Friday, May 17, 2013

Leonetto Mugelli, the building contractor who played a vanishing trick on the Carmine church

"On the façades or other parts of buildings visible from the street, it is forbidden to hang laundry or place objects on window sills and balconies which disturb the public decorum of the building.”

(extract from the regulations of the Municipal Police of Florence)

In the historical center of Florence, you can pick up a variety of anecdotes about objections made by the local authorities to even the slightest change in the appearance or the use of buildings in the historic center.

The Florentine artisans who work in the building trade are allowed to make only very minor changes to the interior of buildings - or they can clean the façades – but are never permitted to construct new buildings!

This is why the term “builder in Oltarno” sounds vaguely like “baker in the church.” (or: merchant in the temple)

Mr. Leonetto Mugelli is an exception. He distinguished himself long ago for arriving in the 197th position in an automobile race (though it is not clear just how this remarkable record was calculated).

In reality, he does not call himself a “builder in the Oltrarno”. To the English speaking world, he presents himself as follows:

But this is how he presents himself to Oltrarno:

In Via della Chiesa, until a few years ago, there was a carpentry workshop, with a large open courtyard where children played when they came out of the Torrigiani Elementary School, located across the street.

There was also one ancient stone and brick building that had survived the centuries, with mosaics and frescoes on the walls and an enormous fireplace in pietra serena, the elegant local gray stone used for architectural details such as stairways and window ledges.

But, above all, it was the one and only place where one could enjoy the back view of the apses of the Carmine Church. (The front of the church looks onto the piazza of the same name - precisely where the city intends to build a gigantic underground parking garage) in front of the entrance to the Brancacci Chapel, visited each year by thousands of discerning tourists.)

Anyway, this musty old stone construction in the courtyard behind the church has since disappeared, replaced by a modern three-storey building, the work of none other than Mr. Leonetto Mugelli.

This is the view at the back of the church that residents in Via della Chiesa previously enjoyed:

Until the summer of 2011.

That’s when the residents, on their return from summer holidays, suddenly found a totally new and more modern sight when they looked into the walled garden:

Mr. Leonetti Mugelli was busy constructing two more buildings in the courtyard behind the Carmine church.

A shining example of entrepreneurship in a time of crisis!! We can’t even question the legality of what was done, for the following reasons:

In the first place, Mr. Leonetto Mugelli "“is the owner of a construction company with specialized builders who has, for the past three generations, been at the service of the Superintendency of Fine Arts.”". Anyone who works for the Soprintendenza must by definition have great respect for the decorum of our city, as the municipal police regulations like to call it.

When Leonetto Mugelli was brought to court in 1994 for having supposedly paid off those in the Superintendency (the kickback was 10% of the total cost of the job), he denied the charges, claiming that, in any case, the court acknowledged that he was a victim of the system
"Six contractors, among whom Leonetto Mugelli, who has long been the preferred builder for the Fine Arts Department, are accused of aiding and abetting a crime: The judge recognized that they were victims of the system, but they were found guilty of perjury for having sworn that this was false.”

Not only, but also the fact that Leonetto Mugelli was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Unione Vittoria, that owed allegiance to Palazzo Giustiniani (as did Bruno Pacciani, who was accused of requesting bribes), makes one think he must have been particular respectful toward the old stonemasons who constructed the palaces of Florence. Even more, if we think that it was Delfo Biagiotti who denounced the bribes – a venerable Master of the Nuova Vita Lodge that owed obedience to Grand Orient Freemasonry.

Our information comes from an article published in the daily Repubblica, and we do not know the outcome of this case, but we would be happy to be able to report that our Contractor has come out clean.

But then, we don't know how another court case, in 1987,turned out, when Leonetto Mugelli and others were brought to court, accused of paying officials of the Superintendency to cover up false accounts - including non existent workmen - to get extra money from the State for restoration work on Florentine monuments.

But it must have turned out well, if we remember that Leonetto Mugelli was one of the contractors called on by the Florence Museum administration to work on the Medici Chapel

We would be glad to publish any reply by Mr Mugelli to this article, and promise to put it into decent English for free.

This is a slightly modified version of an article which first came out in Italian

Monday, February 25, 2013

Salvatore Leggiero, the real estate dealer who took away the children's garden in the Oltrarno

 Oltrarno is the last surviving neighborhood still populated by mixed social classes in the highly gentrified city of Florence; and San Frediano is the informal name of the part clustered around the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, where in a sense the Renaissance began.
A building company with the unlikely name of Amore and Psiche Holding (“Love and Psyche”), belonging to a certain Salvatore Leggiero from Milan, has put up a wall which bars the residents of San Frediano from access to half of the only public garden of the area, in front of the Ludoteca Nidiaci, (Via della Chiesa 44, 46 and 48) the children’s play center, and which has been open to the local residents and their children for the last 90 years.
And while they were at it, Amore and Psiche also took the initiative of privatizing the slides, jungle jims and playhouses of the ludoteca after they took possession of the space a few months ago. Perhaps the managers of the company plan to use the children’s slide to train for some competitive sporting event?
Now in San Frediano people don’t normally go about shooting one another, even though some of the older residents mumble that they should shoot those who are depriving the residents of a public utility. So, different from the Berlin Wall or the wall constructed by the Israelis in the Palestinian Territory, this one is only a wooden fence over 2 metres high. 
And since the Oltrarno is still a vibrant and lively neighborhood, someone quickly sounded the alarm, a little girl climbed up on the wall and snapped a photo, while others called the City Hall and notified the press.
Just think of a neighbourhood pulsating with life but with no space for the children to play other than the traffic-ridden streets or the narrow pavements, so narrow that only one cat at a time can fit - the second has to sit in the street. A neighborhood which has only one dusty square, with a small playground, a few benches and trees: Piazza Tasso, with its unique variety of habitués. 
There are also a few secret gardens, hidden inside the walls of the aristocratic palaces.
In 1923, the owner of one of these palaces, a gentleman by the name of Umberto Nidiaci, opened his garden to the children of the area, even inviting them to use his home as a play area.
For 90 years the residents of San Frediano have used this garden and the Nidiaci ludoteca, squeezed in behind the Carmine church and three buildings that a certain Leonetto Mugelli just put up in an area where, theoretically,  even minor restoration work requires the approval of the City Building Commission. On the other side of the church is the magnificent Piazza del Carmine,where the public-private consortium Firenze Parcheggi is eager to excavate a gigantic hole for an underground parking lot to draw lots of traffic and night life to the area.
The garden and the Nidiaci building were not open to everyone: when I first discovered them there was a Ludoteca run by excellent assistants, but only children and accompanying adults were admitted. On some occasions the elderly were also welcomed.
In this airy protected space with plants and trees, some children climbed the trees while others learned to play the violin with lessons given by an American musician. 
As the children amused themselves, the adults who accompanied them chatted or sat reading a book, knowing the children were safe in the enclosed garden.
In the 1950s, the owners donated half of the garden to the City of Florence and in 2008, they decided to donate the entire space: after all, it had been a public utility for 85 years and classified as such in the CityZoning Plan.
But before the donation was perfected, something happened that has never been clear. The property was put up for auction and was bought for a ridiculously low price by a company called S.a.p.a. Amore & Psiche Holding di Salvatore Leggiero e C. which refurbishes flats and rents them for short terms to well-off foreigners (remember the address of what was the Ludoteca - Via della Chiesa 48).
At the outset nothing appeared to have changed until, last autumn, the new owners began construction work in the space above the ludoteca. Whether intentional or not, the roof caved in and the ludoteca was declared unfit for use. From that moment the City closed it down (although in the afternoons a center for teen-agers remains in operation); when city officials later tried to open it, they found the door had been locked from the inside.
There are no funds for keeping up the Ludoteca. Someone told me that the City of Florence has only 10,000 euro in its budget for the upkeep and maintenance of public parks and spaces - but far more than that has been spent to repair the streets of the historic center on the other side of the Arno, the area where the tourists haunt the designer boutiques.
And this is how we stood by and watched as the Nidiaci was transformed into an empty shell surrounded by scaffolding, with trucks coming in to load or unload building materials – until we discovered the WALL.
The men in gray of Amore and Psiche had moved in. We will say something more about them in the next installment.

(by Miguel Martinez, originally written in Italian)