The building in the shape of an old parcel boat is an eye-catcher along the Brechtsebaan. The remarkable building was built in 1932 by the Klint family. Until the 1970s, it was the bustling center of Boby-Land, a leisure park avant-la-lettre. When you see the old photos and postcards from that time, it seems as if the Belgian coast reached as far as Schoten.
There was a restaurant with a terrace surrounded by water: the canal at the back, but also a swimming pool at the front. At one point, an adopted seal even splashed around in it. In the immediate vicinity were bungalows where people spent their holidays. Some bungalows are still there, albeit for permanent residence.
In a more recent past, ‘den boot’ served as a dancing (Love Boat, Canzonetta), restaurant (Den Boot and Mir-à-l’Eau) and sex club (Circle Club). All the great international artists from the 1970s and 1980s performed there. If you pass Boby-Land today, you can only conclude that the glory days are long gone. The building has been completely empty for three years since the sex club’s departure and has suffered serious damage.
“A reconstruction or new construction within the current destination of the catering industry is no longer an issue, both in terms of urban planning and zoning. Merely subdividing into loose parts did not seem like a good solution to us either”, according to architect Werner Braeckmans. He made a design for Ressimmo for three detached volumes, each with three houses connected by a sleek design. The plans imply the demolition of everything that is still standing along the canal.
“It is financially irresponsible to renovate this building, if it is technically possible at all,” says Philippe Selders of Ressimmo. “Mrs. Vera Vanderauwera, owner of Boby-Land, has made several proposals in the past to revalue her well-situated property. Each time she encountered resistance and disapproval.”
“These plans for nine spacious ground floor apartments were checked with the municipality and we feel they were welcomed. The living space on the first floor will give residents a view of the canal. We hope to have a building permit by the end of this year.”
Architect Werner Braeckmans, who drew up the plans for Ressimmo, is a Schotenaar himself and a member of the heritage thread. He knows the local history and finds the building itself quite charming, although it was often rebuilt and mutilated over time. “More importantly: ‘the boot’ is full of asbestos, right down to the load-bearing elements. In a manner of speaking, this ship has already sunk and can no longer be saved,” says the architect.
Philippe Snelders of Ressimmo realizes that Boby-Land is sensitive in Schoten and evokes fond memories for many people. “As a reference to that glorious past, we are prepared to give the iconic image of the seal, which at the time was next to and later in the swimming pool as a fountain, a place in our homes. That is possible because the statue has recently been returned to the owner’s home and she wants to make it available for that purpose”, says Snelders.
Architect Werner Braeckmans, for his part, has already drawn an artefact in the form of a sunken bow in the planned water feature (wadi), also a nod to the previous destination.
Frederik Janssens, a Scot who has been crusading for years and often in vain against the demolition of unprotected, but valuable buildings in his opinion, has launched a petition against the current plans before the public inquiry – which starts on 8 September.
“Boby-Land is part of Schoten’s identity and should certainly be partially preserved,” says the man who studied conservation and restoration at Antwerp University. “The original building volume (1932-1950) is a fine example of package boat architecture. If we can save that and provide some new construction around it, I can live with that. But destroying everything just like that is not possible.”
“Too much of our history has already been lost in Schoten for money gain,” continues Janssens. “This place exudes nostalgia, but it is more than that. Boby-Land, together with the accompanying fifty bungalows, was quite progressive in its time. For example, the canal water was purified via an ingenious system. And there are many other reasons to keep Boby-Land partially above water.”
According to Janssens, many hidden gems are still hidden underground due to the many successive renovations, whether legal or not. “A solid building history research can reveal what potential this site still has,” Janssens adds. He and the eighty like-minded people who have signed his online petition, ask the municipality to certainly preserve the historic ‘ship’ and integrate it into the new building.
On his recently established Facebook group, residents of Schoten and former visitors to Boby-Land eagerly share nice old photos and facts with the water amusement park in the leading role. The group already has six hundred members and is alive. It suggests that the number of signatures to keep ‘the boot’ will continue to rise. Some even dream aloud of a new outdoor swimming pool for the residents of Scotland on the site. Because had Mayor Maarten De Veuster not recently advocated swimming in open water?
It will soon be up to the Council of Aldermen to correctly estimate the heritage value of Boby-Land and the feasibility of a restoration and to weigh them up against the added value of a new building, which can put an end to Schoten’s now dilapidated entrance. A difficult choice. (yes)