“Jubilee Main Street, Georgetown” – by Francis Quamina Farrier
Back in the 1970s, when on a visit to Guyana, the late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in East Africa, while addressing a gathering at a Welcome Reception in the Promenade Gardens in Georgetown, said that he planned to visit Main Street. That statement by the visiting president drew loud laughter from the gathering. The Honoured Guest responded with some anxiety, “It looks like I will have to go there in a hurry.” The laughter was even louder. Where-upon, someone whispered to President Nyerere the real reason why there was that uproar of laughter.
Back in those ‘innocent’ years of Guyana, there was the popular “Cambridge Hotel” on Main Street, in Georgetown, which had a very sordid and well-known reputation of being a high-class brothel. Those present at that august gathering, were allowing their naughty minds to imagine the Tanzanian President, desiring to be a client.
On the present vacant lot on the western side of Main Street, opposite where the Cambridge Hotel once stood, was the Park Hotel. It was a massive wooden structure with an impressive dome. The Park Hotel had its own sordid reputation in its early years. It never accepted non-white guests. If apartheid was ever practiced in British Guiana – and it was in many places – it was at the Park Hotel on Main Street, in Georgetown.
There was a case in which a ‘high coloured’ overseas-based Guyanese professional, booked a room at the Park Hotel while still abroad. When he arrived in the colony and presented himself at the Park Hotel, he was immediately instructed to vacate the premises. The individual was a high ranking jurist, and that case brought an end to apartheid at that hotel. The Park Hotel, which was one of Georgetown’s iconic wooden structures, was gutted in a suspicious fire, which brought its reign to a dramatic end. After over more than two decades, the lot at Main and Bentick Streets where the Park Hotel once dominated the landscape, remains empty and is used as a Car Park; from being the location of the magnificent Park Hotel, to becoming a simple Car Park.
The Main Street of today is very different from the Main Street of Colonial times. Even the new owners of the Hotel Tower, alluded to the past reputation of Guyana’s oldest hotel – also located on Main Street, in Georgetown. Another hotel on Main Street which is under new ownership, and like the TOWER was spruced up for Jubilee, is the King’s Plaza, which from reports did good business.
While one current Main Street ‘Watering hole’ is known for the many acts of violence, including gun-play, and another landmark is known by the name “Blackout”, there are many places of significance on Main Street. There is the Ministry of Finance. There is the Official Residence of the Prime Minister. There is the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology. There is, of course, the British High Commission. There is also State House – the Official residence of the President of the country. Not to forget the new Sacred Heart Catholic Church. And as someone said, while there is food for the soul at that historic Catholic Church, there is food for the body at the New Thriving Chinese Restaurant, located opposite the Sacred Heart Church.
Main Street also boasts of having the country’s largest Home Appliance Store – COURTS. There is also the Main Street Demico House – previously known as “The Arapaima”; a name which the Management should re-attach to that building. The name “Arapaima” – Guyana’s largest fresh water fish – is part of the BANKS DIH Demico House history, which is also a part of Guyana’s glorious history.
The Ministry of Culture at the corner of Main and Quamina Streets, has in recent years, earned itself a reputation of being unwelcoming to many Guyanese Cultural workers. It would be recalled the street demonstration by many who were not paid for their services in a timely manner, after Carifesta 2008. Veterans such as Ron Robinson, Godfrey Naughton and others had to mount a Public Demonstration for a number of days, before they were finally paid what they had earned with long days and long nights of hard work.
More recently, there have been some complaints by some who wanted to make contributions to the JUBILEE CELEBRATIONS in May 2016, but were denied by the Ministry of Culture. There have never been such demonstrations at the Ministry of Finance, which is also on Main Street.
However, BIG BUSINESS and IMPORTANT establishments apart, in this feature, I am also focusing on the small vendors who ply their trade in the Main Street Avenue. For many years, I have observed all those who do sculpting along the southern end of the avenue, between Quamina and Church Streets, cleaning up in the mornings as well as in the evenings – and that took place all through the years when Georgetown was over-run with garbage. We have to recognize those Sculptors! They are talents and good citizens who keep their environment clean and tidy at all times. No need for any clean-up campaign where they function. Let’s celebrate those who sell their products on the Main Street Avenue. One Vendor even displays a flag of Guyana every day. Such patriotism should not go unrecognized.
Main Street has hosted many Art and Craft and other Exhibitions over the decades. There are even Health Fairs on Main Street. There was a small one during the Jubilee Month of May 2016. For many years, the COURTS Tree Christmas Light-up is also very popular with Citizens, and that block of Main Street is blocked off from traffic, for a few hours, while hundreds of people are entertained by popular entertainers on a make-shift stage.
During the main Jubilee Season, I did some shopping on the Main Street Avenue, for Family and Friends abroad. One cup which I bought had the images of all of Guyana’s presidents – from President Arthur Chung to President David Granger. That cup is now the property of a dear Guyanese friend of mine who resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Another cup, which is decorated with the names of many of Guyana’s foods, is now in Barbados, my gift to another Guyanese friend who lives and works in that Caricom Nation.
Of course, Main Street, Georgetown, actually spills over into the General Post Office and Guyana Stores Triangle, and from information garnered, Vendors in that Mecca for Arts and Crafts, all did good business during the Jubilee Celebrations in May.
Main Street, Georgetown, in this Jubilee Year, is now somewhere which you can proudly say, “I have to go to Main Street”, without anyone with a naughty mind, thinking that you desire to be a client.