by Nina York
It comes close to miraculous to witness a spectacular transformation of an important part of the town of Christiansted. And for that we can thank a man who came here five years ago and saw the potential for restoring neglected and abandoned structures in a neighborhood of heavy traffic.
It would take many millions of investment dollars coupled with a vision respectful of St. Croix culture plus a gift of architectural talent. The result of all these were given to us, lovingly, by Texas entrepreneur Peter Zielke and his company, Z Property VI.
His purchase of 12 – yes, twelve! – abandoned properties along Hospital Street went smoother than one would have expected and, at this writing, over four of them have been beautifully transformed into attractive structures to be occupied by tenants with a purpose beyond beautification.
The first one to be beautifully restored is on the hillside adjacent to the old Danish barracks (owned by the Virgin Islands Government) slated for restoration. The 1793 armory now owned by Zielke, at one brief time operating as a restaurant, characterized by its elegant dual staircase entrance, is repurposed as an attractive bed and breakfast. A festive opening celebration held in November included the unveiling in the frontal courtyard of three 13′ bronze statues of the island cultural icons known as Moko Jumbies created by sculptor Ward Tomlinson Elicker.
Across the street a contemporary residence, designed with a nod to island architectural heritage by Robert White, has been greatly enhanced, including an addition of a lovely garden and courtyard, and now the residence of Peter Zielke and his wife Gabriella. Zielke grew up in Mexico and absorbed much of that country’s artistic spirit coupled with a dynamic business acuity. His sister Marianne, who, has worked with him for years, runs the office of Z Property VI and the whole family has settled here for the long term.
Farther eastward on Hospital Street, named for the former Danish military medical installation that dominates the area, we note the historic brick arches on a building remembered among old-timers as The Outrigger restaurant that was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. This has been approved for use as a gym and community center. None of the properties are for sale but some will be available on a lease arrangement to qualified tenants.
Many features of the restoration show innovation. The historic Danish bricks and coral have been used throughout as veneer, sliced into thinner volume, yet retaining the visual character of the original. Even ruins can be useful as a supply of building materials. The vast number of bricks used were once brought as ballast on the ships calling here to be loaded with sugar and rum.
A more modest residence has been enhanced, including the installation of a sidewalk at its front. This is an area that, according to old maps, previously held many residential cottages, some owned by fishermen, hence the name Fisher Street. In the late 18th century, the area even held a botanical garden.
As a lovely “business card” for the restoration, a street corner building, that formerly held a Vietnamese restaurant, was gussied up to show imaginative architectural details and a lovely big wall plaque identifying “Christiansted St. Croix,” a fitting introduction to this special little town that many have suggested eligible to become a World Heritage Site.
In an article in this publication dating from 2019, I address the concern about this neighborhood’s sad state in anticipation of the Christiansted 300th Anniversary in 2035. That worry can now be put to rest. Also, elsewhere in town we see evidence of an individual’s dream being fulfilled in the handsomely enhanced King Christian Hotel and coming expansion and renovation of Hotel on the Cay, for which we can thank developer Chris Pardo. Indeed, our island can be proud of all this progress, not least of the workers that helped build it. We will show it!
Nina York, born in Denmark but a St. Croix resident since 1976, has been a contributor to this St Croix This Week since 2009 and was its editor from 1990- 2003. She offers guidance to visitors from Denmark and the mainland, does translations, and sells her books, historic maps and print reproductions. [email protected]