In the century since they were built, the Queens of the Bands, as architect John Newel-Lewis called them, have been the seat of power of political, religious, commercial and academic leaders. From Maraval Road, the Magnificent Seven command excellent views of the Queen’s Park Savannah. Among those to enjoy the view were the Prime Ministers of the Republic, the heads of the Catholic and Anglican churches, and the heirs to some rather large fortunes.
It is only fitting that the first secondary school on the island’all male, of course’would commandeer a slice of this prime real estate. Within the walls of Queen’s Royal College hundreds of Trinidad’s finest minds and athletes were groomed to make history: Nobel laureate VS Naipaul; historian, Marxist and cricket connoisseur CLR James; and the first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams. With this legacy to hang on to, QRC, with its striking rose color and landmark clock tower, earned a much-needed restoration of its German Renaissance architecture last year.
Other Magnificents have not been so fortunate. Stollmeyer’s Castle, the last and most whimsical of the Seven, is falling apart. This mini castle is said to be Scottish Baronial in style and patterned after a wing of Balmoral Castle, Queen Elizabeth’s summer home. But its real name is Irish’Killarney, named after the town where the first owner, Mrs Stollmeyer, had hoped to spend her honeymoon.
During World War II, Killarney, like its neighbour, Whitehall, was occupied by US forces and called The Castle (hence its nickname, Stollmeyer’s Castle). Since 1979 Killarney has been the property of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mille Fleurs is the most tragic of the Seven. You can still see vestiges of its former beauty and elegance behind the boarded-up façade. Built as the Prada family residence in the early 1900s, it changed hands a few times before finally being sold to the Government in 1979. Over the last decade it has been allowed to deteriorate to a deplorable state. At one time homeless men took up residence and would hang their underwear along its intricately carved balusters. After howls of outrage, the homeless were evicted. But Mille Fleurs remains unoccupied and neglected.
Up until 2010 Whitehall had been the Office of the Prime Minister since 1963. Built by a cocoa magnate back in the days when cocoa was king, this frothy Moorish Mediterranean mansion had also been used by the British Council, the National Archives and the interim government of the ill-fated West Indies Federation. Today, a new steel-and-glass structure just around the corner on St Clair Avenue now bears the title of Office of the Prime Minister.
The Archbishop’s Palace (Whitehall’s other neighbor) and Hayes Court, the residence of the Anglican bishop, are still looking good for their age. Ambard’s House (also known as Roomor), is the only one to remain a private residence, and it is showing signs of wear and tear. Fingers crossed, the Government will restore Mille Fleurs and Stollmeyer’s Castle before they collapse, and open them to the public.