Giorgio Taraf and his family once owned a home in the East Beirut neighbourhood of Achrafieh. When municipal officers applied pressure to restore the building, Taraf was forced to sell the home, which was later demolished.
Nagy Ester's family owned an apartment in a building constructed along the lines of French architecture during the 1930s. His family had to vacate the apartment when the building was slated for demolition.
Based upon their experiences, the pair founded "Save Beirut's Heritage", a campaign that has attracted more than 6,000 supporters on Facebook.
The campaign was launched in 2010 to spread awareness about the historical and architectural value of heritage buildings and their role in defining the nation's culture.
"The campaign is preparing for a conference on the architectural value of Beirut's buildings and how the city no longer resembles itself," Taraf said. "The campaign is monitoring the demolitions taking place in the city, which helped save 37 buildings from demolition, pending their classification."
Beirut is seeing an ongoing competition between real estate investors and those interested in preserving the city's heritage, especially as real estate prices continue to soar to $15,000 per square meter in the city. Lack of suitable building lots has many investors buying old buildings to construct modern residential and commercial high rises in their place.
Taraf told Al-Shorfa that campaign members started working with the Ministry of Culture and the Minister of the Interior to protect heritage buildings. Before a building is demolished in Beirut, the Minister of Culture must approve the plan.
Lebanese Minister of Culture Salim Warda said previously that such measures "contributed significantly to ending the demolitions."
Warda recently asked the Minister of Interior to halt demolition of five buildings and protect the Hanina Palace built in 1880 and the Ziade Palace built in 1860.
The culture ministry also established a "red line" phone number for residents to report any demolition.
Beirut is characterised by its buildings built in the Venetian and Ottoman style and constructed in the 19th century. Other buildings emulate French architectural style and were built during the French mandate over Lebanon during the 1920s.
Since 1995 the classification of heritage buildings in Beirut went through three phases, "where every time, the number of listed buildings shrank," says Serge Yazigi, an engineer specialising in civil planning and organization.
In 1995, former Lebanese Minister of Culture Michel Edde wrote a letter to the Governor of Beirut who froze demolition of 1,016 buildings near downtown.
In 1997, the ministry recommended freezing work on 520 out of 1,016 buildings. In 1998, based upon a mandate by the Cabinet, Khatib and Alami Consulting Company prepared a study on heritage buildings that included 459 properties.
In 2007, the cabinet took up a bill to protect heritage buildings and sites, prepared by then Minister of Culture Tarek Mitri. The bill has sat in the drawers of Parliament cabinets ever since.
"The bill awaiting a hearing in Parliament will not pass because of the difficulty of its application and because it is unfeasible," Yazigi told Al-Shorfa. "What is required is maintaining the heritage areas and the streets, not just the buildings."
Yazigi said the problem is the lack of political will and the inability to compensate property owners whose real estate is frozen because they are classified as heritage sites. Given the continued urban expansion, owners are eager to benefit from their properties.
Achrafieh and Qantari are among the four areas identified as heritage sites, according to a study conducted by the Association for Protecting Natural Sites and Old Buildings in Lebanon (APSAD).
Both areas are losing heritage buildings to demolition. Beirut Municipality is unable to counter the trend through purchase of buildings because of high real estate prices.
Ghassan Yazbeck of APSAD told Al-Shorfa that although Parliament has yet to pass the law to protect heritage buildings, "the society is active on all levels such as sit-ins and relying on the media to shed light on this issue which affects the capital's character and identity."