The Pine Residence was built by Alfred Moussa Sursock, who was working as an official at the Ottoman embassy in Paris until the beginning of the first world war. Alfred returned to Beirut and on December 5, 1915 he obtained a 50-year concession from then mayor of Beirut Kenaan Taher Bey for the management of 660,000 square metres (7,100,000 sq ft) of the Beirut pine forest, provided he builds the “Cercle du Parc du Bois” or “Cercle Azmi” (Azmi Club), the first casino in Lebanon. Sursock proceeded to build the casino and the horse racetrack on the plot and created the Ottoman Casino-Club Society (“Société du Casino-Club Ottoman”) to that end. The pinery where the project was set to be constructed had been exploited for shipbuilding since the Phoenician times and up until the arrival of the Crusaders. By the end of the 19th century the Beirut pine forest became a frequented promenade. The park hosted regular archery contests and a Kiosk where military music was played every Friday during winter.
The construction of “Qasr es-Sanawbar” began in 1916 under the supervision of the Sursock family architect Bahjat Abdel Nour and involved Amine Abdel Nour, Hussein al-Ahdab, Youssef Aftimus, Maroun Ghammacheh and Gaspard Nafilyan. The two-story building was completed in 1920 it consisted of a raised basement, a ground floor with a hall and a dining area, and an upper floor with game rooms. Nevertheless, the building never served as a casino because of the ongoing world war I; it was used as a military hospital instead.
Sursock Villa and Rue Sursock
The Sursock mansion, built in 1912, is an exceptional, pearl white structure at the top of a hill in Beirut’s luxurious Achrafieh neighbourhood. Bringing out the best of both Venetian and Ottoman architecture, the building is a pool of influences, not dissimilar to the capital itself. President Camille Chamoun subsequently used it as a showpiece in which to host visiting dignitaries. The Sursock villa in Sofar, constructed in the early twentieth century by Alfred Sursock for his wife Donna Maria di Cassano, bears original foundation inscriptions that proclaim the wealth of these merchants-turned-aristocrats. Though this Greek Orthodox family of foreign proteges often adopted the style and manners of French and other European elite, the Arabic inscriptions indicate deep traces of an Ottoman alliance stretching back centuries.
Nicolas Sursock built himself a spectacular private villa in 1912 and decreed in his will that the villa be transformed into a museum after his death. Thus, when he died in 1952 the villa was bequeathed to the city of Beirut. The Sursock Museum collection consists of 5,000 pieces, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, glassware, and iconography, all of which date back to the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The Sursock Museum building embodies Lebanese architecture with its Italianate, specifically Venetian, and Ottoman architectural influences. The museum is currently undergoing an extensive US$12 million renovation led by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Lebanese architect Jacques Aboukhaled.
Rue Sursock, in the Achrafieh district of Beirut, is named after the family, which owned and continues to own palatial homes on the street, such as Sursock House. Lady Cochrane Sursock, who in 1946 married Sir Desmond Cochrane, is the owner of the Sursock House, as well as a vast amount of property along Rue Sursock, up to the fashionable Rue Gouraud. Nicolas Sursock transformed the house into a museum of art and amassed a large collection of art and glass. But it was Lady Cochrane’s father, Alfred Bey Sursock, who initially expanded the size of the Sursock palace gardens and contributed most to the collections of art, carpets and other exquisite items, which are amongst the finest and best preserved in the Middle East. The palace is also home to a large collection of Italian artwork from the 16th and 17th centuries, many contemporary Lebanese pieces and antique Lebanese jewelry.