Kobe’s Guggenheim House never Owned by Guggenheim

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A Western-style old building known as the Guggenheim House in Tarumi Ward, Kobe.

KOBE — The Guggenheim House was found to not the residence of a man called Guggenheim, but of a different person. The house is a Western-style antique known as a popular sightseeing spot that has even served as a location for a movie and TV dramas. It was featured in the film “Spy no Tsuma” (Wife of a Spy), which won the Silver Lion Prize at this year’s Venice International Film Festival.

The Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ)’s Kinki chapter, which discovered the misidentification, called for a change of the house’s name, claiming continuing to use its current name would distort the history of the building. However, the house’s current owner is reluctant to do so, as he is “deeply attached to the current name.” The Hyogo prefectural government, which had used the house as a tourist attraction, is also at a loss.

■ One of 100 modern housings

The Shioya district of Kobe’s Tarumi Ward, where the Guggenheim House is located, was developed as a foreign settlement at the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912), and there are said to have been about 70 Western-style houses in its heyday. There are now six such houses, one of which is said to have been widely known as the residence of an American merchant named Jacob Guggenheim (1874-1940), who is believed to be a distant relative of the founder of the foundation that operates museums in New York and around the world.

Believed to have been built in 1908, the two-story architecture of the house in question features an open veranda overlooking the ocean and retains the features and feel of the Meiji era.

The prefectural government uses the house as a tourism resource. They introduced it in their official website called Hyogo! Navi. They also use bulletin boards at nearby stations to convey its charms. In 2010, the house was selected as one of the “100 modern houses in Hyogo” and is included in the tour of foreign settlements.

■ Guggenheim’s house 20 meters away

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Takeuchi residence, which is recently found to have been owned by a man called Guggenheim, is also located in Tarumi Ward, Kobe.

The Guggenheim House was discovered to be someone else’s house in June. About 20 meters away from the building is another Western-style house called the Takeuchi residence that was reportedly built in 1907, and there was word this residence would be demolished. The AIJ’s Kinki chapter investigated the architectural value of the Takeuchi residence with the aim to preserve it.

The chapter went through a land registry and other documents to find that Jacob Guggenheim actually had owned the land on which the house was built in 1906, and a photo kept by his descendant in the United States showed the Takeuchi residence as Guggenheim’s house.

Who had owned the Guggenheim House? The Kinki chapter checked a land registry and found that it was the residence of a Jewish man from Istanbul named Jacob Lyons (1865-1916).

According to the Kinki chapter, the misidentification had spread from an architecture magazine published in 1969, in which a prominent critic of Western-style architectures — now deceased — introduced the Lyons’ residence as Guggenheim’s. Based on this information, in 1980, AIJ introduced in its comprehensive list of leading modern architecture across Japan the house as Guggenheim’s. Since then, it has been established as such.

“The critic’s claim was based on the testimonies of local residents and was not verified,” said Kyoto Institute of Technology Assistant Prof. Kazuto Kasahara, 50, who was involved in the survey. “Even so, since the critic was such a notable person, people believed him.”

■ Brand power

What should the house therefore be called? There is a strong attachment among the neighbors to the name “Guggenheim,” the same name as the founder of the world-famous foundation. However, Kasahara recommends changing the name to the Lyons House, because “leaving the name as it is would distort history,” he said.

However, this Western-style building and the land were purchased in 2007 by a local man and his family, who run it as a multi-purpose space. The house currently is a venue for yoga and piano lessons, along with events such as weddings and concerts.

“I’m very attached to the name,” the man, 46, said. “Even being told I actually own the Lyons’ House, I have no idea what kind of person Lyons was.”

The house’s website posts details of how the house was misidentified and also has a comment reading: “We will continue to use the name ‘The Guggenheim House,’ which has been familiar to the community for many years.”

The Hyogo prefectural government posted the results of the finding on its tourism website stating the house was a different person’s residence, but also said, “We have not decided what to do with the name, partly due to consideration of the owner’s wishes.”

The Takeuchi residence is currently owned by a company, and AIJ’s Kinki chapter has submitted a request to preserve and utilize the housing. However, the fate of the building remains undecided.