Trinidad and Tobago’s built heritage – looking to the future, preserving the past

 

A walk through the streets of any major town in Trinidad and Tobago will reveal a spectacular mix of architectural styles, from sleek, modern designs to grand old gingerbread houses decorated with intricate fretwork. Tied into the country’s built heritage is a legacy of stories which reveal Trinidad and Tobago’s economic, political, ethnic and religious history. From the imposing stone structure that houses the country’s Parliament, to the North Indian style Lion House in central Trinidad, the influences of the many nationalities that settled in these islands can be seen in the rich variety of architectural design.

 

Brian Lara Promenade

The Brian Lara Promenade, a tree lined park which runs the width of the city centre, compliments downtown Port of Spain by adding a relaxed laidback flavour to the bustling streets of the city. Originally called Plaza de la Marina, it was translated into the English Marine Square when the British captured Trinidad and later renamed Independence Square in honour of Trinidad gaining independence from Britain. In recognition of cricketer Brian Lara’s achievement of a world record 400 runs in a cricket Test match, it was subsequently renamed. Free outdoor concerts, festivals, celebration ceremonies and craft shows are now regular features of the Promenade.

 

Union Building

The Union Building, located on the corner of Independence Square and Abercromby Street, is over 100 years old and still displays the street signs from the 19th century. Abercromby Street (originally spelt ‘Abercrombie’), was named after Sir Ralph Abercrombie, the first British Governor in Trinidad who took possession of the island from the Spanish in 1797. The iron rings cemented into the building were used in the 19th century by owners to secure their carriages. King Street remains a mark of history, although it was later renamed to Independence Square.

 

Old Fire Station Tower

Originally built in 1896/1897 and refurbished and renovated in 1999/2000, the old Fire Station is an excellent example of the preservation of a historic building which has been elegantly blended with the modern architectural landscape of the city. Located at the corner of Hart and Abercromby Streets in Port of Spain, for 10 years (19891999) it was the home of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which was founded and directed by West Indian poet and Nobel Prize winner, Derek Walcott. It has recently been incorporated into the National Library Complex and remains a historic gem in the city of Port of Spain.

 

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity Cathedral, one of Port of Spain’s oldest landmarks and the first Anglican Church in Trinidad, was originally built to cater for the British forces on the island. The Cathedral which exists today reflects Georgian and Gothic architecture; it is supported by hammer beams of carved mahogany with splendid stained glass windows. The foundation stone was laid on Trinity Sunday in 1816; it was completed in 1818 and consecrated on May 25, 1823. The original Trinity church was a wooden structure that was destroyed by fire in 1808.

 

The Red House

The Red House that we see today was constructed between 1904 and 1906 and is currently the seat of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. However, it was first constructed in 1844 and as Trinidad was preparing to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, it was inadvertently coated with red paint in anticipation of the event and was hereafter referred to as the Red House. Although the building was destroyed by fire during the Water riots of 1903, it stands as a symbol of enduring democracy in the islands.

 

Woodford Square

Situated in the heart of the city, Woodford Square is renowned as a place of political and religious gatherings, entertainment, discussions and craft markets. Formerly known as Brunswick Square, it was renamed after Governor Sir Ralph Woodford, who was responsible for rebuilding the square and much of the city after the devastating 1808 fire. In the midst of the independence movement led by the People’s National Movement (PNM) political party, the Square became a place of many political gatherings and was dubbed “The University of Woodford Square” by Dr. Eric Williams the country’s first Prime Minister (and PNM political leader).

 

Hall of Justice

Located north of Woodford Square and east of the Red House, the Hall of Justice was purposely designed to add to the character of downtown Port of Spain and to enhance its surroundings by being charming and dignified but without being dominating. It is representative of Trinidad and Tobago’s independent Judiciary. The Hall of Justice was formally handed over to the government on 1985 and now houses the Court of Appeal, the Civil and Criminal Divisions of the High Court, the Tax Appeal Board and their respective supporting staff.

 

The (Old) Public Library

The first national library of Trinidad was established in 1851 when Lord Harris, Trinidad’s governor from 1846 to 1854, put forward the ordinance to the Council of Government. It was not until 1902 that it moved to this site on Knox Street. This library was built with a simple arcaded second story, with the arcade providing shaded passageways for both the upper and lower levels of the library. The ground floor comprised a public readingroom, a lending library and a small office for the librarian. In 2003, the library moved to its new complex on the corner of Hart and Abercromby streets.

 

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

The first Catholic Church in Port of Spain was built in 1781 by the Spanish Governor Martin de Salaverria on the site that is now known as Tamarind Square. The English Governor Sir Ralph Woodford decided to build a church better suited to the growing and predominantly Catholic population. Plans were drawn by the Governor's Secretary, Philip Reinagle and the foundation stone was laid on 24 March 1816. The new church was located west of the existing church at the eastern end of what was Marine Square, now Independence Square.

 

The Treasury Building

Today, the site on which the Treasury Building stands hosts divisions of the Ministry of Finance, but it has borne witness to many important events in Trinidad and Tobago’s history. On August 1, 1834, thousands of slaves stormed into Port of Spain and gathered in front of the site to protest being given “apprentice” status, rather than freedom from slavery. Known as Government House – which occupied the upper floor – the building was home to the old Treasury and Rum Bond. Four years later, in 1838, at this same location, the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing the beginning of the end of slavery, was read. In 1966 the building became the first home of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. In 1985, crowds once again returned to the front of the Treasury building on August 1, but this time to commemorate Emancipation Day, as a national holiday.