Fate of iconic Esplanade Mansion hangs in balance

Esplanade Mansion. DH file photo

 The fate of the landmark Esplanade Mansion in Kala Ghoda area of Mumbai hangs in balance, as it is marked for repairs.

The 150-year-plus old building is one of the earliest surviving cast iron structures. It is located along the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai which has been identified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This is also listed in the "100 World Endangered Monuments" by the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based NGO.

The building is listed as a Grade II–A heritage structure by the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation.

The Mumbai Building Repairs and Reconstruction Board (MBRRB) of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) had declared it "dilapidated" in 2007 after which the tenants, mostly lawyers, moved the Bombay High Court.

The court has now asked the tenants to vacate, which has happened, and now the area is barricaded.

The key question now is, whether it would be redeveloped in current form or a tower would come up.

"We will go by what the court ask us to do," MBRRB president Vinod Ghosalkar told DH over phone. He said that the tenants have been vacated and the building was secured as per court orders. "In what form it has to be developed, the court would decide," he said.

Sadik Ali, the current owner of Esplanade Mansion, however, wants it to be restored.

Named after its original owner, John Watson, the Esplanade Mansion, called Watson Hotel earlier, was fabricated in England and constructed on site between 1860 and 1863. It was designed by the civil engineer Rowland Mason Ordish, who was also associated with the St Pancras Railway Station in London.

It has about 130 tenants, of which 45 are residential and the rest commercial. Most of the tenants are lawyers and law firms as the building is situation next to the Mumbai Sessions Court and a few metres away from the Bombay High Court.

There is a paan shop, many stationary shops on the ground floor and also the famous Army Restaurant, an Irani café.

The external cast-iron frame closely resembles other high-profile 19th century buildings such as London's Crystal Palace. The Watson's Hotel closed in 1960 and then it changed many hands.

Meanwhile, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is likely to move court over the report of IIT-Bombay, which has suggested that it be demolished. 

Esplanade Mansion: Slice of history

Way back in 7 July 1896, the Lumiere Brothers showcased six films here – marking the beginning of the Indian film industry.
The legendary American author and humourist Mark Twain, stayed here and wrote about the city's crows he saw outside his balcony in Following the Equator.
According to a popular account, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata decided to build the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, located off Gateway of India, after he was refused entry to this "whites only" place.
Sir Richard Francis Burton, the British explorer and geographer and writer, who wrote The Kamasutra of Vatsyayana, too had stayed here in 1876.
 It also finds mention in writings of Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book, Kim and several other novels.

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