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‘More mileage than advert on billboard’

Bank saves Art Nouveau Sliema house

The last remaining detached house on Sliema’s Tower Road, No. 225, is a nostalgic flashback, a glimpse of what the town looked like less than half a century ago.

It was very nearly going to be turned into yet another bland, high-rise building but luckily it was saved by a bank.

Lombard Bank has restored this landmark house, which was built in 1914 and described as the last example of Art Nouveau architecture along the Sliema seafront.

It is positioned at the junction of two well-known thoroughfares: Dingli Street and Tower Road.

“It is our bank’s philosophy to encourage and promote the local culture,” said Lombard CEO Joseph Said.

Over the last few decades, the triangular house, which was the perfect bookend for a row of neat houses, has cut a lone figure as its two-storey neighbours were ripped down, one after the other, as the building boom took no prisoners.

It is now dwarfed by the apartment blocks on Tower Road and Dingli Street.

For years it stood out for all the wrong reasons: it was painfully dilapidated. “I live close by, so I always had a sentiment for the property,” Mr Said, who also is also chairman of Heritage Malta, said.

The house was one of the last to be built on Tower Road by Antonio Cassar Torregiani as his family’s summer residence.

Before the bank purchased the property, an application for a building permit had been submitted. Had it gone through it would have seen this house of great character knocked down and turned into yet another apartment block.

As it is, a vestige of Sliema’s old charm has been saved.

“We are trying to bring it back to the original state and retain all its late 19th century architectural qualities,” said Mr Said.

The bank’s changes were “limited” and entailed “minimum intervention” he said. Inside, all the wooden, wrought-iron and stonework features have been restored and replicated even on the newly-built third floor.

“The bank’s policy with regard to the restoration of its period buildings is one of maximum respect towards the structures,” said Mr Said.

What use can the bank make of a building with just three floors?

“It’s all about adaptive use: We’re not going to put our IT section there, obviously, but we’ll do something else.”

It is not the first time Lombard has undertaken a restoration of this nature. The conversion of No. 9 Palazzo Spinola in Frederick Street, Valletta, is one other project.

Mr Said said the public’s positive reaction was always very encouraging and he was pleased to note that not a single objection was registered by the neighbours.

“Yes, projects like these cost a bit more – but ultimately they pay off and the eventual benefits by far outweigh the original cost,” he said, adding that people now associated the company with things that were of good quality.

“Tower Road is one of the busiest streets in Malta.

“Restoring a house like this certainly gives you more mileage than an advert on a billboard.”

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