Tuesday, April 5, 2022

May 1940: My grandparent's apartment and super cool modern technology

 Really, this is just a continuation of my making connections down through time article, about how there are generous people are willing to help complete strangers with research.  And the cool tech that helped me this time: Google Streetview, and a historical arial photography website for the city of Brussels. They both gave me information about locations and neighborhoods.

Anyway, I wrote to a historical society in Brussels that is devoted to the history of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, the township in Brussels where my grandparents lived.  More specifically I wanted to know if this apartment building in Brussels had been built before the war (hence, it is the actual building they lived in?), or after the war (so not the building they lived in)?

In other words, if I describe THIS building in my grandparents' stories, would it be accurate?

286 Avenue de Mai
Note the curved sunroom on the right. 
That's how I placed which building it was in the photos.

Here's the answer I got:

Dear Ms. Weeks,

 This building was built during the interbellum, probably in 1935-1936 (permit from June 1934). The houses nr. 286, 288 and 290 constitute an ensemble built by three different owners. Number 286 was built by the architect who designed the ensemble, Paul Aernaut. There are indeed three apartments in this house.

I invite you to check on Bruciel (it would be “Brusky” in English), you will see an aerial photography from 1930-1935 of this very building being built!

 My department is responsible for the ‘duty to remember’ in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. We make a lot of research about occupation and resistance during the war, so I would love to hear more about your family’s history. Also don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any further question about WWII in Brussels.


S---- F----- 

Ok, this is excellent news! And so YES, that is indeed the apartment my grandparents lived in, when my aunt was born. That makes me very happy.  

Here it is in on the map. Note the pink heart pin - that's 286 Ave de Mai.

Ave Herbert Hoover and Ave de Mai
make a wedge-shaped neighborhood.

Bit of a surprise that there is an Avenue in Brussels named after an American president, but whatever.

Note the wedge-shaped neighborhood.   They are close to the narrow end of the wedge, and in my stories, I'd written that they grew vegetables in the courtyard behind the building, but ... that doesn't look like there's much space for a garden there, particularly if you consider the building on Herbert Hoover that is directly north of my grandparents' apartment.   So, using Google Streetview, I looked at that building. Is it modern or old? Is my understanding of the size of the space correct?  

In the picture below, the building north of 286 Avenue de Mai is the one on the right with the gray wall, with the back of my grandparent's building peaking through the gap between it and the next building:


Wait? Grandpa and Grandma had a balcony? Did people grew food in containers on those balconies?  But ... yeah. Not much space and maybe not much sun exposure - that space behind the building is on the north side of the building.  Given the food shortages during the war, I'm sure that if there WAS any usable green space, that it probably would have been used to grow food. 

So then I decided to look up the historical arial photography site the historian sent me, and ... whoa. Pay dirt!!  Take a look:

1935 or 1936 - during construction. Lots of open space. But that building behind it wasn't there.

1944: The building behind it appears to be there. I suspect that new construction
probably didn't happen DURING the war, so my guess is that it was built prior to 1939.
But, note that there appears to be open space to both the left and right.

1953.  Much clearer picture, but little change from 1944.  That is definitely open space to left and right. 

And, I wondered if maybe people really did grow veggies in those open spaces. Here's are two closeups of the 1944 photos, and ... maybe? They are patchy looking. Maybe they are vegetable gardens? Click on the images to enlarge even more.

1944 closeup of the open space to left of building.

1944 closeup of the open space to right of building.

Here's the Belgian arial photography site if you want to play with it.

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