1. Dear Mwana Mboka, I've been a long time admirer of this blog; I work for an author who writing a book on some of the theme's topics discussed here. I wonder if you could drop me an email at - amandarice [at] live [dot] ie
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  2. Cher Mwana Mboka,
    Bravo pour votre site, quelle richesse et diversité vous offrez aux lecteurs.
    Je l'ai découvert en effectuant une recherche sur l'Office des Cités Africaines au Congo,je me suis permis de le mettre en ligne sur notre page Mémoires du Congo. C'est en poursuivant mes recherches que j'ai réalisé que vous aviez déjà une longue expérience de publications historiques sur Kinshasa plus spécifiquement.
    J'ai moi-même vécu en RDC de 1979 à 2009,j'y retourne encore plusieurs fois par an, sauf crise du Covid.
    Je préside actuellement l'association Mémoires du Congo et je sollicite votre avis pour une publication ponctuelle de vos commentaires. Cela pourrait aussi contribuer au rayonnement de votre riche travail.
    Nous le ferons avec modération bien entendu.
    D'avance merci pour votre opinion, tous mes encouragements dans vos recherches.
    Une dernière question : Quelle était votre occupation professionnelle au Congo, où vous êtes arrivé en 1954 si j'ai bien compris ?
    Cordiales salutations,
    Thierry Claeys Bouuaert