In 1924, architects created a modern house for a wealthy family in Beirut, Lebanon. People called it the Yellow House. The building was well known for its unusual style.
But after 1975, when a civil war struck Beirut, the Yellow House became known for another reason.
The building stood at the intersection of what was known as the city’s "Green Line.” The line divided the warring parties of east and west Beirut.
Its location made the Yellow House perfect for people who wanted to look over the city and kill others. Snipers took over the house.
“It went from an avant-garde, innovative presence in the city to become a tool for killing, a murderous house,” explained Youssef Haidar. He is the architect responsible for renovating the building, which is now called Beit Beirut – or Beirut House.
The building will re-open to the public in September. This time, it will be a “memory museum.”
Some people don’t want to remember because they were guilty of crimes in the war, Haider explained. But, he added, “I believe that remembering is important.”
Horror and hope
Mona Hallack is the person who is most responsible for transforming the Yellow House into a museum.
She first stepped into the abandoned building in 1994.
On the floor, she saw things from families and businesses that once used the space: school photos, letters, film from a photography shop.
At the same time, the building still had snipers’ sandbags, graffiti, and bullet holes. On one wall, someone had written the word “Hell.”
Hallack said being in the house reminded her of the war. She recalled the snipers, and the stories about people being killed. But she also felt hope.
Changing a murderous house
The city planned to tear the building down. But Hallack fought to keep it. She and others eventually succeeded in making it a museum.
Evidence of the war – including the bullet holes and graffiti – remain. But architects have also added an underground theater and a glass façade.
Hallack is now gathering exhibits for the museum. She explained she hopes they will allow people to "tell their stories."
Beirut is changing, she said. Many of the old buildings are being replaced by modern apartments and offices.
She said something is being lost. That includes the unusual architecture of the Yellow House, and the things people left on its floor.
“These aren’t just buildings, it is the traditions and quality of the lives of those who lived there,” Halleck said. Those traditions and lives, she explained, make Beirut different from Dubai, or from any other city.
Beit Beirut may focus on the past, but it has the power to shape the future.
Some early visitors to the museum included the family of Fouad Kozah. Kozah was an architect in 1932. He added two floors to the original Yellow House.
Kozah’s daughter is named Nadine. She hopes that younger generations will visit the building and learn from it as “a reminder of never again.”
I’m John Russell.
Words in This Story
architect – n. a person who designs buildings
sniper – n. a person who shoots at another person from a hidden place
avant-garde – adj. related to people who develop new and often very surprising ideas in art, literature, etc.
innovative – adj. introducing or using new ideas or methods
renovate – v. to make changes and repairs to an old house or building, so that it is back in good condition
abandoned – adj. left without needed protection or care
sandbag – n. a bag filled with sand and used as a weight or to build temporary walls, dams, etc.
graffiti – n. pictures or words painted or drawn on a wall or building
facade – n. the front of a building