A petition drive, organized by a white American settler in Kenya, is underway to preserve a grand multi-leveled red mud building of mixed African influences overlooking Nairobi National Park. The “African Heritage House”, home to Colorado-native Alan Donovan, lies in the path of a future railway.
Donovan, who lives in and runs a bed and breakfast in the art-filled Heritage house, hopes to persuade President Uhuru Kenyatta to save the building he described as “Africa’s most photographed house.” He credits an old friend and business associate, Kenya’s first foreign minister, Joseph Anthony Zuzarte Murumbi, for launching a jewelry business that saw high-end pieces commissioned by the two men.
A former student at the University of California, Donovan, 72, came to Africa by way of Nigeria on assignment for the U.S. State Dept. during the Biafra war. His Kenyan house, designed by David Bristow of the UK, has a turreted facade echoing the mosques of Mali and a tower bearing the geometric designs of a Nigerian emir’s palace.
Inside are a garden courtyard, nine distinct rooms and an estimated 6,000 artworks reflecting a lifetime’s immersion in Africana as a collector and dealer. Donovan shows the house, completed in 1994, by appointment and takes reservations for overnight guests.
Efforts to list the house with the National Museums of Kenya have so far been unsuccessful. “This matter is with us,” said Museums and Monuments director, Dr. Purity Kiura, “(but) there is a procedure (to follow), which includes defining the values and the threshold for gazettement… Such values include historical, architectural authenticity and aesthetic value.”
Donovan’s petition, also on Facebook, begs his fellow Kenyans, Africans and citizens of the world “to join us in signing this petition to prevent the African Heritage House from being demolished…” Some 2,423 petitioners have signed up on avaaz.org
The threat of demolition was brought down a notch in a local Kenyan newspaper. “While it is true that an AP officer said the house was to be demolished, the route has not been finally approved by the contractor, Chinese Road and Bridges, or the Kenya Railway Corporation,” wrote The Star.
“There is still a good probability that the African Heritage House will stand and the railway will stay on the same route as the old railway if the route can be adapted to a high speed train, or take yet another route.”