Belgium has a lot of castles; actually, it has the most castles of all European countries. They come in all shapes and sizes. But there was one castle that strikes every imagination: Nottebohm.
Located in the north of Antwerp, in the village of Brecht, this remarkable building seems to be escaped from some fantastic Hollywood movie or even more a Pixar animation cartoon. The design of the house is done in a very strange way, in an eclectic style incorporating elements from the neo-Flemish Renaissance, the traditional brick and sandstone style, and the cottage style, all combined. Architect Ernest Pilgrims draws the plans for the castle. It was built in 1834 by the Nottebohm family as a summerhouse. The family used it until 1943, when the German army occupied it in the Second World War. After the war, the family didn’t use it a lot anymore, and in 1950, they rented the castle as a hotel and restaurant. Later, the company that rented the castle went broke, and the family had a plan to sell the castle in 1980. However, with no luck, the building stood empty for years and went into decay.
The castle, however, was the inspiration for a book by Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The author of the book based his creepy orphanage on the ruined castle after seeing a picture of it on the internet. Director Tim Burton, who made a film of the book, first wanted to use the real castle as a set location but later decided not to use it and rebuilt it in film studios in London and Florida. However, some scenes were shot in the totally rebuilt garden surrounding the house.
But Villa Nottebohm in Brecht (Antwerp province) has been knocked down and disappeared somewhat silently in 2018.
The descendants of the Nottebohms decided to apply for a demolition permit for the building. They no longer wanted to cough up the 30,000 euro vacancy tax that people had to pay annually.
“As a municipal council, we initially refused that permit,” says Brecht’s mayor, Luc Aerts (CD&V-CDB). “Because although Villa Nottebohm was not officially protected as a monument, we felt that it still had a certain heritage value. However, the family appealed to the state and was given the green light for the demolition.” Earlier this year, the demolition hammer was actually taken out, but it went somewhat unnoticed because the villa was not really visible from the street.
Luc Aerts regrets that the building has now disappeared, even though he can understand the fact that the Nottebohm family wanted to get rid of the vacancy tax. “We realize that it is not always easy for owners of these types of monumental buildings to give them an economically useful destination. This is because they are often bound by certain urban development regulations. That is precisely why we are working in our municipality on a spatial implementation plan that should offer more possibilities. Unfortunately, the Nottebohm family did not want to wait for the completion of that plan. To be honest, I have no idea what the family still plans to do with the domain.” We were unable to reach the Notthebohms ourselves for some additional explanation.
Either way, the villa is gone and will never return.
Fortunately, she lives on in Tim Burton’s film ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’. The American director used the building as a set in 2011.