Port of Spain businessman/Natrust Ltd chief executive officer (CEO) Alfred Galy said a team comprising an architect and an engineer will advise him on the future of Greyfriars Church of Scotland, on Frederick Street, Port of Spain, by mid-September. He also said the National Trust should prioritise which buildings it intended to save since it was virtually impossible to save all the dilapidated historical edifices.
Galy also said he felt compelled to purchase Greyfriars Church since he is a patron of the arts, appreciates fine architecture and aesthetics.
Greyfriars shot into the spotlight after the Presbyterian community, historians and conservationists feared the edifice would be destroyed. The Trust issued a statement indicating the building will be listed ‘afforded protected status’. But the process is tedious and requires surveys, valuations and planning.
Interviewed at his Frederick Street office yesterday, Galy, 84, said: “I have an architect and an engineer looking at it. They will get back to me by mid-September. They will advise us on the way forward. I can’t disclose their names right now. In due course, everything will come out.”
Asked about Greyfriars cost, Galy added: “We bought it at market price. It was no deal. I can’t give the exact figures. Anybody who has an idea about real estate would have an idea about the market prices. I am the middle man. I bought it for a company. I can’t say which company. I can’t disclose too much yet.”
Sharing his sentiments on the church, Galy said: “I am not responsible for it. The church is derelict. The congregation left it. There was nobody to pay the stipend which might have gone to the upkeep. Maybe it was because of health and safety issues. Maybe they lost their faith in God. Everybody ran for cover. I know they fixed up St Ann’s Church of Scotland on Charlotte Street real nice. Inside they did a lot of work.”
Galy likened the church to a sick patient.
He said: “It costs to upkeep a sick person. At one point, you might have to pull the plug. The church is derelict. It is very expensive to upkeep a derelict building.”
Asked about his particular interest in Greyfriars, Galy said he has always been a devotee of the arts.
“I commissioned the late sculptor Pat Chu Foon to do a piece for Trinity College. I paid him $15,000. I had a copper designed by Conrad Rogers from Belmont. He is now living at Diego Martin. It is in my office and it features the elements like Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. “
Galy developed a passion for the church. He said: “I used to pass there as a boy on my way to St Mary’s College. I used to hear a lot of singing and music. The hall would be decked out at Christmas time.”
But he noticed a falling away at Greyfriars. Galy said: “About 10 years ago, not an ants.”
Asked if he had ever worshipped there or attended an event, Galy said: “No. I am a Roman Catholic. The site is strategic. It is more than 120 years old.”
Turning his attention to the National Trust, Galy said: “Not all buildings are good for restoration. The Trust has to understand they cannot save everything. Some of the buildings artists have to draw drawings, put the dates and say these buildings were once part of our landscape.”
Galy added: “Queens’ Royal College (QRC) is a beautifully restored building. I know the Anglican Church (Rev Claude Berkley) is struggling with Hayes Court. Restoration is expensive. Stollmeyer’s Castle is there about 35 to 40 years and they are not fixing it. Mille Fleurs is in need of work.”
He said the Port of Spain hospital’s architecture should be salvaged.
“Gut the inside of the building, fix it but keep it. It is a beautiful building,” said Galy.
When contacted yesterday, Dr Rodger Samuel, Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, said: “I met with the Trust and the Ministry and the National Trust will be looking into the matter.”
Meanwhile, passersby and motorists would have noticed contemporary Greyfriars does not have any window panes, mortar is falling from the blocks and electrical fixtures have been destroyed. While the back gate is closed, the front fence is overgrown with vegetation and the entire building is in dire need of a fresh coat of paint. Pigeons frolic on the rooftop and vagrants sometimes sit outside the entrance begging for alms.