[JPL] Symbol of American jazz culture faces demolition in Beijing

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat Aug 5 12:32:54 EDT 2006

Symbol of American jazz culture faces demolition
www.chinaview.cn 2006-08-05 07:31:31

BEIJING, Aug. 5 -- A renowned symbol of American architecture and jazz in 
Beijing faces demolition on Sunday, adding to concern that too much of the 
city's past culture and diversity is being erased in the quest for modernity.

     American Douglas Monitto spent the last years of his life importing 
the materials to build a replica of a 19th-century Louisiana mansion on the 
outskirts of Chaoyang Park in eastern Beijing. Monitto's widow, Mary, said 
they spent more than US$1 million to fly everything from a New Orleans jazz 
club, The Big Easy, into China, after being encouraged to open the music 
outpost by local authorities and signing a 13-year contract in 1998.

     Mary Monitto said she received a notice from Chaoyang Park in January 
ordering her to vacate the mansion within two weeks, even though the 
contract runs until 2011.

     After fruitless efforts to meet with Chaoyang Park officials, Monitto 
received a new order on Tuesday stating the building would be demolished 
this weekend. Water and electricity were cut off on Wednesday as workers 
erected a four-metre-high wall around the club, bulldozers at the ready 

     The elegant, verandah-rimmed architecture, along with its jazz 
frescoes that were painted by US artists and its once-freewheeling stage 
for improvised music, is now surrounded by demolition squads.

     "In Europe, city planners use a very broad palette of cultural and 
architectural considerations when they decide what to build and what to 
destroy in any development project," said Anu Leinonen, an architect and 
expert on urban planning.

     The Big Easy is not only a unique example of antebellum American 
architecture, but also a symbol of Beijing's globalized jazz scene.

     "In Europe, planners would consider how to preserve and incorporate it 
(existing architecture) into a new project," she said.

     If the government has other priorities, "people at the park can talk 
to us at least," said Mary Monitto.

     For months park officials avoided a face-to-face meeting, but they 
organized a 10-minute consultation on Friday, she added.

     Tian Jixian, general manager of Chaoyang Park, told China Daily the 
authorities had followed the contract, under which the lease rights can be 
voided for an important government need. In this situation, the authorities 
were required to notify the club three months in advance. "We told them 
more than half a year ago," he said, referring to the January notice.

     He added that a "Peace Plaza" would be built on the site of the club, 
but declined to identify the investor or whether the new project would be a 
commercial or government venture.

     He said the park would follow governmental regulations on compensation.

     Monitto said the park proposed compensation of 1.4 million yuan 
(US$175,000) on Friday, but the Monittos' investment far exceeds that figure.

     At a swan-song party this week, jazz singer Yao Yixin said: "The Big 
Easy was the earliest American jazz and blues venue in Beijing. Its 
destruction will change the city's cultural map."

     "The Big Easy has been an icon of American jazz music and culture in 
the city. It is terrible that they are tearing it down," said Eugene 
Marlow, a professor at the Baruch College of the City University of New 
York, who is writing a book on jazz in China.

(Source: China Daily)

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