For owner K Ramakrishnan, the inauguration of the restored New Opera on Tuesday was an emotional moment. His family faced legal battles and life threats before he could bring the magnificent structure back to life. He revealed the full story to Nina C George in an exclusive interview.
What did you have in mind when you decided to restore the building?
We wanted to retain the structure. And we have restored the entire structure. It was bought in 1959 as a cinema hall by my father K R Kanakarathnam. We had then leased it out.
Could you tell us about the legal battles?
In 1979, when the last lease expired, the lessors did not leave, and we filed an eviction suit. The litigation went on for almost 24 years. In 2003, we won the case and took possession. By then there were 53 shops, many of them small ones, inside and outside the building, within the compound.
Prime properties like yours come with prime troubles, don’t they?
I was an engineer and the youngest and my father didn’t want me to get entangled in legal battles. But I had to take over the case from him in 1996 after he lost his eyesight to glaucoma. We had to fight 53 cases filed by illegal occupants. These shops were selling short eats, clothes, pirated software. Nasscom had acted against the pirates. They had filed cases against us both jointly and individually. We were shocked because there were structures inside in the northern and southern corridors.
What gave you the strength to fight the battles?
Our strength was that we were on the right track. We were asking for our property. We believed in that. There were many real estate agents who came asking us to part with the land. There was emotional blackmail too, with some telling us, ‘Why should you go through all this?’ There were many who wanted to demolish the building and build afresh. But we didn’t give in. Samsung was appreciative of the architecture and approached me two years ago. That’s why I finally agreed.
Is this property rented or leased to Samsung?
We have leased it out to Samsung for 10 years. We continue to hold the ownership of the place. The lease will be renewed after 10 years.
What kind of work has gone into the project?
We have restored the basic structure. Wherever there was strengthening required, we have used cement. The original structure was strengthened with lime and plaster because that allows it to breathe. We have used cement outside to keep it weather-resistant. We had asked Samsung to make their additions without damaging the walls. The colour scheme is theirs. A new wooden flooring has come up on the original wooden flooring. In fact, there is a green room below that which is now being used as a utility centre.
Who designed the original building?
Thomas Charles William Skipp. He must have planned a layout because some advocates tell me they have seen his name in several places. Many properties on St Marks Road had his name.
Read Also: Story behind Opera restoration