Site History and Significance
An Important Piece of Ethiopian History
The American Gibbi (also known as the American Compound or Palace) represents an important piece of Ethiopian history and is an enduring symbol of American values and support during a time of extreme crisis. From 1935 to 1941, it housed the American Embassy in the city. When the Italian fascist army invaded Ethiopia in 1936, the ambassador threw open the compound gates and sheltered thousands of Ethiopians fleeing from rioting, looting, arson and other atrocities for nearly a year. He saved their lives, and for this reason it remains an enduring symbol of American friendship with Ethiopia and resistance to fascism and colonialism.
Located in the Mercato district of the capital, Addis Ababa, the American Gibbi was completed in the mid-1910s and is a rare survivor of city fabric from the early part of the twentieth century. Built from worked stone in a neo-classical style and finished with finely wrought stone ornamentation, it stands in stark contrast to the modern, glass-clad office blocks mushrooming across the city. Apart from the addition of a small annex, which abuts the main facade, the building’s original design, details, and fixtures remain largely intact.
Since the 1970s, the building has housed a school run by the Yemeni community. Although they have maintained it over the years, the collapse of the government in Yemen has deprived the community of subsidies for education of Yemeni children, leading to an acute financial crisis at the school and the decay of the building. The roof is badly damaged, allowing water to leak inside the building causing deterioration of plaster finishes and severe decay to timber ceiling and floor boards.
Preserving a Symbol of American Friendship with Ethiopia
World Monuments Fund (WMF) is leading a preservation campaign at the American Gibbi, thanks to the support of the U.S. Embassy in Addis. From late 2019 through 2021, WMF’s project team will develop a conservation plan for the building and institute training and capacity-building programs for local graduate students in historic preservation. A condition assessment and structural survey of the American Gibbi will inform the conservation plan for timber elements of the building, which will include possibilities for reuse and a strategy for management and maintenance of the building. Priority conservation works will be led by WMF’s team of local and international experts to address the timber roof structure, exterior masonry and original surfaces in the building’s interior.
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