Rue Louis Hap, Jardin Félix Hap Park – these places might sound familiar to those living in Etterbeek. But who were the Haps? What role did four generations of this family play in the history of Etterbeek? A visit to their former house gives answer to these questions.
Short history of the Hap family and their residence in Etterbeek
The Hap family moved to Brussels from the North of France in the late XVIIIth century. They played a very important role in the history of Etterbeek commune: on one hand they ran several businesses that contributed to the development of what was a rural suburb of Brussels at the time. On the other hand, three prominent mayors and politicians came from the “Hap-dynasty”.
It was in 1804 that Albert-Joseph Hap, brewer and mayor of Etterbeek, bought a property of three hectares on the area of the current Etterbeek district. This area was rich in water situated close to the Valley of the Maelbeek River. One of its tributaries was the Broebelaer – the little stream still visible running through Jardin Félix Hap Park – that played an important role in the water provision of the city in the XVIIth century. The area around the current Place Jourdan was, therefore, rich in water – the bus stop name “Étangs” (meaning ponds in English) still recalls that fact.
The presence of the water was important in the choice of Albert-Joseph Hap, since he wanted to install a leather factory in the XVIth century Renaissance edifice found on his purchased land. The family also built a series of new buildings on the property and ran a successful brewery among other businesses. In 1855 the mayor asked for permission to enclose the family garden from the surrounding fields. Four years later, in 1859, his son, Francois-Louis Hap (who himself became later the local mayor) constructed a new home for the family facing the present Chaussee de Wavre. In 1905 it was his son, Félix Hap, public notary and local councilman who enlarged the building based on the plans of Arch. G. Thoelen in order to make space for his notary offices: a new neoclassical facade was added as well as numerous art nouveau elements in its interior decoration.
The last member of the Hap family, Jean Hap died in 1988 without an heir and entrusted the house to the local commune in his will. The facade, the lobby and the roof of the house are classified since 1995, the garden-park since 29 June 2000. Renovations started in 2017 as part of the contracts “Quartier Durable Chasse-Gray”. The Hap House will be re-opened as a multicultural center representing all the nations and cultures living in the district of Etterbeek.
An insight: visit of the Hap House during the European Days of Cultural Heritage
Since the renovations started, on few occasions the Hap House was opened to the public. One of these rare occasions is the weekend of the European Days of Cultural Heritage – 19-20 September this year. I was very much looking forward to seeing the interior of the Hap House in the afternoon of a lovely sunny Saturday. It did meet all my expectations in its history as well as in its design.
The house is a great example of an eclectic mixture of styles in the home of an upper-class family at the beginning of the XXth century: stained glass windows, mosaics and wallpapers in art nouveau style, wall paintings in Louis XVI style, gilding recalling the Renaissance and neo-Gothic furniture. Therefore, the visit of its interiors is a real travel in space and time.
Even more so when looking at the large wall paintings in the dining room by Édouard Navez (around 1890). These represent the rural environment of the village Etterbeek. Its patron saint was Saint-Gertrude to whom the church on present Place de Meyel was consecrated. One of the paintings represent this old church. (Pic 6)
The Hap family was very religious, funding several social projects in their community. The four bells that one can see today on Place de Meyel are witnesses to this fact. Their inscription says that their ‘parent’ was Félix Hap, the smallest one is even bearing the name “Félix”.
On another painting we see the mill of the Royal Hunt – the site currently known as ‘La Chasse’ (hunt or hunting in English). The name recalls that this used to be the starting point of royal hunts. Standing at the junction in our times always busy with cars, buses and trams, it is rather hard to imagine.
Another intriguing element of the decoration is the wallpaper. It was just one day before my visit to the Hap House that I participated on the symposium organised by the Horta Museum entitled: ‘Secrets of the workshop, Art Nouveau decoration’. One of the speakers was Francois Xavier Richard, manager of the Atelier d’Offard, a workshop specialised in the creation of hand blocked wallpapers as produced by the great factories of the 18th and 19th centuries. One of their main activities is participation in the renovation of historical monuments. It turns out that besides the production of the wallpaper itself, there is extensive research involved in order to identify the wallpapers used in a certain building, to find the different types and layers corresponding to different times in its history as well as to reproduce the right type of wallpaper that can be applied during the renovation works. They use the Japanese approach to restoration that consists of the recreation of the missing pieces based on the know-how and traditional methods especially where the original wallpapers covering large surfaces cannot be restored. With such intriguing new information in my mind I paid special attention to the wallpapers in the Hap House that are undergoing restoration as we speak. I would like to mention two special ones: the Lincrusta 3D wallpapers that could not skip my attention as a fan of art nouveau. The other rather original type of wallpaper found in the office of Félix Hap is a Japanese Kinkakirawakami type – a dark wallpaper imitating leather. Very few original examples of this wallpaper can be found in Belgium.
No visit of the Hap House would be complete without admiring the art nouveau stained glass window of the clerks’ office. Large as one of the walls, it depicts a sunrise surrounded by floral motifs. The main flower of the composition is the iris, symbol of Brussels and recalling the marshes – surely a reference to the Valley of the Maelbeek and the original environment of the place as well. The legend says that Félix Hap was a very strict boss, but he appreciated and respected his workers, thus, such a beauty was installed in their office.
Jardin Félix Hap – an Island of Peace
It is mostly the local “etterbekois” who are aware of the mere existence of the Jardin Felix Hap Park, once the private garden of the Hap family. Situated between Rue Louis Hap and Chaussee de Wavre, this little park is a real island of peace and calm. It was in the 1960s that Jean Hap decided to open the park for the older residents of the commune so that finally it would become a public park in 1971. Perfect venue to escape the crowds of Place Jourdan or Leopold Park if one feels like reading, going out in the greenery with smaller children or enjoying the sunshine by the pond. (More information and opening hours: https://environnement.brussels/fiche/jardin-jean-felix-hap)
Photos and story by Dorka Demeter. Follow her on Instagram for more archi adventures! 🙂