Builder François Servais and family
Architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar designed the imposing villa in 1847, commissioned by the Halse cellist Adrien François Servais, which was partly used as a private residence and also became the meeting place for musicians and local music associations. François Servais grew up in the beautiful region of the Senne Valley and settled in the villa with his wife Sophie and the children Sophie, Franz, Joseph, Marie, Anna and Augusta. Within the walls of this static building there was a buzz of musicality and artists were at home. The ‘salle de musique’ on the ground floor took up more than a quarter of the entire floor. Here the composer and cellist invited the top of the musical scene. The French-Polish sculptor Cyprien Godebski, who married Servais’ eldest daughter Sophie, chiseled the famous bas-reliefs on the facade in 1864. Their youngest daughter Misia later wrote in her memoir about the beautiful time she spent in the villa. Even after the death of Servais, the location remained a meeting place for noblemen, artists and musicians.
From private home to soldiers’ quarters
In 1886 the family moved to Ixelles and lawyer Albert Leemans and his family became the tenants of Villa Servais. From 1895, architect and widower Arthur Carlier lived there with his unmarried sister and housekeeper. He had an extension built on the left side and turned Villa Servais into a two-family house. The concert hall and the large salon were also divided into smaller spaces. Four years later, Charles Louis Ceyssens took up residence in the second half of the villa with his wife and three children. After the departure of both families, Villa Servais became a single residence again in 1920 and Victor Devleminck and his second wife Aline Vetsuypens moved in. He probably also ordered the three-step staircase and the two lions to be worked out along the front of the building. Five years after Aline’s death, Victor also died. During World War II, the Villa was inhabited by German and later British soldiers.
Home for gendarmerie
In 1947, widow Marie Denayer-Cromphout, who also had a bakery on Sint-Rochusstraat, bought Villa Servais and had the property renovated so that nine families could live there. Most families stayed there for a short period of several months. In four years’ time, the Villa would thus provide shelter for about thirty families. From October 1951 the imposing building was used exclusively for gendarmerie and their families. Until 1967 there were a total of about thirty gendarmerie families. The house was then very rudimentary, with no heating in the bedrooms, nor a bathroom.
Neighborhood school of the Sacred Heart Institute and Zilverberk Atheneum
From September 1967 to June 1978 Villa Servais buzzed with cheerful children’s voices. As an annex to the main school on Parklaan, primary school children and later preschoolers could also go there. About 160 students spread over eight classes spent a nostalgic school time there.
From 1978 to 1980 the students of the fifth and sixth year of the National Primary School (‘Zilverberk’) took lessons in Villa Servais.
Despite the limited comfort, the many school children experienced a childhood dream in this unique building.
1981 – 2016
On to a new story…
From 1981, Villa Servais stood empty and was briefly threatened with the demolition hammer. In 1986 the building was officially protected as a heritage site. When the family De Poorter-Leschevin bought the building in 2016 as a private project and had a voluminous restoration file approved, Villa Servais gained new impetus. The complete restoration focuses on authenticity, experience and contemporary comfort. The building will partly become a private residence, a guesthouse with eight luxurious rooms, an attractive tearoom and even the famous ‘salle de musique’ will be restored.
Villa Servais will once again become the attraction for young and old.
(Source: DVD booklet – Life in Villa Servais (1847-2018) – @vzw den Ast & Villa Servais)