On 30 January 1964, Le Soir newspaper announced that the Maison du Peuple ‘is definitely condemned.’ It was the end of a long battle to save Victor Horta’s 1890s masterpiece, possibly the world’s greatest Art Nouveau building.
The Maison du Peuple was designed by Victor Horta in Art Nouveau style as a people’s palace. It was an extremely complex project involving a difficult sloping site. Horta created endless detailed drawings to direct the craftsmen employed on the project.
The final building was a sublime creation of iron columns and glass windows. As well as a vast meeting hall that seated 1,500 people, it had a grocery store, bookshop and cafe. The panels on the front were painted with the names of great socialist philosophers such as Proud’hon and Marx.
But none of this mattered in the 1960s. The socialist party wanted to get rid of this old building. A petition was sent to the city council, signed by 700 international architects, calling on the city to save Horta’s masterpiece. But the mayor, Lucien Cooremans, refused to listen to their pleas. The building was torn down in 1965 to put up a modern office tower.
The city vaguely promised to rebuild the Maison du Peuple in another location. The blocks of carved stone and curving iron railings were carefully numbered and then left in a Brussels cemetery for decades. Several reconstruction plans were discussed, but nothing was done. Meanwhile, the iron was being removed by scrap merchants. Now there is no possibility of ever reconstructing the building.
You can see two of the iron balconies inside Horta metro station. Other iron fragments were taken to Antwerp, where they were incorporated into a modern brasserie. But the rest has gone, like so many Horta buildings, because the city failed to understand Art Nouveau until it was too late.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.