Remembering The Chalet And Looking To What Its Future May Hold

Take a walk back in time

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Photo: Joann Barile / Pinterest

From 1926 till 1959, The Chalet was the epitome of cool, so much so that the question “Do you think you are at The Chalet?” was asked of anyone who was so laid back he was practically horizontal.

The building - which was not like a chalet, at all - was designed by the British architect B.W. Cordwell of the Royal Engineers, in a cross between the then fashionable Art Deco-cum-Neo Liberty styles. The call for applications, published in the Government Gazette of November, 1923, had been for a “Concession for 30 years of a public site at Għar id-Dud, Sliema, for the construction of a Chalet. Tenders for the above will be received up to 10.30am on Thursday 29th November 1923.” It was eventually won by Carmelo Axisa. 

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Built on a promontory in Sliema, it was a monstrous, two-storey, reinforced concrete construction and it was the height of fashion. It became the watering hole for both the in crowd (which of course included the Judiciary) and the great unwashed.

For its time, the place was state-of-the-art. There was an orchestra upstairs, and sometimes one downstairs too; there was a cook, a chef patissier, and sundry waiters and handymen. The irrational laws of the day forbade youth from watching adults dance – and to guarantee this, both dance halls had shuttered windows.

When WWII broke out in 1939, The Chalet went on temporary hiatus. In 1942, it was hit by a bomb that partially destroyed it, only to be reconstructed at a later date. By July 1959 however, lack of maintenance, as well as the elements and the vibrations from the sea smashing against the foundations, meant it was declared structurally unsound. In 1963 it was closed down. But this did not deter daredevils who roller-skated on what was left of the roof or wannabe daredevils who dived into the sea off the crumbling edges.

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In 2006, what was left of it was pulled down, in an attempt to discourage punters from trying to break their necks. But sunbathers, swimmers, divers, lovers, and adventure-seekers still congregate there. 

So much for the much-vaunted “plans” to repair it that had been bandied about in the press in the mid-1960s. Since then, every so often, the rumour, albeit with different details, resurfaces. 

This time around, the buzz appears to be based in the concrete - literally - rather than in the abstract. 

Minister for Tourism Konrad Mizzi has been quoted as saying that the Government is looking at the possibility of using private-public partnerships to revive and/or improve certain areas – including the aforementioned chalet, which falls between the designated area of Il-Fortizza and Tigné Point, through a Touristic Zones Foundation yet to be set up. 

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When asked, the past patrons of The Chalet who helped compile this article, said the construction of a breakwater to lessen the shock-impact of the waves on the foundations would ruin the whole area. Moreover, they seemed quite insistent that nothing can recreate its past glory.

Still, it might be interesting to see a little bit of the old glamour return to the area.

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