We are all guilty of it, we look at a city or a neighborhood and see the big picture without stopping to think about how it happened – high or low buildings, peaked or flat roofs, classic style or contemporary, sprawling or narrow-frontage properties. We rarely stop to wonder which hand helped shape this built environment, or if there was a singular hand that left its mark on what is today.
This week, with the arrival on the island of a long-awaited book, we were able to discover the life and work of an architect who helped shape the beauty of the Bahamas.
His name is Henry Melich and the book, Island Follies, (Rizzoli) is the result of a 20-year labor of love by his daughter, Tanya Melich Crone, with author and architectural historian Alastair Gordon and l design and production team led by Barbara De Vries.
Chris Blackwell, the man credited with discovering Bob Marley, wrote the foreword. A longtime fan of Melich’s work, Blackwell refused to allow anyone to design anything for him, from his house in Jamaica to his residence in the Bahamas or his Compass Point Studios where music greats congregated and were checking in, and later Compass Point Resort, now closed.
Melich, a partner at Robjohns and Melich, was a force of nature, a romantic personality whose beauty, intellectual curiosity and love of life were reflected in the buildings he designed. There were more than 150, including Sir Lynden Pindling’s Lakeview home in Skyline Heights, although Pindling caught the heat for a policy of Bahamianization and chose a foreign-born architect to design his own home. No one has ever accused the country’s first black prime minister of bad taste. He wanted the best and he defended his choice of the Czech-born, British-trained architect who had worked on St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London and arrived in the Bahamas in 1954 and had, years earlier, obtained residency with the right to work.
Although best known for the glamor he brought to Lyford Cay, where he designed at least 30 homes, many with extraordinary stonework, statues, gardens flanked by gates with pools whose lines resembled art, Melich’s influence shaped historic Nassau. It is from his hand that one of the most beautiful buildings in the city center was born, the Fendi store at the corner of Charlotte and Bay streets, today being renovated to become a Starbuck’s. (May the second story arched window be preserved forever.)
He designed Coin of the Realm and the courtyard between it and what was the Scottish Shop and Brass & Leather. He designed Norfolk House on Frederick Street with its inspiring interior patio that looks like such luxury in downtown real estate. The Town Court Apartments were his, as were Harbor Mews and several buildings on West Hill Street, including one of the most architecturally profound,
Melich’s design flair lives on from east to west in New Providence – cottages at Western Shores, Carefree, The Islands Club, Delaporte – the latter is now one of the hottest Airbnb or short-term rentals in the world. country.
Henry Melich will be best remembered for the imprint he left on Rawson Square. He shaped historic downtown Nassau with structures like the Churchill Building where the Cabinet met for decades, until lack of maintenance and the elements of nature caused it to be dismantled this year. . At one time, its hundreds of wooden shutters that protected it from hurricanes were a landmark. But like so many historic structures, its integrity has been sacrificed to neglect.
Meanwhile, the Melich touch lives on at Harbor Island, the Windermere Club and Lyford Cay where even the names of the houses he designed have a whimsical touch – Xanadu, Pavilion, The Castle, Tivoli, and even in the heart of the nation, the capital of Nassau where, among other structures, remain the intact buildings created by his design and knowledge of civil engineering. There is the former Nassau store, now John Bull, and Sunley Square across from Rawson Square, a 30,000 square foot structure built on reclaimed land and supported by 265 pylons sunk 40 feet into bedrock. High fashion Gucci shoes and bags now adorn the northern storefronts of the building which stretches from Bay Street and Bank Lane south almost to the city police station.
An architect’s engineering and dedication to creating what a client wanted, even to the extreme as in The Castle, left an imprint and a legacy that helped shape the beauty we know as Historic Nassau and the glamor still revered by the rich and famous who live behind the gates of Lyford Cay.
Were it not for her daughter’s dedication and determination to find the photos and hire photographers for three years to trace the details of the amazing journey that led to the production of Island Follies, we would not have been able to -to be ever enjoyed the magic of one man, Henry Melich. .
Want to save Bay Street? All of Nassau’s historical needs are one decision
I could write nauseously about what’s wrong with downtown Nassau, but what’s the point? You can see it with your own eyes. I prefer to focus on the potential.
Cast those same eyes that see an unplanted planter on the amazing architecture, on the good bones of so many buildings, the sharp A-line rooflines lined up like a board game or a movie set made for a stuntman jump from one to the other. Gaze at the lines and leaded glass of the majestic Masonic Temple or the welcoming open doors flanked by John Bull’s mahogany. Look beyond the present and see the future. Take note of the dirt, broken tiles, planters that haven’t been replanted yet, sticky handwritten signs stuck to shop windows on a side street, cluttered sandwich boards cluttering already crowded sidewalks, overgrown screamers , out of proportion signs and say what’s wrong with this picture. There is history here.
Why is it not said? They are thousands to pass in front of these structures and to be satisfied with T-shirts.
What Nassau lacks, what Nassau needs is a mayor or a manager, not a political appointee, but someone who loves Nassau like a treasure that you want to protect and preserve for still. I’ve said it a million times – so often you’re sick of hearing it and wonder why I keep saying it, but here’s the truth.
You don’t open a family store over the hill without a manager in place, but we open the city of Nassau every day, the gateway to our country, the first place where the masses of the seven million visitors per year we receive, without management in place.
What are we thinking?