Sunday, October 8, 2017

Leopoldville 1920s - Secli and Sedec

In the 1920s, the two lots on Ave. des Aviateurs, where the US and Portuguese Embassies now stand, was a football pitch facing Sainte Anne cathedral. During the dry season, teams comprised of the European employees of local companies would compete in the cool of the afternoon. At Ste. Anne, at this time as well, Father Raphael de la Kethulle de Ryhove (Tata Raphael) was beginning to organize Congolese teams to play the newly-imported sport (See Feb. 6, 2011). 
Ste. Anne right, football pitch center, Ave des Aviateurs running diagonally right to left, Equatoriale center left.
Note railroad tracks where Blvd du 30 Juin runs today.
A football game in front of the Equatoriale
Looming over the southwest corner of the field was a handsome two-story commercial building belonging to the Société Equatoriale Congolaise Lulonga-Ikelemba – the “Equatoriale” or SECLI.  Founded in July 1910, the Equatoriale was primarily engaged in exploiting extensive plantations in Equateur province from its headquarters at Wendji, outside of the provincial capital of Coquilhatville (Mbandaka).  In Graham Greene’s 1961 novel, “A Burnt-Out Case”, the conflicted architect, Querry, visits the palm-oil plantation from his refuge at the nearby leprosarium of Iyonda. The Equatoriale also sought to establish itself in retail trade (known as comptoirs or factoreries at the time) and opened the retail store on Ave. des Aviateurs in the developing commercial center of Kinshasa in the late 1910s. Subsequently, it opened a store across the river in Brazzaville in 1925 to take advantage of developing economic opportunities in the French colony. SECLI was instrumental in introducing the American firm, L.C. Gillespie & Sons to Congo, which in addition to its store in Leopoldville, also developed plantations at Inganda near SECLI’s operation at Wendji (See Mar.14, 2012).
The SECLI store at the corner of Aviateurs and Hotel.
SECLI specialties - Haig Whiskey, Arrow Shirts, Vins de France, F.N. Motos.
The Equatoriale motor pool.
On the same triangular lot formed by Avenues Aviateurs and Commerce (later Bousin, now Isiro), the Sedec company (Société des Entreprises Commerciales au Congo Belge, formed in October 1913 by the Lever Brothers interests), built an Art Deco commercial building next to the Equatoriale store.  Initially the showroom of Sedec Motors, the store was later repurposed as a grocery and department store in the 1950s after the renamed automobile agency, Agence Commercial Automobile (ACA), moved to Ave. Van Gele (Lukusa). Sedec, as a commercial proposition, did not survive the Zairianization and break up of Lever Brothers interests in the 1970s.  Operating for a while as “Select” in the 1990s, the moribund store was reopened by Hasson Africa in 2005.
Sedec Motors looking down Ave. des Aviateurs.
The Sedec store in the mid-1950s. Note open courtyard in the center of the triangular building.
Hasson Africa building.
Hasson Freres was originally established at Luputa in Kasai Province in 1936 by Leon Hasson, part of a diaspora of several thousand Sephardic Jews who operated retail, wholesale and industrial businesses from Leopoldville, across the Kasai to Elisabethville and throughout eastern Congo. In 1946, Hasson moved to Leopoldville and opened Au Chic, one of the first stores in the capital to serve both European and Congolese customers (See Mar. 19, 2011).  Primarily engaged in commercial activities serving the Congolese market, the firm weathered the “Pillages” of the 1990s and in 2005, as Hasson Africa, the reopened the old Sedec property on Ave. des Aviateurs.  Interestingly, the company sought to develop the store as a mall, with a number of private vendors, including SOGENAC (formerly Jules Van Lancker cattle ranch located at Kolo in Kongo Central), La Petite Epicerie for fresh produce, as well as a series of boutiques and cafes on the mezzanine, including Cosmopolite, Restaurant Zamani and Le Petit Café.

Cafe Mozart. Note mezzanine level and skylight above.
Zamani Restaurant on the upper level.
Le Petit Cafe has a daily Congolese menu for $10.
Within the last year, the old SECLI store, operating as Le Chateau restaurant in the 1980s, was demolished and Hasson Freres acquired the space to expand storage facilities for the main complex.  At the beginning of September, another Hasson Freres tenant opened “Le Pergola” in the narrow space along Ave. des Aviateurs opposite the US Embassy.  The restaurant offers sandwiches and salads and a playground for kids and cages along the wall with rabbits and parrots. The name “Pergola” brought to mind among old timers a popular restaurant of the 1960s on the Boulevard where the BCDC bank tower is today (See June 28, 2011).  The proprietor knows about the former Pergola, “I’ve been told about it”, but did not seem particularly interested or curious.  She has her own marketing to do and it is focused on youth and their parents, not the past.
Le Chateau in the mid-2000s, no longer a restaurant.
The new Pergola with Sozacom Building in background.
The Pergola restaurant, dining al fresco.
Blvd. du 30 Juin. The earlier Pergola to the right of the apartment building.
The loss of colonial era structures is a complicated issue considering that Congolese do not have a strong affinity for the relics of the era, market demand for developable properties in Gombe Commune is huge and there is no regulatory preservation framework in place.  Nor is the general public consulted or even aware of an owner’s business decision to demolish a structure that might have historical or architectural importance. It is not my place as a guest in the country to advocate for a preservationist agenda, so until an opportunity presents itself, I must content myself with documenting the past through this blog or prefacing a stop on a historical and architectural tour with, “on this site once stood…”


  • VanPeel, Benedicte, 2001. “Au Debuts de Football Congolais”. in “Itineraires croises de la modernite: Congo Belge, 1920-1950”, Institut Africain CEDAF.