The former Botica Aruba restored

Downtown Oranjestad is still blessed with a handful of pretty art-deco buildings, some even earlier, but time marches on and those structures whose owners don’t care, quickly fall into a desperate state of disrepair.

If a building isn’t used, it crumbles.

The former Botica Aruba, on Steenweg 17 – 19, was lucky. It was built in the 20th by architect / carpenter Dada Picus, and served since 1925 as one of the first pharmacies in town. Then it became El Mecado, by Palais Hindu for a number of years and in 2015, at the hand of the Monuments’ Bureau, it morphed into BEAM, an art center. Recently, a good business plan was hatched that included complete renovations and renting the asset out as a valuable piece of real estate.

Project leader Daphne Fernandes Pedra, at the head of that undertaking on behalf of the Monuments’ Bureau and Fund, is an individual of great taste, because the end result is lovely, and functional, and something to be proud of. It is successfully rented out as Koal, an elegant cooking studio with chef Albert Raven and dining room manager/sommelier Tommie Rensen.

The two have a good track record and they will make a go of the old/new establishment, lending downtown Oranjestad a much needed hand, in its efforts to bring about urban revival.

The architectural gem across the street from Koal is one of the tragic ones, whose owners don’t care and allow it to turn to dust.

The new Koal restaurant is beautifully finished with a wide-open exhibition kitchen, an 18 seat U-shaped dining bar, and an inner courtyard, with palm trees, where chef Albert grills the nightly main course.

Daphne used some of the old tin ceiling elements, as ornamental pieces for the bar and the inner courtyard. The bureau explains that tin ceilings were first manufactured and sold in North America in the mid-1800s, as a more affordable option to emulate the look and elegance of the ornate plasterwork that was popular in Europe at the time. Tin was also lighter than plaster, and at the time was painted white to also look like it. During the restoration, tin plates were discovered, and they now adorn the dining bar and courtyard shed walls, painted pastel colors.

Congratulation to the Monuments’ Bureau, everything from decorative kitchen tile to the gray bar top exudes quiet elegance, befitting the design of the building. Most importantly, the renovations concluded on time. The agreement with the culinary entrepreneurs was signed in summer 2022 and Koal opened min-February.

A production studio, Cocolishi, is preparing to also move in, with Pierre Koolman and his crew. They rented the upper floor and intend to operate from their new headquarters, in town.

There are some more projects on the burner for Oranjestad, Romar Trading is almost finished with a new distillery, on Wilhelminastraat and the Papiamento Distillery next to the cruise ship terminal received its permit and can now transform the old ice factory into a tasting room, museum and shop.

The building on Wilhelminastraat, Algemene Rekenkamer, the court of audit, also known as School 1888, is also being renovated. In previous years it was repaired with cement, which badly damaged the original construction. The Monuments’ Bureau is now trying to repair it with lime plaster, the original material, and has invited the general public for a workshop and demonstration to learn how to work with lime plaster, in hope that more will be done for conservation.

And talking about conservation: To date NO BUILDING in town received legal protection, while the minister of culture repeatedly says she is working on it, nothing has been finalized.

How is that possible?

Stichting Monumenten Fonds Aruba (S.M.F.A.) was established in 1996, and it has been doing a remarkable job, but it could be doing even better if conservation laws were enacted. Curacao managed to protect and retain much of its cultural-architectural heritage, Aruba is struggling.

SMFA, tel.: 582 4014, [email protected]


Share on:

March 07, 2023
Rona Coster