The former Alt House evokes the style of a bungalow in British India, with sandstone walls and a row of Tuscan pillars marching along the front of a wide stone-paved veranda, and with all the nostalgic nuances of the elegant if incongruous European colonial presence in East Asia. Despite the well-preserved physical condition of the building, the interior suggests that the decorators had scant information about the original position of furniture and ornaments or the function of individual rooms: desks are placed in former bedrooms, chairs have their backs to fireplaces, and walls once covered with paintings and photographs are oddly blank. Similarly, most of the pamphlets and books available on the subject of Glover Garden look almost exclusively at architectural features.
Built circa 1867 by British merchant William J. Alt (1840-1908), the house served as a residence for the Alt family and later the family of Alt's business successor Henry J. Hunt. It was rented for two years from 1880 by the Methodist Mission School Kwassui Jogakko, during which time it was the site of the earliest Western music education in Japan. From 1893 to 1898, it accommodated the Nagasaki U.S. Consulate and figured in the story of Madame Butterfly, which took the world by storm as a novelette, stage play and later Giacomo Puccini opera. In 1903, the house was acquired by the prominent British merchant and community leader Frederick Ringer (1838-1907). Ringer's eldest son Freddy lived there until his death in 1940, and his widow Alcidie, arrested by the Kempeitai military police on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack (December 8, 1941 Japan time), became the last foreign inhabitant of the iconic building. Sold off as enemy property, the house and spacious garden were purchased by the Kawanami family, who operated a wartime shipyard. The property remained uncontested by Ringer descendants, turning at one point into a rundown tenement, until being sold to Nagasaki in 1970 and refurbished as a tourist attraction.
|The Former Alt House as it looks today (photograph by the author)|
For the first time in any language, The Former Alt House: Biography of a Nagasaki Landmark introduces former inhabitants and functions of the building and outlines the events that crisscrossed there from the year that Japan awakened from a long slumber and opened its doors to international engagement, until the postwar period when Nagasaki cleared the rubble of wartime destruction and chose tourism as a step to recovery. Copies can be obtained here.