DIANE PHILLIPS: Our historic and cultural treasures hidden in plain sight

Norfolk House.

Norfolk House.


Masterful hand drawings discovered reminding us of the hidden treasures right before our eyes.

Tanya Melich Crone was cataloging the work of her late father, architect Henry Melich, when she came across these hand-drawn works, masterpieces of buildings that helped frame the city of Nassau.

She must have frozen in place, staring, holding in her hand the masterful drawings of a man who died 25 years ago after leaving his mark on a city that once celebrated its architecture and today overlooks its potential as a draw for cultural tourism, one of the fastest-growing niches in the tourism industry.

Melich Crone shared the images when she found them, knowing the passion I feel for historic Nassau. I, too, stared, in awe of the detail drawn by a man’s hand, long before there were programmes that did this kind of work for you, long before AutoCAD was the architect’s best friend or AI finished your sentence for you.

Awe, admiration and, I confess, a touch of sadness overcame me. One of the drawings, what was once the Bernard Sunley Building on the northern corner of Rawson Square, showed a structure that was first to meet the eye of anyone who landed in the harbour. It was demolished in 2021 along with the adjacent Churchill Building. At that time, we were told a new Cabinet office would be built on the site. It seems unlikely, if not unnecessary now, given that Cabinet has a meeting place in the Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre on West Bay Street.

The other building, Norfolk House, remains in private hands, is a highly desirable downtown office location and in stark contrast to the nearby government buildings has been maintained through the years. There is no sense belabouring the point about lack of ongoing maintenance in public buildings. I watched as the former Bahamas Gaming Board building on Goodman’s Bay was torn down this week, a building with nearly perfect proportions, a structure that could so easily have been repurposed as a community centre or revisited to become a gathering and scoring centre for track events or fun run, walk fund-raisers.

The discovery of these drawings was a stark reminder of how much we have lost, but also a positive reinforcement of how much we still have to preserve and to honour as we redevelop historic Nassau.

Creating a management authority is a step in the right direction. It must have a combination of public and private sector, non-political expertise. It will take experience, energy, insight and most of all vision.

Meantime, we can start with small steps, including historic plaques. Graycliff did not wait for someone else to do it, and every day, visitors stop and take photos next to the historic explanation of one of Nassau’s most famous buildings.

We must preserve those treasures like Graycliff and the irreplaceable Victoria Court, the only building downtown that has loyally remained residential throughout the decades. Its several Bahamian owners/residents must be asking themselves how a government can give tax breaks to ex-pats who are building huge sky high profit centres and not to working Bahamians breathing life into the capital city by calling it home.

We do not need to wait for a management authority to provide the incentives that would drive a new population to downtown or make it financially practical for those who live there to stay. Real property tax incentives must be provided to downtown residents if we are going to breathe new life into the city. And no living city thrives without a residential population. I’ve said it many times before, for a city to live, people have to live in it.

Thank you, Tanya Melich Crone (who compiled all the drawings and photos for the stunning book, Island Follies, Romantic Homes of the Bahamas) for sharing those images, and for still caring about the beauty of design.

We will never get back the Sunley Building or others of architectural merit which we lost, and in many ways, we have moved on. Several recently demolished structures did not have architectural value and their absence has just cleared the way for new designs and experiences. We have the sparkling Nassau Cruise Port and whether you are a fan of large, contemporary architecture or prefer small scale neoclassical design, there is room in a city that welcomes millions of visitors a year for both streams to co-exist.

We are at a crossroads and the decisions we make over the next five years will impact the Nassau our children and grandchildren will inherit, our visitors enjoy or reject, our residents and businesses support or flee.

The decision is in our hands, the reward for making Nassau a star in Bahamian cultural history at our fingertips. Or we can pay lip service and let it slip through our hands. One more time. Let us get it right this time.

And thank you, Tanya, for showing us once again all the reasons we should, showing us through the drawings of a genius who died 25 years ago the treasure he left for us to keep breathing life into for decades to come. 

Shark out of water

Storm winds this week took their toll on boats, including this fishing vessel called Joe Shark. The boat was one of two which washed up across from Arawak Cay close to Saunders Beach. Elsewhere, two sailboats broke free from their temporary (unregulated) anchorage in Montagu Bay, ending up on the rocks near the Nassau Yacht Club. And, what are we doing about the lack of pump-out facilities and requirements for all these sailboats and now powerboats getting free dockage in Montagu Bay and presumably flushing overboard?


truetruebahamian 2 months, 1 week ago

They block the courses to be laid out for the young sailors and besides being a nuisance they pay nothing and rarely contribute anything of value to the economy. A legal stop to this incursion hopefully will soon be made to correct this situation.


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