These heritage buildings in Bengaluru have your back

Coronavirus: These heritage buildings in Bengaluru have your back

Historical defence

On the front line of Karnataka’s COVID-19 defence are the Victoria Hospital and the Balabrooie guest house. Both, indispensable to Bengaluru's history, have interesting stories of their own. 

Balabrooie Guest House

Built in the 1850s, the colonial-style building stands tall on Palace Road. Today, it serves as a ‘war-room’ in the fight against COVID-19, functioning round-the-clock. It is the venue for all video conferences.    

Meera Iyer, convenor of the Bengaluru Chapter of INTACH and the author of Discovering Bengaluru, says the belief that Mark Cubbon built the house is false. “He was a resident, but he did not build or name the house.” 

John Garrett, a Wesleyan missionary, was the one behind the house. His family hailed from Ballabrooie, in the Isle of Man — source of the name, which means ‘a home by the river’ in Manx, the Celtic language spoken on the island. 

After he resigned from the ministry in 1858, he started Central High School, which is now Central College, another iconic landmark in the city.

“That year he was granted a plot of land on condition that he build a substantial bungalow suitable for the residence of a gentleman,” explains Meera. 

After his death in 1893, his son sold it to the Mysore government, who used it as the official residence for Dewans. 

It’s rumoured that Rabindranath Tagore wrote Shesher Kobita and parts of his novel Yogayog while he spent three weeks in isolation in Room No 5 to recover from ill-health after arriving from Colombo.

The building hosted Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, served as the office of Sir M Visvesvaraya, and as the official residence of the first three chief ministers of the state. It is said that when R Gundu Rao assumed the position of chief minister in 1980, he refused to stay there citing ‘bad’ vaastu. However, when S R Bommai became the chief minister, he stayed in the building until his government lost power six months later, giving Balabrooie the reputation of being jinxed. He was the last CM to reside there. 

Now officially a government guest-house, it also served as the headquarters for the Justice Chandrasekhara Commission when he was appointed to inquire into the attacks on churches in the state.

In 2014, there were plans to build a legislators' club house at the location, which was scrapped due to pressure from citizen groups who wanted to preserve the building. 

Victoria Hospital 

While modern medicine reached the city in 1833, the State’s senior surgeon urged the administration to establish a new hospital close to the city’s population centre. This, Meera Iyer says, was the first mention of the idea of Victoria Hospital. 

On June 22, 1897 the Maharani Regent of the Mysore kingdom, Kempananjammanni avaru, laid its foundation stone as a part of the diamond jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign.

“Many claim that the hospital was built because of the plague. It did play a key role against it for over a decade, but it was conceptualised much before,” she says.

It began with only 100-odd beds, and now is one of the largest hospitals in India, with around 1,700 beds. 

“There were separate wards for Europeans and Indians, with the latter further subdivided along caste lines. A few wards were set aside for patients who paid for their care,” explains Meera. 

During the times of the plague, several nurses and ‘ayahs’ lost their lives. “In 1910, there was a move to erect a plaque in their memory, but I’m not sure if it was ever done,” she says. 

A notable doctor that passed through these halls was Dr T Seshachalam, superintendent of the hospital from 1939 to 1949. He is best known for the discovery of the recurrent artery of the appendix, known as the Artery of Seshachalam. 

The hospital is also known for its burns unit. The ordinary-looking wing is mentioned in case studies and medical textbooks for its efficient handling of the Venus Circus Fire of 1981. It is also the only facility of the kind in the state to date.