The town hall built with a piecemeal approach

The town hall built with a piecemeal approach

On December 28, 1894, the then Maharaja of Myorse, Chamaraja Wadiyar, passed away.

Four years later, in March 1898, several eminent citizens in Shivamogga decided to erect a public building in his memory in the town. The town’s municipality also resolved to donate some money for the project since “a public building like a town hall was a great desideratum.”

The building was to be named Chamaraja Memorial Hall after the late king, and a site was allocated for it in the Maharaja’s Park (near today’s Gandhi Park), near a tree that had been planted there by the king. 

Donations came pouring in from several people including Arumugam Mudaliar (of Victoria Hospital, Bengaluru), H V Nanjundaiah (then the president of the Shivamogga Municipality, later the first vice-chancellor of Mysore University) and many citizens of Shivamogga.

In November 1898, Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV laid the foundation stone for the new building and construction of the memorial hall began. 

And then, the money dried up. Despite several appeals for the amounts promised by people, no more public contributions were forthcoming. With some sporadic injections of funds from the municipality and the district administration, the Chamaraja Memorial Committee managed to build most of the structure slowly and
unsteadily over the next few years. 

By 1908, things came to a sorry pass. Though the building had been completed in 1906, the contractor, Munisami Mudaliar, had not been paid his full dues and so, locked up the building and refused to let anyone enter. Meanwhile, a lightning strike damaged a portion of the structure. It looked like the memorial hall was going to deteriorate before it could ever be used. 

When the deputy commissioner asked the Maharaja’s government for funds to pay off the liabilities, Chandrasekhara Iyer, Secretary of the General and Revenue Department, responded acerbically, “If the local authorities who are solely responsible for the memorial are not able to finance the project without going up to Government at every step, they must bear the responsibility for their want of foresight when starting schemes of this kind!”

But eventually, in response to entreaties from the citizens of Shivamogga, and keeping in mind that Shivamogga did indeed lack a town hall; that it was unseemly for a building bearing the former king’s name to be involved in such controversies; and that it made financial sense for the government to own the building, the Mysore government decided to take care of all pending payments, and in October 1908, the building was finally taken over by the Shivamogga Municipality. 

In capacity

The Chamaraja Memorial Hall still houses the offices of the Shivamogga Mahanagara Palike and other city government offices.

Looking at the decorative but compact pile today, it is difficult to believe that its construction began without a complete design in hand — according to a report by the contractor, the plan was put together by successive executive engineers who kept getting transferred! 

Befitting its status as a public building, the town hall has a sweeping staircase leading up to a curved entrance porch emphasised by Corinthian columns. The ornamental balustrade above the small balcony, the prominent pediment with its dentil moulding, and the large rose window all bestow a touch of the imposing on the entrance. 

The central hall has rooms in both the front and back corners, and verandahs along the sides, which have now been enclosed to form rooms.

The interiors are heavily embellished with window mouldings, stained glass, arched doorways and prominent pilasters.

The archway to the southern entrance is decorated with the 10 avatars of Vishnu in stucco and a Gajalakshmi. 

Sonalika Dugar, a conservation architect associated with INTACH Bengaluru Chapter, says, “The plan responds to the slope of the site by accommodating a basement under the front porch and its flanking rooms.”

She explains that the building has two types of roofs. The sloping roofs have Mangalore tiles on wooden members while the flat roofs are traditional Madras Terrace roofing. 

The truss supporting the sloping roofs has a peculiarity, which caught the eye of S Raghunath, professor of structural engineering at BMS College, Bengaluru: The compression members (or struts) of the truss are
lenticular or fish-bellied,
made using two flat pieces of steel joined at the ends to make a concave-shaped member.

Raghunath explains that lenticular trusses were first used around 1850 and were popular till the early 20th century.

“However, I have not come across a member of a truss, especially a compression member, being lenticular. That is what makes this building’s truss so intriguing!” he says.

 

(The writer is an
independent researcher and the convenor of INTACH, Bengaluru Chapter) 

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