Located on Manuel Dimech Street in the town of Sliema, Villa Bonici is said to have been built some time before 1872. At the time of its construction, the now abandoned property included a private home, a farmhouse, and terraced gardens, which extended to the seafront and were surrounded by arched walls.
Initially, this 19th century baroque building was meant to be a country residence for the Marquis Baron Emanuele Testaferrata Bonici Ghaxaq. However, with time the site became well known for other uses.
In fact, many locals remember this villa as an old teaching institution called St Louis School, which welcomed many secondary level students up until 1969. Past students still have memories of their time at the school, even recalling all the noise children made going up and down the wooden staircase to their lessons. Other commentators recall how they would spend their break time enjoying its lovely garden.
But while many reminisce over their school days at the villa, few could recall the time when this site was home to an open-air cinema. In fact, it is likely that when it was in use, the cinema was one of the first of its kind!
A commentator notes how she would pay a visit to the cinema with her mother and her sister when she was just a child, and how the trip from Floriana to Sliema was a memorable weekly Sunday visit.
Unfortunately, the villa’s history, especially its use as a cinema, remains quite a mystery. Some suggest that the picturesque arches encircling the garden next to the waterfront were destroyed in order to host the open-air cinema events. However, others note that the arches were still standing during this time and were demolished later for different purposes.
Obviously, the open-air cinema is no longer in use and neither is the school, which was since moved to Ta’ Giorni. It is also suggested that the area in which the cinema was once located had been turned into a commercial outlet, which has more recently been replaced with housing estates.
Sadly, parts of the villa have been demolished and replaced with modern buildings, while others remain in a state of deterioration, as can be seen from the villa’s façade. Nonetheless, its past continues to live on in the memories of many!