The Planning Commission has approved the restoration of an old theatre and other alterations within a palazzo in Valletta after the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage gave the green light.
When the application was brought before the Planning Commission, the architect, Patrick Calleja, on behalf of the developer, Neville Agius, explained that the project had been amended heavily following discussions with the superintendence and addressed concerns.
The superintendence had issued a conservation and protection order to safeguard a viewing gallery at Palazzo Carafa, which housed a projection room in what is believed to be one of the first cinemas in the country.
The 400-year-old palazzo, a prominent corner building in Old Bakery Street, was the 17th- century home of Grand Master Gregorio Carafa. It belongs to the Church and served as the premises of the Circolo Gioventù Cattolica for many years. The property enjoys maximum protection by law as it is a Grade 1 scheduled building.
After being left in a state of neglect for some years, the Church leased the property to a third party on condition it would be returned to its former glory. A development application was eventually filed to restore the building.
The project had been amended heavily following discussions
The proposal includes minor internal alterations such as the installation of a passenger lift and the reinstatement of masonry balconies at first floor level.
But before any planning permission was sought, the developer removed a “historic” wooden stage which formed part of a theatre built during the inter-war years. He insisted that the structure was in a very bad state, while describing the theatre in general as an amateurish accretion to a historic building. The stage, which consisted of a series of raw timber panels supported on an improvised array of timber struts, was “devoid of any craftsmanship, architectural or engineering merit”, according to a report submitted to the PA.
Calleja said discussions with the superintendence had focus on the restoration of the theatre and the original proposal to remove the projection room had been dropped, along with the proposal to close off access to the theatre which did not feature on historic documents.
The original proposal included the removal of the reinforced concrete gallery and the formation of partition walls to reinstate the original configuration and proportions of the spaces. However, on the advice of the culture watchdog, the concrete bricks forming the projection room will be removed but the actual concrete gallery will be retained.
The commission noted the favourable opinion issued by the superintendence following talks and onsite inspections. The culture watchdog said it was satisfied with the updated restoration method statement submitted by the developer. It also noted the clearance given by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability, which was still pending and was the only reason why the case officer was recommending the application’s refusal.
Archaeologist Reuben Grima, a Valletta resident who has been working in the field of cultural heritage management for 30 years, told the commission he was satisfied with the changes brought about by discussions with the superintendence.
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